Leaders Barcelona surprisingly let a two goal lead slip away at Villarreal in a quite controversial encounter at El Madrigal. Goals from Ivan Rakitic and a dubious penalty from Neymar gave the Catalans an excellent head start in the first half, only to be pegged back from a brilliantly spirited second half performance from the Yellow Submarine.
An own goal from disappointing substitute Jeremy Mathieu and a Cedric Bakambu gave the home side a valuable point in the race for securing fourth place and in turn ending Barca’s 12 game winning streak, but keeping the 39-game unbeaten run intact.
The first goal came from a delightful free kick swung in by Lionel Messi towards Luis Suarez, who caused havoc in the Villarreal defence. The ball then somehow rebounded to the grateful Rakitic, who slotted home with his left foot.
In a feisty encounter which saw 12 yellow cards, Gerard Pique was lucky not to have gotten 2 of his own. Just a few minutes after getting his first yellow, Pique lunged in at on-loan Barca midfielder and man of the match Denis Suarez. In real time it looked a very good challenge, but replays showed the Spanish international missed the ball and caught the man, whilst accidentally stopping the ball with his arm. Marcelino was rightly furious and subsequently sent to the stands for his protests.
The home fans and players were in uproar once again when in the 41st minute, returning keeper Sergio Asenjo was wrongly adjudged to have brought down Neymar after clearly getting a hand on the ball. The penalty was awarded and beautifully dispatched by the Brazilian with a “Panenka” down the middle.
Feeling aggrieved at the injustice in the first half, the home side came out flying and along with a couple of poor substitutions from Luis Enrique got the goals their performance deserved. Denis Suarez’s mazy dribble carried him into the box and he managed to toe poke a shot away. Bravo saved, but Bakambu was on and to slot home the rebound.
In a defensive reshuffle, Pique and Arda Turan were replaced by Dani Alves and Mathieu and it was the latter who had a day to forget. Sergio Busquets gave away a silly corner and it hit Mathieu’s back and left Bravo with no chance.
The enthralling game ended with both sides having chances to win it but overall a draw was a far result.