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It was another game decided by a solitary goal, but Barça have done it again! That’s sixteen games unbeaten in all competitions for Xavi’s side, who seem to have hit their finest run of form since he took over as coach midway through last season.
Sixth placed Villarreal put up as stern a test as expected, but they couldn’t find their way through the kind of defending that means Barça have racked up an astonishing sixteen clean sheets this season.
We’ve seen some tasty football since Xavi took charge of the team, but tonight’s serving was one of the most delicious yet, even if it ultimately only produced a single goal.
But that one goal proved enough to do the job, and it made for scrumptious viewing when it arrived in the 18th minute of the first half. Between Jules Kounde robbing the ball in midfield and Pedri poking it home, Villarreal were totally thwarted by a quick, dazzling passing move, with some Lewandowski brilliance in the midst of it.
Playing as they were, Barça could have been leading by three at half-time. The reason they weren’t was not just some fine goalkeeping from Pepe Reina but also the ten men dressed in yellow in front of him. Quique Setién runs a very good side indeed, and if they had been a little sharper up front, they could have scored goals of their own. There's no question that Gerard Moreno's absence through injury showed.
Ronald Araujo also had a big part to play in keeping trouble at bay. His pace combined with perfectly timed last-ditch tackles are a joy to behold. What a player, and he’ll be surely missed in against Cádiz after picking up a yellow card suspension in this game.
Barça were unable to convert the chances that could have given them a more comfortable two-goal cushion. Lewandowski and Raphinha were both playing brilliantly but will feel they could have done better when through on goal.
Instead a veritable end-to-end battle ensued in which we were seeing more and more danger from an opponent that, buoyed by the noisy home crowd, still felt they could get something out of this.
The final few minutes were the most intense of all as Villarreal threw everything forward, Pepe Reina and all, in search of an equaliser. They did find the net from an offside position, but every other time the yellow shirts advanced, the Barça defence remained rock solid.
We weren’t even seeing much of Ter Stegen in this game, so good were the Barça back four at doing their job and it all ended with yet another clean sheet. Twenty games played and just seven goals conceded. We’re used to admiring Barça for their attacking football, but this season the defending is just as beautiful to watch.
The Liga table is pretty nice viewing too. At least for now, that’s eleven points between Barça and second placed Real Madrid who play their postponed game against Elche on Wednesday.
The only downside to a glorious day at the Cerámica was a very nasty looking knee injury suffered by Francis Coquelin. From here, we wish Villarreal’s midfielder a rapid recovery.
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