Luis Enrique’s Barcelona were undone by an exhilarating display of ruthless, counter-attacking football from Celta Vigo at Balaidos on Wednesday night.
Celta emerged 4-1 victors after an excellent performance, with goals from Nolito, a brace from Iago Aspas, and a late strike from John Guidetti rendering Neymar’s goal a mere consolation.
Ex-Barcelona attacker Nolito opened the scoring after 26 minutes of the game. After collecting a deep cross from Hugo Mallo on the left hand side of the penalty area, Nolito sent a right footed curling shot towards the far top corner, which German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen could only get the slightest of touches on before the ball found the net off the far upright.
It didn’t take long for the Blaugrana to fall even further behind, with ex-Liverpool striker Aspas doubling Celta’s lead in fine style. Nolito’s persistence won possession at the halfway line, and his clever headed pass released Aspas, who raced clear of the away defence.
Aspas finished with aplomb; lifting an impudent dink over the advancing ter Stegen to make it 2-0 with half an hour on the clock, and the scoreline remained the same until the half time whistle.
Barca attempted to crank up the pressure on the home side in the second half, and Lionel Messi hit the post and also had an effort saved in the ten minutes after the interval. Moments later however, matters deteriorated even further for a beleaguered Barcelona. From a Barcelona corner, Celta ‘keeper Sergio punched the ball clear. It fell to Nolito at the edge of his own penalty area, and he instantly released Aspas with a first time volleyed pass; Aspas, 70 yards from the Barcelona goal, flicked the ball over the last defender, and again raced through on ter Stegen’s goal. This time he side-footed a composed left foot finish in off the post to make it 3-0 with only 56 minutes played, much to the delight of the Os Celestes supporters.
Enrique made two attacking changes, young forward Munir replacing Sergi Roberto almost immediately after the third goal, and Ivan Rakitic taking the place of Sergio Busquets 10 minutes later, and they eventually found a goal with 80 minutes gone. Messi lifted a typically perfectly weighted through ball, which Neymar controlled before firing through the legs of Sergio in the Celta goal to make it 3-1.
Any hopes of an unlikely comeback were short lived, however, as Celta re-established their three goal cushion through ex-Celtic and Manchester City striker John Guidetti. The Swede had only been on the pitch for five minutes, having replaced the inspired Aspas in the 78th minute, when he found a yard of space in the box to control another cross from the marauding right back Hugo Mallo, before crashing the ball into the back of the net.
This sealed Barca’s fate, and sent Celta, temporarily at least, a point clear at the summit of La Liga.
Real Madrid took advantage of their Catalan rivals’ slip up with a 2-1 away victory over Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames, with two goals from their French number 9, Karim Benzema.
The first was a result of a defensive error after 19 minutes, Athletic goalkeeper Iraizoz taking a short goal kick to Mikel San Jose, who left his return pass short allowing Benzema to nip in and poke the ball past the the ‘keeper to give Los Blancos the lead.
It was a lead that lasted until the 67th minute when Sabin scored with a textbook diving header at the far post from a beautifully weighted cross from Suseata, heading the ball back across the goalkeeper into the corner. It was a goal that dashed Keylor Navas’ hopes of setting a new club record for longest clean sheet, falling four minutes short of Miguel Angel’s 40 year old record.
The Basque club’s parity on the scoreboard did not last long however, with Benzema grabbing his second of the game and restoring Real’s lead 3 minutes later. It came at the end of a 15 pass move involving 8 Madrid players, with Isco playing the killer ball for Benzema to tap home from inside the 6 yard box and seal the points.
On the Costa del Sol, Villarreal kept up the pace with the leaders with 1-0 away win in front of 18,647 supporters at the La Rosaleda. The Yellow Submarine’s winner came courtesy of an own goal from Malaga midfielder Fernando Tissone. This leaves Villarreal, Real and Celta level on 13 points at the top of the table, with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona a point behind the early leaders.