Barça return to winning ways but Messi injury causes concern
After their worst start to a season for 25 years, Valverde's men found the victory they needed but doubts still remain
Barcelona got back to winning ways with victory over Villarreal last night in their 6th La Liga match of the season. The result was the correct response to their pitiful 0-2 defeat to newly promoted Granada over the weekend, but was by no means the perfect game for the Catalans, as Lionel Messi was unable to complete the game after starting for the first time in La Liga.
Messi - Moments of magic but injury returns
The magisterial Argentine needed to be substituted at half time for a muscular injury that he was unable to shake off for the closing passages of the first period of play. After making his first appearance of the 2019/20 season just a week ago away to Dortmund in the Champions League, the injury will leave Barça fans worried for their upcoming trip to Getafe, as they are yet to taste victory away from Camp Nou this campaign. Messi looks set to miss out on the trip to Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.
Before that, however, he was able to show glimpses of what his team have missed in his absence, with a sublime corner kick to assist the opening goal of the game. What will particularly delight culé fans is the extent to how the set-piece routine looked devised, practiced, and implemented on the pitch to perfection, as Messi’s near-post inviting cross found the onrushing Antoine Griezmann’s head to gently glance the ball over the line from the underside of the crossbar and give the home side an early advantage.
Villarreal, who came into this game ahead of Barcelona in the league standings and in good form having won their previous two games, threatened with a few direct moves, but Samu Chukueze and Gerard Moreno were unable to force ter Stegen into making many important saves.
Arthur - Stunning goal underlining his importance
Arthur Melo doubled the lead just ten minutes after Griezmann’s opener with a stunning strike from distance after the yellow submarine failed to apply any pressure on him as he collected a pass from Busquets during a short period of recycling possession in the middle third.
The phenomenal goal, leaving Villarreal ‘keeper Sergio Asenjo flat-footed, was a just reward for the fantastic performances of Arthur lately, who seems to provide this Barcelona team the internal metronome that they have missed too often in lackluster performances this season.
Questions over defense
Before the end of the first 45 minutes, Villarreal managed to pull one back, with Santi Cazorla’s curling shot from distance troubling Marc-André ter Stegen perhaps more than it should have. Heading into this encounter, nobody in the league had conceded more goals than the Catalan giants, and the German shot-stopper's trepidation in dealing with Cazorla’s strike will ensure questions will continue to be asked about this department of Valverde’s team.
At the break, Messi was substituted for Ousmane Dembélé, making his return from an injury sustained in the season’s curtain-raiser against Athletic Bilbao. From the right flank, the French wing wizard set up his compatriot Griezmann for an excellent chance to double the lead. In the move, Dembélé was able to show the crowd all that is good about him, from his dazzling run to beat opposing defenders and create space, to the inviting pass across the face of the goal that was begging to be finished.
Ansu Fati was also introduced, suggesting he may still be afforded chances in the first team even after Messi and Dembélé are back fit. The 16-year-old looked promising again and was central to a lot of Barcelona’s play, in search of a third goal that ultimately wouldn’t arrive.