Sandro Ramirez scored on his debut as Barcelona maintained their perfect start to the La Liga season with a tight 1-0 victory over Villarreal on Sunday at the Estadio El Madrigal.
After being frustrated for more than 80 minutes, despite controlling possession, Barcelona finally broke through in the 82nd minute as Lionel Messi teed up Ramirez with a fine piece of individual skill.
Ramirez, 19, was the second youngster in as many weeks to score for Barcelona, following 18-year-old Munir El Haddadi's strike last week in the season opener against Elche. With new signing Luis Suarez serving a long-term suspension, Barca could continue to rely on youngsters to help Messi carry the load in the early part of the campaign.
Also of help to Messi and Barca was the introduction of Neymar, whose arrival in the 59th minute helped refresh the attack. The Brazilian did not score but was involved in multiple chances, including the build-up to the winning goal.
With the win, Barcelona moved on to six points through their first two matches of the season. Up next for Luis Enrique's side is a home match against Athletic Bilbao on Sept. 13.
Villarreal, who have three points through two matches, play at Granada on Sept. 14.
Barcelona dominated possession in the first half but were unable to break Villarreal's resistance. Messi came close with a 28th-minute free-kick, curling his shot around the wall only to see Sergio Asenjo push the ball onto the post.
The hosts had missed a clear chance of their own five minutes earlier, with Victor Ruiz bundling the ball over the bar after a Giovani Dos Santos cross trickled through the box to the back post.
Barcelona maintained their domination of possession in the second half while piling on the chances. Messi came close with another free-kick in the 66th minute, but Asenjo clawed the ball away from the top corner. From the ensuing corner, Messi headed wide after slipping through the box unmarked.
Villarreal then hacked the ball clear from the goalmouth in the 68th minute after Messi attempted to pick out Neymar in the middle of the box. Three minutes later, Neymar blasted over the bar from a Dani Alves cross.
Much like the first half, however, Villarreal created dangerous moments of their own. Barcelona's Jeremy Mathieu deflected a cross onto his own post in the 51st minute, and Tomas Pina hit the opposite upright 21 minutes later with a low shot. The latter chance rebounded to Javier Espinosa on the left, but Espinosa drove his low shot back across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
Barcelona finally made the breakthrough in the 82nd minute after Messi carved out a tiny pocket of space to create the winner. Neymar started the move, slotting a clever pass through to Messi down Villarreal's left flank. Displaying precise ball control, Messi beat his marker before passing through the goalkeeper's legs to pick out Ramirez, who was on hand to tap in.
Leading at last, Barcelona nearly conceded just two minutes later as Villarreal came close to scoring an equaliser. Ruiz set up the chance, flicking a header to the back post, where substitute Luciano Vietto volleyed into the side netting. Vietto had another chance in the 87th minute after Mathieu failed to clear Barcelona's box, but this time the Villarreal forward shot wildly off target.
Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo had to be alert again in stoppage time to chase down a loose ball in the box, with Vietto lurking dangerously.
|Villarreal Player Ratings|
|Giovani Dos Santos||6.5||6.5|
|Gabriel Paulista (for Costa, 59')||N/A||6.7|
|Luciano Vietto (for Cheryshev, 65')||N/A||5.9|
|Javier Espinosa (for Cani, 70')||N/A||6.2|
|Barcelona Player Ratings|
|Munir El Haddadi||6.0||6.2|
|Neymar (for Munir, 59')||N/A||6.3|
|Sandro Ramirez (for Pedro, 70')||N/A||7.3|
|Xavi (for Rafinha, 75')||N/A||6.1|
Barcelona scorer Sandro Ramirez (via Inside Spanish Football):
Personally, I’m happy but especially because of the work of the team. Thanks to Leo, I scored the winning goal. Messi and Neymar are two great players, but this is done to work of the entire team and we leave happy.
I dedicate the goal to my family and the incredible manager. He relies on the youth system and today it has come around with a winning goal, for a win that is very important for us.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique (via Inside Spanish Football):
We wanted players who were refreshed. Barcelona played like this last season in order to create problems, but we avoided their counterattacks. Villarreal had a great pre-season but the result was a rewarded our hard work. We played as a team throughout the entire game and that makes the win all that much better.
Leaving here without conceding a goal is satisfying. I’m happy with the player’s attitude from the first day. They want to get back to showing they’re still the same team they’ve been for many years. With this idea, we focus on what we can control, and suffer. Right now, we have nothing but positives.
In theory, we’re a team that spends a lot of time on the ground. We missed chances we don’t normally miss, but so did Villarreal. I think the pitch condition influenced the match.