In what was billed as a major test for two teams that rode into Camp Nou on a wave of impressive results, it was FC Barcelona who had more answers as they came back twice from a goal down to subdue Villarreal and extend their winning streak to eight games in all competitions, their fourth straight in La Liga.
The first quarter hour saw Barça monopolise possession, with the Yellow Submarine barely getting out of their own end in spite of their best intentions to string together enough passes to mount an attack. Luís Suárez had Barça’s first three scoring chances, although only one of them registered a shot on goal, as Suárez had a shot from point-blank range turned away by Villarreal keeper Asenjo on 13 minutes. Suárez had another chance in the 20th, but as his attempted bicycle kick went just off target he was flagged for offsides.
As the half hour mark arrived, Villarreal raced out on a rare counterattack and, after a moment of indecision, Mario one-timed from outside the area, with Cheryshev sticking out his foot just in time to redirect past a diving Claudio Bravo and give Villarreal a 1–0 lead.
Barça had trouble getting more opportunities until just before the half when Messi found Rafinha in the area. Rafinha’s shot was saved by Asenjo but the rebound fell right to Neymar, who banged it in to draw even.
Barça wanted to ride that energy out onto the field after the break but, in the 51st minute, Villarreal went back on top after Piqué misjudged a ball near midfield. Giovani flew in and carried to the end line where, running out of real estate, he made a hard cut to avoid Bravo and find Vietto waiting alone to tap into the open goal. Camp Nou went silent.
Just as the silence turned to a general sense of uneasiness, Rafinha got one right back after finishing off a sequence that saw both Suárez and Messi denied at the doorstep.
The cheering fans were just retaking their seats in the 55th when they were greeted with yet another surprise, as none other than Leo Messi put the culers on top 3–2 by depositing a right-footed shot from outside the penalty area. He was assisted on the play by Suárez.
Finally out in front, the blaugranes took a deep breath and slowly wore down Villarreal in the final 30 minutes. The visitors didn’t create any more danger as they fell for the first time since November. For Barça, the win showcased their tremendous resilience, a powerful trait to have as they march toward a decisive stretch of the season.