Barcelona hold on for a hard-fought win


Sandro scored his first senior goal for Barcelona to give them a narrow 1-0 win at Villarreal. Luis Enrique's men had looked distinctly out of sorts at El Madrigal until the teenager's struck in the 82nd minute goal, failing to zip the ball around in their usual manner. They struggled to get too many sights of Villarreal's goal and only the woodwork meant they were not behind. But Sandro, a 19-year-old academy graduate, ensured that Barcelona went home with the spoils tapping in a cross from Lionel Messi, who had been frustrated by the Villarreal defence all night. Barca's struggles were perhaps down to Xavi and Andres Iniesta being on the bench, but they did their best to get on the ball early on, with Messi fizzing a shot in which Sergio Asenjo saved. There were new combinations for Villarreal to deal with in the absence of Barca's tried and trusted duo. Ivan Rakitic drifted in and shot over, then helped the ball on before Messi had another shot turned away. Messi then whipped in a free-kick from the right channel which caught Asenjo cold, but the ball hit the post and bounced up in time for him to turn it behind. Villarreal laboured to create chances of their own, but they were nearly ahead after the break. Ruben Cani put in a cross in and Jeremy Mathieu diverted the ball against his own post as he ran back to clear. Shaken by the close shave, the away side stepped it up and Messi combined well with Pedro to get Rakitic away. He was caught in two minds as to whether or not he should shoot or cross, and in the end his effort was cleared. Mathieu, at the right end of the field, then found himself free at a corner but, as he tried to make something of it, Victor Ruiz threw himself in front of the ball and got it clear with a brilliant tackle. Neymar was sent on to try and pep Barcelona up, but all he did was find the back of the stand with a wild swing at a cross from the right — and he was nearly made to pay as the Yellow Submarine stormed down to the other end and hit the post through a crisp Pina shot. But eight minutes from the end, Barca broke through when Messi got into the penalty area and, after drawing Asenjo to try and narrow the angle, scuffed a cross underneath him which Sandro bundled in.