Evening all! The first of our back-to-back La Liga live commentaries comes from the Camp Nou as Barcelona welcome Villarreal. The home side currently sit top of the table on 40 points, but they were beaten in the league last time out by Athletic Bilbao. Villarreal, meanwhile, have dropped out of the Champions League positions following a couple of draws.
In terms of the recent meetings between the two sides, it does not make good reading for Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine did secure a point in a goalless draw on their own patch in January 2012, but lost the four previous meetings, scoring just twice and conceding 13 times in the process. However, they have been one of the most impressive performers in La Liga this season.
BARCELONA: Pinto; Montoya, Bartra, Pique, Alba; Song, Busquets, Iniesta; Neymar, Fabregas, Sanchez
VILLARREAL: Asenjo; Costa, Mario, Dorado, Musacchio; Perez, Ramos, Pina, Trigueros, Aquino; Dos Santos
So there we have it. Still no Victor Valdes for Barcelona, meaning that Jose Pinto keeps his place in goal. Jordi Alba also makes his first league start since recovering from injury, while Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya and Alex Song also come into the XI. Villarreal, meanwhile, leave Uche and Perbet on the bench, with Giovani dos Santos leading their line. Plenty of attacking talent on display at the Camp Nou.
As mentioned, Barcelona suffered their first league defeat of the season against Bilbao at the beginning of the month, but they have since won twice – in the Copa del Rey against Cartagena and in the Champions League against Celtic. The Catalan outfit currently have no breathing space at the top of the table and therefore three points are vital this evening.
Barcelona’s home form in the league this season has been sensational with seven wins from seven, scoring 25 times in the process and conceding just five. Overall, they have conceded just nine times in their 15 matches, which is the joint-best record alongside Atletico Madrid. Victory for the home side would move them three clear of Atletico and five clear of Real Madrid.
Villarreal, meanwhile, are enjoying a successful season. The newly-promoted outfit had enjoyed fourth spot for much of the campaign, but dropped out of the top four after drawing against Malaga in the league last time out. They have lost just once on their own patch, but their away form has also been strong with four wins from seven matches.
The Yellow Submarine have scored 25 times in their 15 matches this season, which is the sixth-best record in the league. Down the other end, they have conceded just 14 times, which is the second-best record in the division. It is not too difficult to see why the club has impressed on their return to Spain’s leading division.
Not only would three points for Villarreal move them back into the top four, it would put a dent in the title challenge of Barcelona. They would still be top of the table, but would drop to second if Atletico collected all three points tomorrow evening. It would be fair to say that the current momentum is with Atletico at this stage of the season.
PREDICTION: The Barcelona XI that have been selected this evening is far from their strongest side. That said, they still boast a wealth of talent. Villarreal will fancy their chances of causing an upset, but I think the home side will have just enough to claim the points. My score prediction is 3-1 Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for kickoff. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. Can Villarreal cause an upset this evening? Be sure to remain with Sports Mole and you will not miss a moment. The home side get the action underway.
Big blow for Villarreal this evening with neither Bruno nor Cani in their starting XI. Both midfielders have been sensational this evening, but neither is available for this contest. As expected, Barcelona have taken control of the possession inside two minutes with Pique, Bartra and Busquets all enjoying early touches of the ball.
Good pressure from Barcelona as they pass and probe outside the Villarreal box, but the move breaks down when Montoya is challenged by Perez. Not too much from Villarreal thus far, who have former Barcelona youngster Giovani leading their line. You just get the feeling that Villarreal need to keep it tight in the opening 10 minutes or so.
Possession football from Barcelona as they continue to keep the ball, but Villarreal have a nice shape to their midfield this evening. First real sign of Neymar as the Brazilian drives down the left before finding Alba, but Dorado is across to clear.
CROSSBAR! Barcelona come close to opening the scoring as a corner from Neymar finds Song at the far post, but the former Arsenal midfielder thumps his effort against the crossbar from close range. Just a few signs that the home side are starting to take control of proceedings in the Camp Nou.
