There are very few times you can predict a team’s tactical positioning so clearly as Villarreal’s yesterday at the Camp Nou. Marcelino changed the system and he placed his squad in 4-5-1, strengthening the midfield in order to limit Barcelona’s ball circulation and their game between lines. For the counterattack, Soldado was the reference with a speedy Samu Castillejo in the right band. During the first minutes of the match, the Yellow Submarine alternated a halfway defense with an intense pressure when Barcelona attempted to build up the plays from their own area, but the culés pushed back Villarreal’s defensive lines farther and farther as the minutes went by.

The best chances for the home club came after recovering the ball in Villarreal’s half. Luis Enrique’s men added up minutes of very good defensive pressure on the opponent, who lacked width on the pitch. Barcelona couldn’t find the precision in the last pass, mostly because Marcelino García Toral’s men closed the internal spaces and collaborated among them in the defensive coverages in the bands, especially on Neymar’s flank, who sometimes found himself facing up to three rivals.

The first half finished with a dangerous lost ball by Neymar and a great save by Claudio Bravo against Castillejo. Villarreal weren’t at ease in the first half, but they made sure that the home team weren’t comfortable either, particularly in the last minutes with Soldado playing smartly between the lines and compensating the few dangers Denis and Samu Castillejo created from the wings.

In Barcelona’s side, Munir had good phases with the ball and Sergi Roberto attacked properly from the second line, but his teammates couldn’t find him. Iniesta caused damage, the main man responsible for Villarreal taking a step back and the only link between Busquets and the two strikers. A solid Barça squad was facing a competitive Villarreal and they both gave a superb first half.

We were saying that Barcelona’s best scoring chances were produced when recovering the possession after a lost ball, and thanks to Busquets’ excellent positioning to foresee Villarreal’s ball movement, the Badia born found Neymar quickly, who by means of a guided control beat the young goalkeeper Areola who has been one of the best players this season for the yellow squad. Right after this, Iniesta had another clear chance that Areola blocked this time.

After the goal, Marcelino returned to his usual system by subbing Bakambu in for Pina, a 4-4-2 scheme with Dos Santos and Bruno forming the double pivot. Villarreal stretched their lines and the match was being played from box to box, which caused the Jaume Costa penalty on Munir in a culé attacking transition. Suárez scored from the spot. Since Messi’s injury, the Uruguayan and the Brazilian have scored the last 15 Barcelona goals in the league.

By the end of the match, they were 16 goals among the two of them because Neymar had the inspiration to paint the third goal like Picasso himself would do it. Neymar began the counterattack, assisted Suárez and got rid of his mark by sprinting to the area. His partner in crime saw his movement and he sent a floated pass which was controlled by the Brazilian with a chip over the defender and a deadly finish with a volley, turning the play in a genuine masterpiece.

There were few negative aspects about Villarreal’s match. The attacking presence was lacking, but the correct defensive performance limited a Barcelona side whose dynamic was being very positive. Marcelino’s squad belongs to the European elite and they will be battling for La Liga’s fourth position and for returning to the Champions League since they have nothing to envy from most of the teams currently participating in it.

Barcelona survived the unfortunate injuries thanks to Claudio Bravo’s and Luis Suárez’ good timing in the decisive episodes, Munir’s improvement, a Sergi Roberto finally resembling the great promise he was in his La Masia years, the most consistent Iniesta of the last seasons and above all thanks to two footballers, Busquets and Neymar. The warden and the striker, artistic and pragmatic at the same time. Both as the paradigms of the good moment Barcelona is going through.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Ismael Ledesma.