Tue, Feb 03, 2015 - Page 20 News List

Messi, Neymar spare Barca blushes


Lionel Messi and Neymar both scored to help Barcelona come from behind twice to beat Villarreal 3-2 and stay in the hunt for the Spanish La Liga title on Sunday.

Messi and Neymar netted their 22nd and 15th league goals of the season respectively as Luis Enrique’s Barcelona never lost their nerve, and answered sixth-place Villarreal goal for goal to end the visitor’s club record run of 18 games without a loss.

“With those guys up front, it can’t get any better,” said midfielder Rafina, who took full advantage of a rare start to score Barcelona’s other goal.

Villarreal’s Denis Cheryshev struck on the half-hour mark to start the free-scoring match at Camp Nou.

Neymar made it 1-1 just before half-time, only for Luciano Vietto to finish off another Villarreal counterattack in the 51st minute.

However, Barcelona hit back, delivering a quick and decisive double blow.

Rafina pulled the hosts level for a second time in the 53rd minute, and two minutes later Messi fired home a long-range shot — his 32nd goal in 30 games in all competitions this season.

Villarreal did not fade and both sides provided a thrilling second half of back-and-forth action that bodes well for their Copa del Rey semi-final in two weeks.

Barcelona have won eight in a row and stayed one point behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand against Sevilla tomorrow.

“This shows this team is prepared for any adverse situation, as it did the other day [against Atletico Madrid] at the Estadio Vicente Calderon and now today against a great Villarreal side,” said Luis Enrique, whose team is back to its best — less than a month after his job was rumored to be at risk.

Barcelona dominated possession and the scoring chances early, with Messi’s incisive passing leading the way, but it was another frustrating night for Luis Suarez, who saw goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo save his volley before he fired wide when the ball fell to him near the penalty spot.

Villarreal had yet to threaten until they launched a counterattack that ended with Cheryshev deftly redirecting Mario Gaspar’s off-target strike toward the net where it slipped past Claudio Bravo.

Vietto forced Bravo to save his header as Villarreal again pressed on the break, but the match swung Barcelona’s way just before half-time when Neymar stabbed in the rebound following an effort by Rafina after Messi had set him up inside the box.

Former Barcelona player Giovani dos Santos briefly put Villarreal in front again when he pounced on Gerard Pique’s poor control and sprinted to the goal line, where he drew Bravo to him before laying off for Vietto to score.

However, Rafina quickly blasted Barcelona’s second equalizer into the top of the net after Andres Iniesta unlocked the defense and the ball eventually reached him in the area.

Villarreal then made the crucial mistake of giving Messi enough time to size up Asenjo and curl a strike into the top corner of the net for the winner.

Elsewhere, Sevilla striker Iago Aspas scored with one minute left to snatch a 3-2 win over 10-man RCD Espanyol, taking some measure of vengeance for their elimination from the Copa del Rey as they rose into a provisional fourth place.

Aritz Aduriz scored twice in the second half to give Athletic Bilbao a 2-0 victory at bottom side Levante UD and end its seven-round winless streak.

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