A hard working display from Barça wasn’t enough to see off Villarreal in a hard fought game the visitors had the best chances in, including a shot against the woodwork from Cesc on 78 minutes.
Hit hard by injuries and maybe feeling the after-effects of their midweek exertions, Barça dropped two points at El Madrigal, despite fighting till the very end and with all means at their disposal. Villarreal proved to be a demanding opponent, belying their poor position in the table, disrupting Barça's game in the first half and defending valiantly after the break as Guardiola's men upped the pressure. Cesc hit the woodwork and Messi had his chances towards the end, but luck wasn't on Barça's side and despite all their hard work they now find themselves seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who earlier beat Zaragoza 3-1.
Guardiola began the game with six possible defenders, but with a three man defence – Piqué, Puyol and Abidal - as Mascherano began in midfield and Adriano and Alves were used to maraud down the flanks. The first exchanges all went Barça's way - with 94% of possession by the seventh minute- and Alves (on 2 minutes) and Messi(on 17) both had good chances, but the Brazilian's shot was turned wide and Messi's crafty chip went just inches wide.
Villarreal gradually began to find a way into the game after withstanding the initial onslaught though, and with Cani and Borja Valero both taking no prisoners – with 15 fouls in the first 45 minutes – they began to create their own danger. Mascherano was forced to clear with Valdes beaten on 27 minutes and soon after Marco Rubén should have done better to round off a quick counter attack. There was even a disallowed goal from Gonzalo for a clear offside as the hosts enjoyed their best moments, forcing Guardiola to drop Mascherano into a back four.
Villarreal continued to trouble Barça after the break - with a big shout for a penalty on Borja by Busquets – until the Champions again lifted their game and began to spread the ball wide for Adriano, who saw one excellent cross go begging in the absence of a clear striker up front. Guardiola then brought on Alexis for Piqué to offer more penetration and Barça were now back in control and the chances began to flow as they laid siege to the Villarreal area.
The last 15 minutes saw Villarreal pinned back in their half, desperately trying to waste time and run the clock down as Guardiola threw on the incisive Tello and Thiago to try and get the winning goal. Barça went at the task with plenty of commitment, but they were out of luck when Cesc hit the bar after great play from Tello on 78 minutes and Messi again found Villarreal keeper Diego López up to the job on 86 minutes. The team never let their heads drop and kept on looking for the win till the end – something they are sure to do till the end of the season! (via FCBarcelona.cat)
Villarreal Diego López, Ángel, Gonzalo, Musacchio, Joan Oriol, Cani (Castellani, m.72), Bruno Soriano, Borja Valero, Marcos Senna (Marchena, m.89), Marco Ruben (Camuñas, m.83) and Joselu.
FC Barcelona Víctor Valdés, Puyol, Piqué (Alexis, m.61), Mascherano, Abidal, Dani Alves, Busquets, Xavi (Tiago, m.77) Adriano (Tello, m.77) Cesc Fábregas and Messi.
Referee: José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes (Cantabrian committee). Admonished for Villarreal to Musacchio, Marco Rubén, Joan Oriol, Joselu and Gonzalo and for Barcelona to Dani Alves.
Incidents: Match at El Madrigal stadium in Villarreal before 22,000 spectators. Pitch in good condition. They observed a minute's silence in memory of Jose Navarro, formerly of Villarreal's youth trained in Barcelona, and Dani Montesinos, a reporter for the Sixth, who died in a motorcycle accident.