Messi, Neymar lead Barca to 3-2 comeback , Arsenal wins
Star players Lionel Messi and Neymar came to the rescue Sunday to ensure Barcelona remained in the hunt for the Spanish league title.
The Catalan side came twice from behind in a 3-2 win over Villarreal to stay one point behind leader Real Madrid. In England, Arsenal thrashed Aston Villa 5-0 for its biggest win this season. League leader Lyon and in-from Monaco neutralized in the French league while Juventus missed the opportunity to open up a nine-point advantage at the top of Serie A.
Here is a look at Europe’s major leagues:
Messi and Neymar netted their 22nd and 15th league goals of the season, respectively, as Luis Enrique’s Barcelona never lost its 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 halftime, only for Luciano Vietto to finish off another Villarreal counterattack in the 51st.
But Barcelona hit back, and this time delivered a quick and decisive double blow.
Rafina pulled the hosts level for a second time in the 53rd, and two minutes later Messi fired home a long-range shot — his 32nd goal in 30 games in all competitions this season.
Villarreal, however, didn’t fade and both side provided a thrilling second half of back-and-forth action that bodes well for their Copa del Rey semifinal starting in two weeks.
Barcelona has won eight in a row and stayed one point behind leader Real Madrid, which has a game in hand against Sevilla on Wednesday.
The fight for Champions League qualification from the Premier League intensified Sunday, with Arsenal dismantling Aston Villa in its biggest win of the season and Southampton surrendering third place after a surprise home loss to Swansea.
Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott — starting their first league games after long injury lay-offs — were among Arsenal’s five different scorers in a 5-0 win at Emirates Stadium, continuing the free-scoring form of Arsene Wenger’s team and leaving relegation-threatened Villa with an unwanted record.
For the first time in its 141-year history, Villa has gone six league games without a goal.
Arsenal stayed fifth but is now level on points with Southampton, which failed to translate its dominance into goals before being caught out by Jonjo Shelvey’s 83rd-minute shot in a 1-0 defeat.
Only five points separate third-place Manchester United and seventh-place Liverpool with 15 games remaining, in what is shaping up to be a scramble for the final two Champions League spots behind the top two of Chelsea and Manchester City.
A miserable afternoon for Villa began when Ozil flicked a long pass through to Olivier Giroud, who surged clear and chipped the goalkeeper in the eighth. The roles were reversed in the 56th, Giroud playing in Ozil for the Germany playmaker to slot a low finish into the corner.
In the final half hour, Walcott finished off a counter-attack, Santi Cazorla converted a penalty and right back Hector Bellerin completed the rout in injury time.
Juventus was held to a 0-0 draw at Udinese while Napoli closed the gap on second-placed Roma by beating Chievo Verona 2-1.
Juventus came into the game knowing it could extend its lead following Roma’s 1-1 draw against Empoli on Saturday, but struggled and it was Udinese that created the better chances.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men came closest when Roberto Pereyra, who is on loan from Udinese, hit the crossbar.
Juventus was seven points ahead of Roma, with Napoli four points further back.
Elsewhere, there were setbacks for Lazio and Sampdoria in their bids for the final Champions League berth. The capital side lost 2-1 at relegation-threatened Cesena, which had only won two matches this season — both against Parma.
Sampdoria was thrashed 5-1 at Torino with Fabio Quagliarella scoring a hat trick against his old club to spoil Samuel Eto’o’s debut.
Lazio and Samp remained level on points, five behind Napoli.
Inter Milan lost 3-1 at Sassuolo, prompting a row between the visiting fans and two of their players, while in the evening match, Jeremy Menez starred again as AC Milan beat bottom club Parma 3-1 for its first win of 2015.
Franco di Santo scored twice for Werder Bremen to beat Hertha Berlin 2-0 and jump from the Bundesliga relegation zone to 12th place.
The home side made the better start and went close through Jannik Vestergaard early on, before Davie Selke brought a flying save from Thomas Kraft after beating a defender.
Di Santo finally made the breakthrough in the 43rd minute with a brilliant effort from a difficult angle over Kraft and in off the far post.
The Argentine sealed the result with a mishit volley from Clemens Fritz’ cross that bounced beyond the helpless Kraft in the 69th.
Bremen moved two points clear of Hertha, which is just one point above the relegation places.
French league leader Lyon asserted its title credentials ahead of a crucial game against defending champion Paris Saint-Germain with a gritty 0-0 draw at Monaco on Sunday.
The stalemate cut Lyon’s lead over Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain to two points, but the seven-time champions extended their unbeaten run to eight league matches and produced a sixth consecutive clean sheet against a Monaco side that has been unstoppable in recent weeks.
Lyon players showed that despite the loss through injury of striker Alexandre Lacazette — the league’s top scorer with 21 goals — they were able to play fine attacking football. Lacazette, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury, has also been ruled out of the game against PSG.
The result suited both teams as Monaco, which has conceded just one goal in its last 13 matches in all competitions, drew level on points with fourth-placed Saint-Etienne, nine points behind the leaders.
The first Old Firm derby in nearly three years was predictably one-sided as Celtic beat Rangers 2-0 in the Scottish League Cup semifinals on Sunday, exposing the gulf that has formed between two of world football’s biggest rivals.
First-half goals by Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons were enough for the green side of Glasgow in the 400th match between Scotland’s two biggest teams.
Celtic, the reigning Scottish champion, hardly had to stretch against a rival that plays in the second tier as it battles its way back up the league following demotion to the bottom division in 2012 for financial mismanagement.
Dundee United awaits Celtic in the final after beating Aberdeen 2-1 in the first semifinal on Saturday.