Villarreal's 2-1 win at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening leaves FC Barcelona eight points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid with 11 games remaining……
Barcelona dominated possession from the start but their inability to create chances was to prove costly when they fell behind on the half hour mark. Marcos Senna gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot after Valdes brought Guille Franco down in the box.
Xavi equalised for the home side halfway through the second half, but as Barcelona pushed on for the winner - the only acceptable result in the race for the Spanish title - they were caught out by Tomasson's strike for Villarrreal nine minutes from time. It could have been even worse for Barcelona were it not for Marcos Senna's injury time strike being ruled out for off side.
Barcelona finished the match desperately trying to, at the very least, grab a second, but it was too little too late for Rijkaard's men. Manuel Pellegrini seems to have found the formula for nullifying Barcelona's attacking power: his Villarreal side have conceded just two goals in the last four meetings between the two sides.
The Villarreal coach said afterwards that "It was a great performance. We were better than Barcelona. I thought we played very well, we controlled their individuals perfectly."
The Chilean highlighted Barcelona's inability to test their opponents keeper when he said that "To be honest, Diego López really didn't have very much to do."
Villarreal, currently in third place just behind Barcelona in La Liga, are looking good for Champions League qualification for next season. Their proximity to Barcelona was not lost on Barcelona's Andres Iniesta who said afterwards "If we want to be champions we have to look upwards, although Villarreal are now just four points behind.”
To be honest, Barcelona look more likely to surrender second place than to catch Real Madrid in first. However, Iniesta remains optimistic, and said " We have to keep going. We have no other choice. We have to think about the next game and we have to close the gap. Anything can change in two weeks, but every week we have less games to go, of course. We hope the gap can be narrowed. We can’t let our heads drop.”
The reality is that if Barcelona are going to catch Real Madrid, then they need to improve in all areas - and quickly. This point was not lost on Barcelona President Joan Laporta who admitted later that " The team have not been at their best in the last two league games."
Those last two games - Villarreal and the 4-2 defeat at Atletico - sum up perfectly Barcelona's problems and the situation is almost inexplicable. Admittedly, Barcelona would argue that the enforced absence of Lio Messi through injury take s something out of them, as it would any team.
However, that does not explain why a forward line that consists of Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho should appear so toothless in attack. Even substituting the ineffective Henry with the livewire Bojan Krkic seems to have little impact in converting possession in to goals. At times in recent matches, Barcelona have enjoyed around 70% possession of the ball, yet the three forwards are failing to manage more than one shot on goal in 45 minutes.
Take away Xavi's recent goal scoring form and the fact is that Barcelona would be an a far worse position than they are now, not to mention facing elimination from the Copa Del Rey.
Rijkaard must make his side more direct and get them to play with more urgency and more ambition: to show the kind of hunger in all areas that made the same side so unstoppable just two seasons ago.
With just eleven games remaining, he must also do it quickly.