Messi, Neymar lead Barca to 3-2 comeback win over Villarreal
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — 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 league title on Sunday.
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 sides 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.
“This shows this team is prepared for any adverse situation, as it did the other day (at Atletico Madrid) in the 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.
Elsewhere, Sevilla striker Iago Aspas scored with one minute left to snatch a 3-2 win over 10-man Espanyol, taking some measure of vengeance for its elimination from the Copa del Rey as it 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 and end its seven-round winless streak.
Almeria also edged Getafe 1-0 for its first win in 10 home games this season to move out of the relegation zone in a match both ended with 10 men.
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.
“He isn’t having luck, but he is close to scoring. He will score important goals this season,” Luis Enrique said.
Villarreal had yet to threaten until it 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 halftime 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.
But 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.