Barcelona’s 12-match winning run in La Liga came to an end at the hands of a Villarreal comeback on Sunday as they were forced to settle for 2-2 draw.
Barca were without Andres Iniesta, whose muscle knock was also enough to see him excluded from the latest Spain squad, and chose to leave out Rafinha, despite the Brazilian being given the all-clear to return from a serious knee injury, but Gerard Pique returned from his Champions League suspension against Arsenal.
Villarreal, meanwhile, made just the one change from Thursday’s goalless draw at Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League, with Manuel Trigueros replacing Tomas Pina, and they should’ve led inside the first minute through Arda Turan, whose header hit his own post and bounced across the line, before Claudio Bravo gathered.
Nonetheless, Barca quickly grew into the game, dominating possession as per usual, and soon went ahead through Ivan Rakitic, who capitalised on a poorly-cleared Lionel Messi free kick and fired the ball through a wall of yellow shirts.
Barca then doubled their advantage, albeit in lamentable circumstances, as Sergio Asenjo appeared to clearly claim the ball in a one-on-one with Neymar, but referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez had other ideas, allowing the Brazilian to stroke a Panenka down the middle of the goalkeeper’s net.
The official also came under fire from Villarreal fans for his refusal to penalise Pique after the defender won none of the ball in a robust challenge on former teammate Denis Suarez and then appeared to use his hand to get it under control, although home Coach Marcelino was sent to the stands for protesting.
However, Luis Enrique’s decision to replace Gerard Pique and Arda Turan at the beginning of the restart seemingly backfired as Denis got beyond substitute Dani Alves and had a shot saved by Bravo, before Bakambu fired home the rebound.
Barca then hit back on the counterattack through Neymar, who rounded two Villarreal defenders but saw his shot superbly pushed away Asenjo, and a cross whipped into the opposing box from the right was unwittingly turned in by fellow new face Jeremy Mathieu.
For a while, it was a case of Catalan backs against the wall as the Yellow Submarine attacked with pace and purpose, despite their eight yellow cards, although Asenjo was forced into action again, this time tipping Rakitic’s glancing header wide of the post.
The storm was soon weathered, yet Barca failed to take advantage as the home side’s custodian parried a cross into the path of Rakitic, but the Croat’s first-time volley was skewed wayward, while Luis Suarez sent a similar effort wide of the target.
Villarreal felt they should have had a penalty deep in added time when Adrian broke clear of the Barca backline and was upended in last-gasp fashion by Javier Mascherano, but the referee redeemed himself somewhat by noticing the Argentine had won the ball.
Villarreal 2-2 Barcelona
Bakambu 57, Mathieu og 63 (V) Rakitic 20, Neymar pen 41 (B)
Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Bailly, Ruiz, Rukavina; Castillejo, Bruno, Trigueros, D Suarez (Pina 74); Soldado (Baptistao 83), Bakambu (Adrian 71)
Barcelona: Bravo; Sergi, Pique (Mathieu 54), Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Arda (Alves 57); Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Referee: Sanchez Martinez