Villarreal just cannot get the ball at the moment with Alba and Montoya almost operating as wingers, which is leaving all sorts of space in midfield. The away side are attempting to break on the counter, but Giovani has been isolated thus far. The home supporters are also in good voice with 10 minutes on the clock.
Just a reminder that Lionel Messi is expected to return for Barcelona at the beginning of January. However, the likes of Neymar and Sanchez have stepped forward during his absence. It is almost like a training exercise at the moment as the home side continue to boss proceedings, but there has been just the one clear chance after 12 minutes, with Song rattling the woodwork.
Half-chance for Bartra as the Spanish centre-back rises in the Villarreal box, but his header was always moving high of the crossbar. Another half-chance arrives as Iniesta finds Neymar down the left, but there are no takers on his low cross. Still one-way traffic, but it remains goalless. Can Villarreal exert some pressure of their own?
Hint of an opportunity for Villarreal as Perez attempts to find Giovani with a delicate touch just inside the Barcelona box, but Pinto is out to collect at the vital moment. The away side enjoy a period of possession moments later, but it breaks down when Mario's long pass is collected by the home side's goalkeeper.
First sign of Giovani as the Villarreal attacker beats Bartra down the left before delivering a low cross into the box, but Pina cannot connect at the vital moment. The end-to-end period of the match continues as Barcelona pass and probe down the other end, but they are finding it difficult to open this Villarreal defence.
Much better from the away side as they continue to worry Barcelona on the counter, but they have been unable to test Pinto in the home side's goal thus far. Barcelona, meanwhile, remain a threat in the wide areas, but the Catalan outfit have had just the one clear chance inside 21 minutes. You just get the feeling that it could be a frustrating evening against this Villarreal side.
It just isn't quite happening for Barcelona at the moment with their passing not at the required tempo. Montoya continues to become involved in wide positions, but we have seen little from the likes of Fabregas and Neymar after 23 minutes of action. Villarreal boss Marcelino will be pleased with what he has seen as the first period continues to gather pace.
Montoya is again involved for Barcelona as Sanchez finds the right-back inside the box, but the flag is raised at the vital moment. The Spanish defender has been a potent attacking force thus far. Villarreal continue to look for Giovani down the sides, but the Mexican has struggled to keep hold of possession with a number of Barcelona shirts around him.
Penalty shout for the home side as Fabregas goes down inside the Villarreal box, but the referee is not interested. The home side have quickened their passing in the last minute or two, but there are plenty of yellow shirts in defence. Neymar tries to take on Musacchio moments later, but the Argentine stands strong in defence.
PENALTY TO BARCELONA!
Barcelona are awarded a penalty as Mario handles inside the box. It is extremely harsh, but Barcelona have the chance to open the scoring before the 30-minute mark. Neymar to take.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Villarreal (Neymar, pen)
It is now four goals in a week for Neymar as the Brazilian slides his effort into the bottom corner. It is harsh on Villarreal, but that is football at this level. Little under 15 minutes of the first period remaining at the Camp Nou.
That goal has just settled the crowd, who were becoming frustrated with their side's inability to break through. Villarreal attempt to force the issue down the other end as Perez finds Giovani, but once more the Mexican is left in an isolated position.
Another half-chance for Barcelona as Neymar stands over a free kick outside the box, but the Brazilian's set piece is cleared by Mario under pressure from Busquets. Alba delivers a dangerous cross towards Fabregas in the next attack, but Musacchio clears. Little under 10 minutes of the first period remaining at the Camp Nou.
Villarreal continue to carry a threat as Trigueros finds Giovani just outside the box. The Mexican flicks one towards Edu Ramos, but Pique is out to clear the danger. Villarreal have a free kick moments later as Bartra handles outside the box, but the set piece is played short before the move breaks down.
