Barcelona got the victory but it wasn’t a night for putting all their troubles behind them: Lionel Messi went off with an injured thigh, Luis Suarez was whistled by the Nou Camp, and when Santi Cazorla’s goal halved the home team’s lead it made for an uncomfortable second half.
It’s been a long time since Messi had this many injury problems. Suarez has never been whistled by Barcelona supporters, and the club have rarely struggled defensively so much at the start of a season – still no clean sheets after six games.
It was after just six minutes when Messi made the first when he curled the corner to the near post and Antoine Griezmann timed his run perfectly ghosting in between Gerard Moreno and Ruben Pena to glance a backward header beyond Sergio Asenjo.
It was Messi’s first gift to Griezmann since he’s joined and the two celebrated together with no confetti side show this time from the French forward.
On the quarter-hour it was two with Arthur Melo scoring from 30 yards out.
Sergio Busquets rolled the ball to him and with no back lift the Brazilian hit the back of Asenjo’s net – the keeper caught out by the pace on the shot. Barcelona were 2-0 up without having played too much football.
The tackles were flying in and Sergi Roberto was booked for going through Cazorla. It would be the former Arsenal midfielder who looked to have brought Villarreal back into it a minute before half time.
From Arthur-distance and with Griezmann on his heels ready to dispossess him he left Marc-Andre ter Stegen flapping at fresh air with a left-foot shot that flew past him.
It was the 10th goal Barcelona had conceded in the league so far this season.
Their other concern was the sight of Messi down off the pitch needing treatment on his left thigh midway through the first half and Ousmane Dembele came on at the restart.
The French connection in Barcelona’s attack almost clicked immediately. Dembele raced down the right and crossed but Griezmann missed his kick coming in at the far post.
Dembele then managed to spin away from Javier Ontiveros and cross from Suarez but he scuffed his shot from close range.
Barcelona looked like they might need another goal as Villarreal pressed. Cazorla threaded the ball through to Chukwueze but he delayed his shot and the chance was gone.
Ter Stegen then set pulses racing by charging out of his area to dive head the ball out for a throw before Chukwueze could reach it. He then had to get down to his left to save from substitute Moi Gomez.
Barcelona were shuffling over the finish line as opposed to bursting the tape. No-one looked more off the pace than Suarez.
When he was taken off with 10 minutes left there were whistles for the fifth highest goalscorer in the club’s history – it was an unwanted first for Barcelona’s No 9.
His replacement was Ansu Fati – still 16 – and he immediately flashed a shot over Asenjo’s bar. He then went down in the box under minimum contact but penalty appeals were waved away.
If Messi’s exit had almost put Barcelona’s fire out, Fati had them smoking again. Every time he touched the ball there was anticipation from the Nou Camp and trepidation from Villarreal.
With Messi clearly not fit and Suarez struggling for form Barcelona will hope they can find a way to prevent the teenager playing the under-17 World Cup at the end of next month and missing the first Clasico of the season.