Barcelona ended their season with limp 2-0 home defeat on Sunday night against a brutally efficient Villarreal side.
While the hosts were guaranteed a second-place finish in a campaign which manager Xavi admitted ‘could have been worse’, Villarreal’s participation in European football next season relied upon this term’s Champions League semi-finalists bettering Athletic Club’s result away to Sevilla.
Despite a lack of incentives, Barcelona started well. Predictably dominating possession but pressing all over the pitch to win it back sharply. However, this proactive approach left space behind a high backline for the yellow shirts to sprint into.
Midway through the first half, Sergio Busquets was caught receiving a terrible pass from Clement Lenglet, sparking a three-v-two breakaway in Villarreal’s favour which Dani Parejo squandered with a stray ball of his own.
By the cusp of half-time, Parejo had emphatically found his range. With Dani Alves lured out of position by Manu Trigueros’ clever movement infield, Parejo popped a perfectly weighted pass into the path of the onrushing Alfonso Pedraza. Goal-side of a dozing Adama Traore, the left-back steadied himself and fired Villarreal into the lead with their second shot of the match.
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Player ratings from Lyon’s Women’s Champions League final victory over Barcelona.
Player ratings from the Europa League final between Rangers & Eintracht Frankfurt.
Player ratings from Real Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Real Betis on the final day of La Liga.
? @VillarrealCFen take the lead in #BarcaVillarreal.⚽️ @Alfonsopedraza9 ⚽️#LaLigaSantander | #DesenlaceLaLiga pic.twitter.com/C6L1KY0uKP
Rather than rejig their approach, if anything Xavi’s side were more intent on executing a risky man-marking strategy. And so, Villarreal doubled their lead with a strikingly familiar passage of play.
Once again Alves was cajoled away from his right-back slot, leaving Traore scampering after Pedraza. The Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee tracked his man on this occasion but sliced a slashed clearance straight to the feet of Moi Gomez. With time to take a touch inside the penalty area, Gomez rifled in a 55th-minute second with Villarreal’s third shot.
Villarreal boss Unai Emery had lost all 13 of his previous managerial visits to Camp Nou in a horror track record stretching back a decade and a half. On a triumphant evening, Emery broke his curse, guiding Villarreal to a seventh-place finish – and the Europa Conference League – with a parsimonious and punishing performance typical of his side’s best displays this season.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 4/10 – Despite the ever-narrowing angle, Ter Stegen didn’t offer much to rebuff Pedraza’s opener and was helpless for Gomez’s second.RB: Dani Alves – 4/10 – Crept into an increasingly central position as the match wore on, Alves repeatedly tried to arc the same incredibly difficult cross from deep which didn’t come off.CB: Ronald Araujo – 7/10 – Just 12 days after being taken to hospital for a head injury, Araujo showed no ill effects upon his return, steaming around the pitch with aggression and accuracy. CB: Clement Lenglet – 4/10 – One of several players who could have played their final game for the club, Lenglet potentially signed off with an error-strewn display typical of his time in Catalonia.LB: Jordi Alba – 5/10 – A recurring presence in the final third, Alba was often in the right place without quite finding the right pass to pick.CM: Frenkie de Jong – 4/10 – Darting forward from midfield to provide a late addition in the box, De Jong’s involvement was chiefly periphery.CM: Sergio Busquets – 5/10 – Dropping very deep to lubricate Barcelona’s build-up, Busquets was as slick as ever in possession but less fluid and fluent off the ball.CM: Gavi – 5/10 – Provided tigerish pressing but offered little bite in possession. RW: Adama Traore – 2/10 – What began as a disciplined display was warped into a catalogue of defensive negligence within the space of ten minutes on either side of half-time.ST: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 4/10 – Invariably smothered on the sporadic occasions Barcelona snuck the ball through Villarreal’s banks of four.LW: Ferran Torres – 6/10 – Unsettling the visiting rearguard when he gathered pace with the ball at his feet, Torres was a whisker away from winning a penalty when Barcelona were trailing 1-0.SUB: Ansu Fati (57′ for Aubameyang) – 5/10 – Struggled to exert an influence on proceedings despite his stellar recent record off the bench.SUB: Ousmane Dembele (57′ for Traore) – 5/10 – Flitted in and out of the contest with limited influence ushered out wide.SUB: Riqui Puig (71′ for Gavi) – 4/10 – Overcomplicated his play as he tried to force the breakthrough with every touch.SUB: Memphis Depay (71′ for Torres) – 5/10SUB: Oscar Minguez (81′ for Alves) – N/A