You just get the feeling that the next goal could be crucial in terms of the final result. If Barcelona score a second, it would be extremely difficult for Villarreal to recover. However, a goal for the away side and it is very much game on. Barcelona have another free kick outside the box, but Iniesta's delivery is headed clear by Perez, who has put a shift in at the Camp Nou.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Barcelona to make it 2-0 as Montoya finds Sanchez inside the box, but Asenjo is on hand to make a fine save from close range. Stunning piece of goalkeeping from the on-loan Atletico Madrid stopper. That might have been game over, even at this stage of proceedings.
Barcelona continue to force the issue in the latter stages of the first period as Sanchez delivers a dangerous cross towards Fabregas, but the Spaniard cannot make contact at the vital moment. Villarreal attempt to break with Costa, but his pass is straight through to Pinto. Plenty happening with 44 minutes on the clock at the Camp Nou. Villarreal need the half-time interval.
HALF TIME: Barcelona 1-0 Villarreal
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to an end with Barcelona leading 1-0 at the interval. There has not been anything between the two sides, but a penalty from Neymar has left the Catalan outfit ahead after 45 minutes of football. It is delicately poised ahead of the second period, with Villarreal demonstrating their attacking prowess.
STATISTICS: Barcelona have dominated the possession with 77%, while they have had four attempts to Villarreal's none. The Yellow Submarine might not have threatened Pinto, but they have had their moments on the counter. The referee's decision to award a penalty after Mario handled inside the box will certainly be contested by the away side.
BENCH WATCH: The home side have a number of attacking options on their bench in the shape of Xavi, Pedro, Cristian Tello and Sergi Roberto. Meanwhile, Villarreal also have options in the shape of Perbet, Uche and Jonathan Pereira. I would expect changes to be made around the hour mark of proceedings.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the second period. Just a reminder that following this match we have action from Malaga against Getafe. Be sure to remain with us for that one. Right, Villarreal get the second 45 minutes underway. Can the Yellow Submarine turn this one around?
No changes for either side at the interval, which is not much of a surprise at this stage of proceedings. Villarreal have not tested Pinto thus far, but they have restricted Barcelona to few opportunities. The home side have taken control of the possession in the early stages of the second period at the Camp Nou.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Villarreal (Musacchio)
Villarreal level after 48 minutes as Musacchio thumps a powerful header into the top corner following a corner from Trigueros. Well, that has changed the atmosphere inside the stadium. Game on at the Camp Nou!
The Yellow Submarine have already taken points off Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid this season. They now have their sights set on Barcelona. Suddenly the away side are full of confidence as Giovani drives past two defenders, but Pique is across to challenge the Mexican international at the vital moment.
CHANCE! Villarreal come close to taking the lead as Giovani drives past two defenders before attempting to find the bottom corner, but his effort just moves wide of the post. Barcelona are in trouble here as they continue to relinquish possession in their own half.
Half-chance for Sanchez as the Barcelona attacker is found by Barta just outside the box, but his effort is straight into the arms of Asenjo. End-to-end football in the last couple of moments with both sides forcing the issue. Giovani wins another corner from Pique moments later, but this time Musacchio can only head out for a throw.
Opportunity for Barcelona to threaten from a free kick as Aquino fells Iniesta just outside the box. The resulting set piece is taken by Neymar, but his delivery is straight into the arms of Asenjo. Little over 30 minutes of this match remaining and it is so delicately poised. Both managers will be thinking about changes at this stage of proceedings.
Barcelona have just raised the tempo in the last couple of moments with a series of balls into the Villarreal box, but the away side are dealing with the danger. It appears that the away side are preparing to make a change, with Uche being put through his paces on the sidelines. Barcelona, meanwhile, are preparing Xavi with 60 minutes on the clock.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Barcelona as Sanchez finds Montoya inside the box, but Mario is across to make a fine challenge at the vital moment. Pressure follows from the resulting corner, but Asenjo manages to punch clear under pressure from Pique.
Barcelona make their first change of the match as Xavi replaces Song, who has struggled to exert his influence. Asenjo has a slight problem with cramp, but the Villarreal stopper does return to his feet following a period of treatment. Little over 25 minutes of football remaining and still the two sides are level at 1-1. Barcelona are in a real contest here.
