This is why Barcelona are football's most magical and mystical team
Barcelona haven’t always been a winning team, but pure success is not the reason they are so revered.
Even before the Pep Guardiola era when the team’s potential was fully harnessed, thousands flocked to Camp Nou, a temple of football, to watch legendary players feature in the red-and-blue stripes.
And in an astonishing game of football on Spain’s east coast, Barcelona proved once again they are football’s most inspiring team, throwing away a 2-0 lead, before fighting back from 4-2 down to draw 4-4 against relegation-battling Villarreal. Are you not entertained?
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde knew that Villarreal would play with a knife between their teeth.
Having seen the Yellow Submarine throw away a two-goal lead against Celta Vigo in a relegation six-pointer at the weekend, they were determined to make amends.
“In the final games of the season the teams at the bottom always take a lot of points,” explained Valverde. “They’re all going to do everything they can and we must be prepared for these type of games.”
And yet, he rotated heavily. Not in terms of numbers, rather weight. Three players absolutely fundamental to the team, Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic, started on the bench.
Might Barcelona have been better off playing a full-strength team, winning the game before rotating against Atletico at the weekend instead?
Now they will have to fight hard against Diego Simeone’s unforgiving side, tiring themselves out before the Champions League clash with Manchester United next week.
That competition may be Barcelona’s prime objective but the league is the team’s bread and butter and letting it slip from here would haunt them forever.
However, even though Messi wasn’t playing, viewers knew they were in for a rollercoaster ride.
When Barcelona are off-balance, not at their controlling best, they are often far more entertaining to watch. The matches are far more open and this was a perfect example.
Villarreal saw the team sheet and smelt blood. The game started in a frenzy, with the hosts running at the champions-in-waiting, Samuel Chukwueze a constant menace in yellow for the all-French central defensive partnership of Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti.
Pique, enjoying a fine season, looked ever more impressive by his absence as Villarreal got stuck into the Catalans. World Cup winner Umtiti looked every bit a player who has barely played in an injury-ravaged season.
And yet, Barcelona took a 2-0 lead, firmly against the run of play.
Malcom set up Philippe Coutinho, Barca’s two troubled Brazilians combining, before Arturo Vidal teed up Malcom for the second goal.
The winger was Barca’s biggest bright spot on the night. Every time he features, not only does he provide a decisive contribution but he also looks a better fit for what the team are trying to do.
That is the sign of a player with a good attitude, someone who doesn’t sulk, choosing to learn rather than burrow deeper into themselves mentally.
It is getting increasingly difficult for Valverde to leave Malcom on the fringes and the Brazilian could turn out to be the team’s secret weapon in the latter phases of the Champions League.
With their survival hopes on the line, the Yellow Submarine refused to be sunk and strikes from Chukwueze, Karl Toko Ekambi, Vicente Iborra and Carlos Bacca turned the game completely on its head.
Coutinho hit the post at one end, Ekambi at the other, in a rollicking clash which had nearly everything.
In fairness to Villarreal, there can’t be a more worrying sight in football than Messi coming on, as he did just after the hour mark.
Bacca’s fourth seemed to have torpedoed Barcelona and even a late red card for Alvaro Gonzalez shouldn’t have caused the hosts too many problems - but the Messi factor still lurked.
And the Argentine carved open the hosts, setting up a clear chance for Malcom which went to waste, before taking his anger out with a brutal 90th minute free-kick which rocketed into the top corner.
With Villarreal quivering physically and mentally, Suarez was left to do the honours, ramming home a typically savage drive through a crowd of players and into the net. 4-4.
It was the last kick of a remarkable, unforgettable game, with this one of the hardest earned points of Barcelona’s season.
Valverde said Barcelona needed to win six of their last nine games to win La Liga. That’s now six from eight.
If second-place Atletico can win at Camp Nou on Saturday, where Simeone’s side will fight for their only chance of glory after Juventus came back to stun them in the Champions League, that gap becomes five points.
Still large enough, you feel, to keep Barca at the top of the table, but this result adds a spice to Saturday’s clash.
Perhaps more importantly, though, it was a remarkable game of football which, with all context removed, was an art-form in itself. This is exactly why Barcelona are perhaps football’s most magical team.