Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, were Barcelona’s judge, jury and executioners as they put Villarreal to the sword, taking their collective tally of goals for the season over 100 and completing a 4-1 win over the visitors.
The Brazilian in particular was in sensational form, with his dazzling array of skills in this game destined to be replayed millions of times on YouTube. Villarreal’s bamboozled defenders will not be watching.
Media in Barcelona had pondered during the week whether or not Luis Enrique would pick his Gala XI, his strongest side, for the first time all season in La Liga, but the coach confounded them by including Lucas Digne over Jordi Alba.
It was a rotation that seemed like it might cost the team after an early mistake from the Frenchman but he recovered well to help shut down a Villarreal attack after losing the ball.
Only Atletico Madrid have conceded less goals this season in La Liga than Villarreal so Barcelona needed a stroke of luck to break down the yellow wall, which eventually came when Messi’s shot was deflected into the path of Neymar, who nudged it beyond Andres Fernandez from close range.
His strike in the 21st minute was only his second since his heroics against PSG in March, with frustration more the theme for Neymar in recent weeks, given his red card against Malaga and three match suspension.
If anything the Brazilian’s goal galvanised Villarreal, who threatened after errors from Sergio Busquets and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but couldn’t capitalise until Cedric Bakambu broke free on the half-way line and annihilated Gerard Pique in a footrace.
Charging onto Roberto Soldado‘s ball he galloped away from the centre-back and slotted it coolly past Ter Stegen at his near post, with the supreme finesse that made this his seventh goal in six games.
With the final kick of the first half Messi put Barcelona back ahead. With a sharp turn he turned Manu Trigueros to dust, approaching the box and lashing a strike into the bottom right corner, thanks to a deflection off Mario Gaspar which wrong footed Fernandez.
It was Messi’s 50th goal of the season and the MSN’s century. Their tally is down on the previous two years (122 in 14/15 and 131 in 15/16) but the Barcelona trident is still lethal.
Lionel Messi across all competitions for Barcelona this season:
We are not worthy. 🙇 pic.twitter.com/uZDNMeAEQl
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 6, 2017
Suarez forced home Barcelona’s third goal in the 69th minute after being fed by Sergi Roberto, who was having a fine game roaming forward from right-back, as Barcelona turned up the pressure on rivals Real Madrid ahead of their game against Tony Adams’ already-relegated Granada.
Neymar played a big part in the Catalans’ final goal, with a sensational piece of skill to make a fool out of Mario, before his cross was fired towards goal by Suarez and handled by Jaume Costa.
Perhaps the penalty award was a little harsh but Neymar’s skill deserved a goal and Messi made it so, executing a perfect Panenka penalty to round off a big win.
Barça are level with Real Madrid after Los Blancos’ win in Granada. The 2016/17 La Liga is going down to the wire.