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Xavi had spoken before this midweek fixture about the urgent need to make sure of a win after two very disappointing results. Villarreal, however, who won here last season, are never an easy side to beat.
But after blasting three goals past the Yellow Submarine in the space of just seven minutes, victory in this game never really looked in doubt. A tighter game may have been expected, but it was a case of total blaugrana domination from start to finish. Villarreal barely raised a whimper in response. Barça refused to let them. Quite simply, they were too good.
The win keeps the Catalan second in the Liga table with another home fixture to come on Sunday against old friend Ernesto Valverde and his Athletic Club.
Villarreal park the bus
The game-plan was pretty much what we expected. From the word go. Villarreal seemed content enough to sit back and defend and see if they could pick something up with long balls on the counter attack.
For half an hour, they showed us why they are meanest defence in the season, having only conceded three goals in their first nine games. And then, in the space of just seven minutes, they conceded three more...
Seven glorious minutes
They’d been under constant pressure to that point, and it was difficult to believe they’d be able to hold out for a whole game. Especially with a man like Robert Lewandowski on the prowl.
A characteristically brilliant pass from Jordi Alba on the left, and a typically composed turn and finish from the Pole and Barça were off the mark.
Just four minutes later, the same man received the ball on the edge of the opposition’s area. ‘Lewy’ confidently picked his spot and that was 2-0. Again, he’d made the difficult appear so easy! And that was a sensational eleventh goal in ten games for his new club.
Spotify Camp Nou was still celebrating when Ferran Torres nipped his way through the defence and tucked the ball to Ansu Fati on the goal-line. The latter, Barça's liveliest player until that point, fluffed the conversion onto the post but it landed straight back in his path to cheekily back-hell in goal number three!
There was little, if any, real reaction from Villarreal. They remained pegged deep inside their own half almost as it was now just a damage limitation exercise for them.
A fourth Barça goal always looked more likely than something from the team in yellow, and although it never came, the home win looked so inevitable that in the second half it sometimes felt like Barça were merely going through the motions in anticipation of the final whistle.
Special mention has to go to Frenkie de Jong, whose work-rate and production were both faultless today. Exhausted by his day’s work, he’d end up being replaced by Sergio Busquets to the tune of a rapturous ovation.
A performance like that was just the tonic at FC Barcelona after a rough week. The atmosphere in the stadium made one thing very clear. The fans still believe in this project.
But there’s a long season still ahead, and if today’s form is anything to go by, Barça are still going to have a lot to say in it.
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