Barcelona were clashing against one of the most competitive sides in Europe, whose defensive system is regarded as world-class. They did so with Sergi Roberto as right back – Vidal and Alves were on the bench – and Suárez in the starting squad despite the risk of getting suspended for El Clásico if he received a yellow card.

The beginning was played at a hectic pace, with up to three very dangerous chances for Villarreal where Bravo, twice, and the woodwork, once, maintained the scoreboard intact. Nothing was surprising about Villarreal. A halfway defensive block in a 4-4-2 formation, with intensity and fast transitions. Barcelona were forced to play by the wings and couldn’t find the required depth. The yellow squad stole the ball and launched their attacks, preferably on Arda Turan’s flank who had too much to handle on defense and didn’t contribute enough in the offense.

Just once Villarreal hesitated whether to maintain the high pressure or pull back and Barcelona managed to leave their area with fluency for the first time. Neymar made one of his diagonals, cutting to the inside and forcing a foul on him that would end up to be decisive because Messi’s floated free kick touched Suárez’ body and the loose ball was smashed in with a left-footer by Rakitic.

Villarreal persevered but their drive wasn’t combined with the clearness of mind when they had to provide the last pass, and this situation enabled the trident to counterattack almost in a heartbeat. In one of these offensive transitions, Suárez found Neymar who was moving to the central lane. The Brazilian tried to dribble Asenjo who touched the ball. But the referee whistled the penalty which was scored panenka style by the number 11 himself.

Villarreal had played superbly in the first half and were losing 0-2 against an effective Barcelona in both areas but without the accustomed brightness in their game. But in the second half, with such a favorable scoreboard and situation in the league table, the culés lost their fierceness and Villarreal kept theirs. The substitution did not help either. Dani Alves and Mathieu entered the pitch, and their performances, especially the French’s, enabled the reaction from the Yellow Submarine. First, a great individual play by Denis Suárez finished with Bakambu’s goal after Bravo’s rejection. Right after this, a lost ball by Mathieu would have meant the equalizer if Mascherano’s outstanding defensive coverage had not arrived.

But Marcelino’s squad continued trying to tie the score and they did so after a corner kick which Mathieu failed to clear away. The attentiveness was never one of the Frenchman’s strong points and yesterday, as he did in the Camp Nou against Deportivo (from the 2-0 to the 2-2), he proved this one more time. Mascherano was all over the place attempting to stop the local team’s attacks who, encouraged by the fans and the momentum, equalized deservedly.

From this moment on, it seemed like the two teams were settling with the draw. Barça, despite losing the two-goal lead, were maintaining their unbeaten streak and collecting a point in a match they ended with just enough energy. Denis Suárez’ substitution for Pina indicated the locals were pleased with the result: to overcome a two-goal deficit against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona is only attainable for very few teams in the world. The disciplined but electric Marcelino’s Villarreal achieved just that.

Barcelona now have 39 straight games without defeat and these are the first points they lose in the league’s second round. In each passing game, we can evidence Piqué’s importance in the team’s game and set pieces. In a clash against an ultra-competitive side, the Blaugranas took one step closer to the league title. After the international break, Real Madrid will visit the Camp Nou in the least transcendent derby (statistically-wise) of the last years.

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