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La Liga Review: Pique Shows the Way for Barca Youngsters


La Liga Review: Pique Shows the Way for Barca Youngsters

Barcelona 2-0 Villarreal

As a Manchester United fan, I can still remember the excitement on the day in the summer of 2004 when it was announced the team I supported had signed two of the most promising young talents in European football.

Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi have gone onto have contrasting careers, the latter’s disrupted by injury, but only because of that misfortune has he failed to enjoy the kind of success Pique has and continues to have.

At the age of 31, he remains an integral figure in the game whose value to his home city club cannot be underestimated, both in La Liga and in Europe.

Highlights of the game

That was proved so again as his 36th-minute goal helped the reigning champions back to the summit.

Sbobet followers will have seen the moment countless times as the cultured centre-back arrived with perfect timing to power a header past a goalkeeper.

Thirty-five minutes had elapsed when he did the same again, converting an Ousmane Dembele corner (delivered at the second attempt) and finding the bottom right-hand corner – not just one of the La Liga 2018 highlights but the type of goal which has become a regular in La Liga over many seasons.

Spirited Villarreal had held firm until that point as Sergio Asenjo kept out Lionel Messi and Dembele on more than one occasion.

It would have been unfair to say it was one-way traffic however as, early on, Gerard Moreno was unfortunate to see his left footed shot hit the post before Nigerian teenager Samuel Chukwueze, who looks a real prospect, and Mario Gaspar also went close.

Into the second half, Messi and Santiago Caseres both saw efforts blocked, while Santi Cazorla, who is a very cultured player returning after a torrid time, was also not too far away with a long-range effort.

Moreno and Pique were also involved in a battle for supremacy which, at one point, required teammates to separate the pair as tensions rose.

Carlos Bacca and Philippe Coutinho were next to go close and Sergio Busquets and Gaspar saw efforts blocked before Carles Alena, one of Barca’s youngsters, sealed the victory.

He played a 1-2 with Messi and lifted the return ball over Asenjo to seal the points and celebrate his first ever La Liga goal.

Jordi Alba and Messi went close to adding a third in stoppage time but that would have been harsh on Villarreal who are a better side than their league position suggests but have a sinking feeling right now– they are currently 17th and one place above the drop zone.

This capped a good week for Barca, fresh from their late equaliser at Atletico Madrid last weekend, and shows why, even with key absentees, they are favourites to retain the title when you look at the La Liga 2018 betting odds.

Key Statistics

This was Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde’s 400th game in LaLiga as a manager. Valverde has become the 16th coach to reach that milestone in the history of the competition, making his mark with the five teams (Barcelona, Atletico Bilbao, Valencia, Villarreal and Espanyol).

This was Barca’s first clean sheet in the league since August (when they were 1-0 winners over Real Valladolid).

Only Sergio Ramos (five) has more goals as a central defender than Pique in La Liga so far this term.

As well as netting his first La Liga goal Alena has scored once before, in the Copa del Rey. Before today he only had a total of 61 minutes in the league across four substitute appearances.

Villarreal have only won one of their past eight matches.

Barcelona are unbeaten in 19 games against Villarreal with 14 wins and five draws, winning the last eight in Catalonia and scoring in all of them since 2004.

The last time the Yellow Submarine beat Barcelona was over a decade ago. On that occasion, in March 2008, they emerged 2-1 winners at the Nou Camp with a penalty from fans’ favourite Marcos Senna and a late winner from ex-Newcastle man Jon Dahl Tomasson.

What’s next?

In La Liga, it’s the derby next Saturday for Barca at Cornella El Prat. The champions travel to Espanyol where Valverde will be immune from the criticism of the home fans who still remember and appreciate what he did for them during his two seasons in charge.

Either side of that they have a home Copa del Rey tie against minnows Cultural Leonesa (they hold a 1-0 aggregate advantage) and host Spurs in the Champions League of which they have already assured a place in the knockout stages.

Villarreal are also in Copa action in midweek and host Almeria with the score finely poised at 3-3.

It’s then back to home comforts as Celta Vigo are the visitors next weekend and Spartak Moscow travel to Spain for a key Europa League tie.

 

 


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