Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez all shone as Barcelona claimed a 4-1 win over Villarreal to keep their slim La Liga title hopes alive.
Goals: Moreno 14′ – Pau Torres 3′ own goal, Suarez 20′, Griezmann 45′, Fati 88′
Real Madrid moved seven points clear after defeating Athletic Bilbao earlier in the day thanks to a Sergio Ramos penalty. This mean Barcelona had a mountain to climb if they were to topple their rivals, something that was looking increasingly unlikely.
Barcelona sprung a surprise with the way they set up at El Madrigal, in a narrow 4-3-1-2, and reaped the rewards within minutes when Alba, given free rein down the left, crossed for the unfortunate Torres to turn the ball past his own goalkeeper before Griezmann had the chance.
It took Barca just three minutes to open the scoring, with Pau Torres inadvertently diverting a Jordi Alba cross into his own net under pressure from Griezmann. The hosts responded quickly, though, as Gerard Moreno finished high into the net after a Marc-Andre Ter Stegen save from a Santi Cazorla shot.
But Villarreal levelled within 10 minutes as a Paco Alcacer-led break ended with Marc-Andre ter Stegen turning Santi Cazorla’s effort straight at Gerard Moreno, who could not miss.
On 19th minute, after taking a free-kick from 30 yards flicked off the wall, Messi drove towards the box, flicked it into the path of Suarez, who curled the ball into the goalkeeper’s top left-hand corner with an incredible first-time finish.
This game was pretty relentless then, Cazorla took an incredible pass which dissected the defence to find Moreno but his cross was blocked.
Griezmann struck himself to give Barca breathing space moments before the break when he lifted Messi’s lay-off over Asenjo with an exquisite 20-yard lob. Barcelona had been utterly incredible.
After the break, Moi Gomez and Bruno were on to replace Gerard Moreno and Iborra for Villarreal. There was an extra man in midfield for Villarreal and it had become pretty congested in the centre of the park.
The change in style had just made it more congested in midfield, meaning the visitors were just playing a little wider. On this occasion, fine work from Puig took the ball forward, before Sergi Roberto was slipped through down the right, allowing him to pull it back for Messi to calmly find the corner from about seven meters, but after a long delay, the goal was disallowed for an offside.
They were not to be denied another in the closing minutes, though, as Fati displayed another moment of quality to add to his collection by collecting Alba’s long ball forward, running at Raul Albiol and slotting inside Asenjo’s near post.
A superb first-half performance from Barcelona put them in the driving seat and they were not to be budged.
After the match, Pique said: “The three points are very important. The game was important for us and the way we play. We have had times when we haven’t played well but we played well today. We have to carry on like this for the remainder of the season. We are going to keep fighting to turn the situation around and playing for this club means fighting until the end.”
At long last, Griezmann’s gears seemed well oiled and vigorous. After being a part of countless ridiculous rumours and hearsays, the Frenchman put a muzzle on his doubters’ mouth, silencing them with an applaudable display. Griezmann combined really well with Leo and Suarez. “The goal for Antoine is very important to give him confidence” Pique said.
Villarreal: Asenjo, Gaspar, Albiol, Pau, Alberto Moreno, Iborra (Bruno, 46), Anguissa, Cazorla (Trigueros, 56), Chukwueze, Alcacer (Bacca, 36), Gerard Moreno (Moi Gomez, 46).
Barca: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique (Araujo, 82), Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Busquets (Braithwaite, 73), Vidal, Sergi Roberto, Griezmann (Ansu Fati, 72), Messi, Luis Suarez (Rakitic, 60).