Barcelona Seal Crucial Villareal Win

April 4, 2011

FC Barcelona have extended their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points after a controlled 1-0 victory against Villarreal at El Madrigal. Piqué struck in the 66th minute when an Alves corner found its way to the elegant defender, who chested the ball down before slamming home into the roof of Diego López’s net.

The Blaugrana side also had goalkeeper and captain Victor Valdés to thank for a number of fine saves and decisive interventions. His best contribution came in the match’s dying embers when he produced a fantastic reaction save with his legs to deflect a powerful close-range Cazorla volley over his crossbar.

Even before kick-off Guardiola’s team was given a huge lift by the news that Real Madrid had fallen to a 0-1 defeat against Sporting Gijón. This potentially fatal slip might even have influenced the manager’s team selection, opting to start partially fit Lionel Messi on the bench, even with stars like Pedro, Xavi, Abidal and Puyol all unavailable.

One of the deputies tonight was midfielder Thiago Alcântara, who was making his first league start and is yet another precocious young Barcelona B star. Playing in the Xavi role, the 19-year-old was at the heart of some of the most dangerous Barça moves early on, displaying impressive balance and composure to beat two defenders and get Iniesta in behind.

Still, it was Villarreal who conjured the first half’s best opportunities. Santi Cazorla twice released rumoured Barça target, Guissepe Rossi. Valdés snuffled out the first opportunity with a well-timed dive at the Italian striker’s feet, before displaying lightning reactions to push a low drive around his left-hand post.

Both managers had erred on the side of caution with their team selection – Guardiola and Garrido elected to start with two rugged central midfielders each. In Barça’s case Mascherano and Keita provided plenty of brawn and grit but not much by way of creativity.

The second half brought an altogether more enterprising and dynamic performance from Barça. Iniesta came to the fore, stepping in from the right flank to add creativity to his side’s attacks. He and David Villa forced two fine saves by López, and in the face of mounting pressure the Villarreal ‘keeper won’t have been thrilled by the sight of Lionel Messi being prepared on the sidelines.

After his entry diminutive wizard instantly set about terrorising the opposition. Barça’s 67th minute goal arrived after a spell of dominance and was richly deserved, although Villarreal may have cause to feel a little aggrieved after replays suggested that Piqué might have controlled the ball with his arm.

At any rate, Cazorla’s late chance aside, Villarreal spent much of the second half struggling to get to grips with a resurgent Barça, who greeted the final whistle with passionate celebrations, conscious that a telling blow had been struck in the battle for the title.

0-1 Piqué (min 66)

Team P W D L F A Pts
1
Barcelona
30
26
3
1
82
15
81
2
Real Madrid
30
23
4
3
69
22
73
3
Valencia
30
17
6
7
46
35
57
4
Villarreal
30
16
6
8
48
31
54
5
Sevilla
30
13
6
11
46
44
45
6
Espanyol
30
14
1
15
38
43
43
7
Atlético Madrid
30
12
6
12
45
41
42
8
Athletic Bilbao
29
13
3
13
44
41
42
9
Levante
30
11
5
14
32
40
38
10
Mallorca
30
11
5
14
31
40
38
11
Racing Santander
30
9
9
12
30
44
36
12
Osasuna
30
9
8
13
36
36
35
13
Sporting Gijón
30
8
11
11
28
35
35
14
Real Sociedad
30
11
2
17
40
51
35
15
Getafe
30
9
7
14
41
49
34
16
Deportivo
30
8
10
11
25
40
34
17
Zaragoza
30
7
9
14
29
43
30
18
Hércules
30
8
5
17
28
48
29
19
Málaga
30
8
5
17
39
62
29
20
Almería
29
5
11
13
30
48
26

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