Barcelona vs. Villarreal: 6 Things We Learned
Tata Martino's side went into the game with the knowledge that they needed a victory to maintain some breathing space ahead of Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.
Neymar stole the show with a brace for the home side, just days after scoring a hat-trick in the Champions League against Celtic. Barcelona could have scored more, but the Yellow Submarine were no pushovers, demonstrating why their defence is third best in the league.
Read on to take a look at six things we learned from the game.
Neymar Is Flourishing in Messi's Absence
There's no such thing as a good time for a star player to get injured, but if a team has a support act like Neymar waiting in the wings...
The absence of Lionel Messi, who is currently in Argentina and recovering from a torn hamstring, has given the former Santos player the license to demonstrate what he's capable of.
Neymar has now scored five goals in his last two games for Barcelona, which are as many as he registered in his previous 20 appearances for the Blaugrana.
His first was a penalty that other referees may not have given, when Villarreal's Mario was harshly judged with handling the ball inside the area. Neymar coolly dispatched this spot kick with ease.
The Brazilian's second goal came in the 68th minute, when Cesc Fabregas floated a great ball over Villarreal's defence. Alexis Sanchez played a neat pass into the path of Neymar, who slotted it home.
Not All Good News for Neymar
Despite stealing the show with two goals, Neymar did not experience all smooth sailing. He was shown a rather unfortunate yellow card in the 85th minute.
It is the 21-year-old's fifth yellow card of the season, which means he will sit out next week's La Liga game against Getafe.
Referee Ignacio Villanueva booked Neymar for alleged time wasting. The incident and Neymar's amusing interaction with Barca fans can be seen here.
Marca.com gave this take on his actions:
The widespread view is that the Brazilian international went looking for the yellow card in order to have a clean slate for Barca's important game against Atletico de Madrid on 12th January and bring forward his Christmas holidays.
Villarreal Are No Pushovers
Villarreal have exceeded expectations upon their return to La Liga.
Just one year after spending a season in the Spanish second division, Marcelino's side have shot up the table, where they currently occupy the 50th spot.
What they lacked in attack against Barcelona, they made up for in defence. Goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and centre-back Mateo Musacchio turned in excellent displays.
Villarreal's back four of Mario, Musacchio, Chechu Dorado and Jaume Costa proved difficult to break down, and Neymar's penalty was the only difference between the sides in the first half.
As reported on WhoScored.com, Barcelona enjoyed 76 percent of possession throughout the game and had 13 shots on goal (seven on target). Were it not for the impressive efforts of Asenjo in goal, the damage would have been a lot worse.
Villarreal have the third-best defensive record in La Liga and will continue to needle the league's top teams. After taking points from both Madrid and Atletico Madrid, they cannot be underestimated, despite coming away from Camp Nou with nothing.
Bruno and Cani Were Missed by Their Side
Villarreal were without influential midfielders Bruno Soriano and Cani in Saturday's game.
The pair—missing through injury and suspension, respectively—has started every game for the Yellow Submarine this term and has been crucial in the side's impressive performances during the 2013/14 season.
Without Bruno and Cani, the visitors suffered from a lack of physical presence in the center of the park . As a result, manager Marcelino Garcia Toral went on the defensive with a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Giovani dos Santos alone in attack.
He was Villarreal's brightest attacking prospect, yet he suffered from lack of support, was easily dispossessed and received little time on the ball.
Bruno will return from suspension for Villarreal in next week's tie against Sevilla at El Madrigal.
Fabregas as False 9?
With Messi absent through injury and Cesc Fabregas missing through suspension, Tata Martino fielded Neymar as a false nine against Celtic in the Champions League this week.
Six goals followed—including a sumptuous hat-trick from the Brazilian—and it seemed like Barcelona had found a fitting way to cope without the injured Argentine.
Which makes Martino's decision to field Fabregas as his false nine against Villarreal all the more confusing. Most casual observers would imagine that Neymar had done enough to call the role his own—for a few days, at least.
Fabregas tops La Liga's assist charts and has weighed in with five goals this season. He is a talented player, yet his best position is in midfield.
The home side got the win, and Neymar still scored two goals, yet you have to wonder if Barca could have been deadlier in front of goal, had Martino stuck with Wednesday's intoxicating formula.
Barcelona Remain Unbeaten at Home
A lot of talk this week has focused on plans for Barcelona to move away from Camp Nou.
The stadium, which has been home to the side since 1957, holds 99,354 people, but the club's directors wish to increase the capacity to 105,000.
According to The Guardian, the club will decide in January whether to move to a new home or increase the size of the current stadium.
Barcelona's home record is formidable. Following Saturday's victory against Villarreal, they remain unbeaten in La Liga since April 2012, when they were defeated 2-1 by Real Madrid.
Before that, you have to go as far back as September 2010, when Barca fell 2-0 to Hercules in the second round of games in 2010/11.
This weekend's 2-1 win was Barca's last fixture at Camp Nou in the calendar year. Their next home league tie will be against Elche on January 5.