Late goals from Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho secured a first away victory of the season in LaLiga for Barcelona as they made it two wins from two under Xavi Hernandez in the league by beating Villarreal 3-1 on Saturday.
Memphis took advantage of a Villarreal mistake to round goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli in the 88th minute and roll home before substitute Coutinho won and converted a stoppage-time penalty to seal the three points.
Frenkie de Jong had opened the scoring earlier in the 48th minute but Samuel Chukwueze came off the bench to level and set up a frantic final 15 minutes.
Barca remain seventh after winning back-to-back league games for the first time this campaign, but they are now within three points of the Champions League places in LaLiga. Unai Emery’s Villarreal stay 12th.
“They’re three huge points but it was a really difficult game,” Xavi said after the match. “We didn’t dominate as we expected. We have to control the ball better. We have to improve. We were lucky. Villarreal didn’t deserve to lose.
“Of my three games in charge, this was the one we dominated the least and we least deserved to win. We suffered a lot in the second half and at the end of the first half. We couldn’t play through their pressure. It was really tough. It was a good day to play direct.”
After beating Espanyol in Xavi’s first league game in charge last weekend, Barca started quickly against Villarreal. Dani Parejo was lucky to escape a red card for a second-minute foul on Sergio Busquets in a game packed with incidents at both ends.
Teenagers Abde Ezzalzouli and Gavi both hit the woodwork for the visitors in the first half, while Memphis shot wide after good work from the impressive De Jong.
“The officials have influenced the result,” Villarreal coach Emery complained after the game. “Someone will have to give us an explanation because the sensation is that Villarreal are not being shown any respect.
“Pique’s handball is crystal clear. VAR is run by people and someone must take responsibility [for not giving the penalty]. The ball is going in and Pique raises his hand and stops it.”
Barca eventually found the breakthrough early in the second half when De Jong tapped in from close range after Jordi Alba had crossed. The goal was initially ruled out for offside but VAR reversed the decision.
Danjuma shot wide for Villarreal as they sought an equaliser and they saw another penalty shout turned down when Garcia grappled with Raul Albiol before they eventually levelled. Barca gave the ball away from their own throw-in and Chukwueze poked home.
Villarreal looked the more likely winners from there but, after Pervis Estupinan and Danjuma missed openings, Memphis showed great composure to round Rulli and roll home his eighth goal of the season before Coutinho came on to make it three from the spot.