CHANCE! Another wonderful chance for Barcelona as Sanchez finds Fabregas inside the box, but Asenjo is out to make a stunning save once more. How good has he been this evening? The pressure is building. Villarreal make their first change moments later as Uche replaces Edu Ramos. Marcelino wants the three points here.
Pique collects a yellow card as the Barcelona centre-back fells Giovani outside the box. The resulting free kick is Trigueros, but Pique makes amends with a towering header. Uche goes down inside the Barcelona box moments later, but the referee is not interested. Little over 20 minutes of football remaining.
GOAL! Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal (Neymar)
Neymar has his second of the night as the Brazilian taps home from close range following a cross from Sanchez. It is poor defending from Villarreal, who allowed the Chilean to beat the offside trap.
Villarreal make their second change of the match as Perez is replaced by Jokic with little under 20 minutes remaining. The home side continue to force the issue as Xavi slides a low cross towards Neymar, but this time the Brazilian loses possession inside the box.
CHANCE! Neymar comes close to scoring his third as he drives past two defenders before attempting to find the bottom corner, but Asenjo is on hand to make a fine save. Can Villarreal whether the storm? You just get the feeling that there are more goals in this match.
Villarreal cannot keep the ball at the moment as Barcelona continue to force the issue in the final third. Fabregas has another half-chance moments later as he strikes one from outside the box, but it was always moving high and wide of the crossbar. Little over 15 minutes of this La Liga contest remaining.
Villarreal make their third and final change as Jonathan Pereira replaces Aquino, who has struggled in the last 20 minutes or so. Barcelona continue to force the issue in wide areas as Montoya finds Sanchez down the right, but his cross is into the arms of Asenjo. Can the home side wrap this up with a third goal?
Villarreal are not finished here as Giovani wins another corner following good footwork down the left. The resulting set piece is delivered towards Mario, but Pinto is on hand to collect. The home side break immediately with Alexis, but the away side manage to get players behind the ball. I predicted 3-1 at the start of the match and that could be a good bet at this stage.
There is no outlet for Villarreal at the moment as Barcelona continue to dominate possession in the final third. The Catalan outfit were asked the question at 1-1 and they have responded. Sanchez finds Iniesta on the edge of the box moments later, but Asenjo makes a fine save to deny the Spanish midfielder.
Half-chance on the counter for Villarreal as Giovani collects possession before delivering a deep cross towards Pereira, but Pique is on hand to clear the danger. Barcelona make their second change moments later as Sanchez is replaced by Pedro, who cannot force his way into the starting XI at the moment.
Strange booking for Neymar as the Barcelona forward is handed a yellow for perceived timewasting from a corner. Safe to say that the likes of Xavi and Iniesta do not agree with the decision. Villarreal just cannot cope at the moment as the home side continue to dominate the possession. However, at 2-1, there is always a chance.
Barcelona make their third and final change as Sergi Roberto replaces Fabregas, who struggled in the first period, but was more involved in the second. Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of moments with Barcelona more than happy to keep hold of the possession.
Another half-chance for the home side as Barcelona break with Montoya, but the right-back cannot find Neymar inside the box. That would have been a third for the Brazilian. The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional four minutes and we are indeed into the second of those. Is there to be late drama?
Barcelona continue to threaten on the counter as Pedro finds Roberto on the left, but the youngster loses possession when he attempts to find Iniesta. Not too much from Villarreal in the last couple of moments as the home side continue to keep possession. They are close to another victory at the Camp Nou.
CHANCE! Pedro comes close to making it 3-1 as the Spaniard is found by Neymar inside the box, but he smashes his effort into the side netting. Neymar rattles the crossbar moments later, but Roberto had been offside before finding the Brazilian.
FULL TIME: Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal
So there we have it. Neymar scores twice as Barcelona beat Villarreal 2-1. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and be sure to remain with us for Malaga against Getafe. Until then!