Barcelona took over as Atletico Madrid’s chief challengers for the title on Sunday as Antoine Griezmann scored a quick-fire double in a 2-1 win away at Villarreal in La Liga.
Three goals in seven minutes before halftime saw Villarreal take the lead and then swiftly throw it away as Griezmann equalised with a sumptuous lob before capitalising on a misplaced backpass to make it two.
Helped by a red card for Villarreal’s Manu Trigueros shortly after the hour, Barcelona held on for a win that puts them level on points with Real Madrid, having played a game less than the reigning champions.
Atletico are two points further in front and can extend that gap to five by beating a struggling Athletic Bilbao side at San Mames later on Sunday.
Since losing the Clasico earlier this month, Barcelona have strung together three consecutive victories and with a game at home to Atletico still to come, Ronald Koeman’s side still have the title in their hands.
Griezmann started on the bench for the defeat by Real Madrid but has been recalled for the last three games in a row, repaying the faith with a goal now in each.
It remains to be seen whether Barcelona see the 30-year-old as a chance to raise funds in the summer, and also whether the offers are there, but Griezmann now has 23 goals this season, and 15 since the turn of the year.
Villarreal took the lead in the 28th minute and by the 35th they were behind. Samuel Chukwueze did brilliantly to put them in front, steering away from the slipping Jordi Alba before going round Marc-Andre ter Stegen and slotting in from the angle.
But two minutes later, Barcelona were level with a supreme finish by Griezmann, who ran onto Oscar Mingueza’s through ball and clipped an exquisite half volley over Sergio Asenjo, which dropped in the far corner.
Asenjo had earlier made a stunning save to claw Frenkie de Jong’s finish off the line but he could do nothing about Griezmann’s second, as Juan Foyth failed to spot the Frenchman and played him through with a pass-back aimed for his goalkeeper.
Barca’s task was made easier in the second half when Trigueros was sent off for a challenge on Lionel Messi. Trigueros slid in and poked away the ball but his studs went high into Messi’s left ankle on the follow-through.
Messi continued seemingly unhurt and Barca held on. (AFP)