Barcelona allowed a two-goal lead to slip as they were pegged back to a 2-2 draw by Villarreal, with referee Sanchez Martinez turning in a bizarre performance.
The whistler awarded Barca a contentious penalty kick in the first half, despite Sergio Asenjo appearing to win the ball cleanly when tackling Neymar with the Brazilian through on goal. The decision allowed Neymar the chance to give the away side a 2-0 lead after Ivan Rakitic’s opener.
But Villarreal fought back after the restart, with the impressive Cedric Bakambu halving the deficit after 57 minutes. And Jeremy Mathieu found his own net with a deflection from a corner kick to restore parity at El Madrigal.
Barcelona looked fatigued for much of the contest, with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez all weary. Luis Enrique might need to rotate this squad more often in order to keep his side in top shape.
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez puts his hands on his head during the Spanish league football match Villarreal CF vs FC Barcelona at El Madrigal stadium in Vila-real on March 20, 2016
Image credit: AFP
TALKING POINT - Does Luis Enrique need to be more careful with his team selections?
Not for the first time this season, Barcelona looked weary, especially as the game progressed at El Madrigal. There were signs of fatigue, with Enrique sticking with largely the same team he has picked for the past six months or so. Messi, Suarez and Neymar were particularly quiet, raising the issue of whether the Barcelona starting lineup should be rotated more often to avoid this kind of situation.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Cedric Bakambu
The Congolese attacker has been in impressive form for Villarreal recently, but even by such standards he upped his performance against Barcelona. Bakambu gave the Catalans problems throughout and scored the goal that sparked Villarreal’s comeback from two goals down. He was the best player on a pitch that counted Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez among its stars.
Villarreal - Asenjo 8, Mario 6, Bailly 6, Ruiz 6, Rukavina 5, Trigueros 6, Soriano 5, Suarez 7, Castiellejo 6, Soldado 6, Bakambu 8. Subs - Pina 5, Adrian 6, Leo 6.
Barcelona - Bravo 6, Roberto 5, Pique 7, Mascherano 6, Alba 6, Busquets 5, Rakitic 6, Turan 5, Messi 5, Suarez 5, Neymar 6. Subs - Mathieu 4, Alves 5.
2’ HOW DIDN'T THAT GO IN? Bakambu did brilliantly to beat his man at the by-line, gets the cross into the box... the effort might have actually come off Turan, but it hits the post and Bravo gathers on the line.
11’ RAKITIC SHOOTS WIDE OF THE TARGET! The Croatian midfielder won the ball high up the pitch and fired at the target from the edge of the box, but he sent his effort wide of the far post.
20’ GOAL! Villarreal 0 Barcelona 1: The away side have the lead! Messi's free-kick hits off the back of Suarez and Rakitic is on hand to slam home the rebound shot. 1-0 to Barcelona.
28’ NEYMAR LOOKED TO BE THROUGH! The Brazilian was clean through on the target after a threaded pass from Messi, but the flag was up on the far side. He was offside by a yard or two.
39’ PENALTY KICK TO BARCELONA! That is a dubious call by the referee. Asenjo looked to have won the ball cleanly from Neymar.
42’ GOAL! Villarreal 0 Barcelona 2: The away side double their advantage! Neymar chips his penalty kick right down the centre, with Asenjo diving to his left. What a strange decision by the referee.
54’ NOT FAR AWAY AT ALL! Trigueros takes the first time shot from the edge of the penalty area, but his effort only finds the top of Bravo's net. The Barcelona keeper was concerned about that.
58’ GOAL! Villarreal 1 Barcelona 2: The home side are back in this match! Suarez has his shot saved by Bravo and Bakambu tucks away the rebound from close range.
61’ GOAL! Villarreal 2 Barcelona 2: Wow, wow, wow! Villarreal are back on level terms! They have scored two goals in a matter of just a few minutes. The corner kick came off Mathieu and found the bottom corner.
72’ ASENJO NEEDED TO MAKE THAT SAVE! Rakitic got a flick on to cross into the penalty box but the Villarreal goalkeeper watched it all the way and made the sprawling save.
78’ THAT WAS A CHANCE FOR RAKITIC! Neymar clipped the cross into the box from the left flank, but the ball was a little too fast for the Croatian, who sliced his volley high and wide.
85’ ASENJO HAS TO MAKE THE SAVE FROM ALVES! The Brazilian right-back caught the cross on the full volley, but it was straight at the Villarreal goalkeeper and the home side survives.
Villarreal (R) players celebrate their second goal during the Spanish league football match Villarreal CF vs FC Barcelona at El Madrigal stadium in Vila-real on March 20, 2016
Image credit: AFP
Villarreal are the first side to come back from a 2-0 deficit at half time against Barcelona in La Liga since Real Sociedad in 2011.
Jérémy Mathieu is the first Barcelona player to score an own goal this season.
Neymar has scored eight goals against Villarreal, making them his favourite opponent in all competitions for Barcelona.