Xavi made it back-to-back LaLiga wins following his appointment as Barcelona head coach as late goals from Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho secured a 3-1 win over Villarreal.
The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another three points at La Ceramica when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong’s opener.
Depay had other ideas, though, stroking home with two minutes remaining to spark jubilant celebrations from Xavi on the Barca bench, before Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.
The result puts seventh-placed Barca seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, while Villarreal stay 12th.
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Dani Parejo had been lucky to avoid a red card inside two minutes for an ugly challenge on Sergio Busquets, while Ez Abde – making his first start for Barca – saw a header tipped onto the crossbar by Geronimo Rulli.
Depay missed two glorious opportunities and Gavi struck the post as the visitors dominated the opening 30 minutes.
Pau Torres spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring shortly after the half-hour mark, heading over an unguarded goal after Marc-Andre ter Stegen had completely missed a corner.
Barca went ahead five minutes after the interval when De Jong tapped into an empty net after Depay’s close-range flick had been saved, the goal awarded by the VAR after an initial offside flag.
Villarreal thought they had secured a point with 14 minutes remaining when Chukwueze clipped past Ter Stegen for his first LaLiga goal of the campaign.
But Depay came to Barca’s rescue, superbly bringing down a long ball, rounding Rulli and sliding in from close range in the 88th minute.
Substitute Coutinho added gloss to the scoreline in stoppage time, slotting past Rulli from the spot after he had been brought down by Juan Foyth.
What does it mean? Xavi’s immediate impact
It was not always pretty, and it required a late intervention from Depay, but Barca were good value for their second LaLiga win under Xavi.
Not only was it Barca’s first away win in LaLiga this season, it was also the first time they have won back-to-back games in the competition this term.
De Jong ends long wait
De Jong’s goal was his first in LaLiga since January against Elche, ending a run of 28 games without scoring in the competition – his longest such run since he joined the club. The Netherlands international also created three chances – more than any other Barca player.
Officials off the pace
Quite how Parejo escaped without a booking, let alone a red card, for his shocking early challenge on Busquets will remain a mystery for some time. Villarreal can have complaints of their own as well, with the officials also missing a glaring handball from Gerard Pique in the penalty area during the first half.
Key Opta Facts
– Since the 2008-09 season, Barcelona have played more games at La Ceramica without defeat (P13 W9 D4) than at any other venue in LaLiga.
– Chukwueze has scored his first goal in LaLiga since April 25 (also against Barcelona). Barca are his favourite opponent in the competition, alongside Levante (three goals against each).
– Coutinho scored his second goal for Barcelona this season (both in LaLiga, the other came against Valencia on October 17). He has converted all four penalties he has taken with Barca.
– Ez Abde has completed 12 of his 19 dribbles with Barcelona in LaLiga in 131 minutes played (two of five in this game). He attempts a dribble every seven minutes, the most often in LaLiga among players with at least 10 dribbles attempted (Chukwueze is next, with one dribble attempted every eight minutes).
– Villarreal’s Unai Emery has only won five per cent of his games as a manager in LaLiga against Barcelona (P20 W1 D5 L14), his lowest win percentage against an opponent he has met at least five times in the competition. His only win against them came with Sevilla in October 2015 (2-1).
Barca host Real Betis in LaLiga on Saturday, while Villarreal face a trip to minnows Victoria in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.
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