Helped by quality finishes from Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona beat Villarreal 3-1 in the first leg of a Copa del Rey matchup at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Barca, as was expected, controlled the game early, keeping possession of the ball and registering a few scoring chances. Barcelona finally broke through in the 40th minute, scoring on a smooth left-footed Messi shot off of a well-timed Luis Suárez pass. Suárez took advantage of a Villarreal turnover, waited for Messi to find space in the center of the box, and found him with an outside-of-the-foot pass. The Argentine superstar one-timed the pass into the back of the net past keeper Sergio Asenjo to make the score 1-0.
The Catalans kept the pressure up at the Camp Nou after the goal, finding a few chances that nearly extended the lead, but ultimately went into halftime with just a 1-0 lead. The first 45 minutes were entirely Barca's, who registered six shots (two on goal) in the first half to Villarreal's zero.
The second half started completely differently than the first half ended. Villarreal found an equalizer in just the 48th minute on a powerful wonderstrike from forward Manu Trigueros that wobbled and bobbed past Barca keeper Marc-André ter Stegen. Trigueros, who subbed on for injured Bruno in the 33rd minute, took the shot from well outside the box and was able to get the ball past Stegen with sheer force.
The even score was short-lived, however, as Barca midfielder Andrés Iniesta found the back of the net just one minute after Villarreal equalized. Villarreal defender Mario Gaspar struggled with a clearance in the box and the star playmaker pounced on the opportunity, slotting home a shot to put his squad back on top, 2-1.
The third goal for Luis Enrique's side was a well-placed header from center back Gerard Piqué on a cornerkick from Messi in the 64th minute. Piqué snuck to the back post, jumped above his defender and redirected Messi's cross with a perfectly placed header into the left corner of the goal to put the Catalans up, 3-1.
Barcelona nearly went up 4-1 on a penalty shot in the 71st minute, but a Neymar attempt to the lower left corner was parried away by Villarreal's Asenjo. "The Yellow Submarine" conceded the penalty kick on a handball in the box by central defender Mateo Musacchio.
The lopsided Barca victory will certainly make it hard to win the aggregate score for Villarreal. The second leg of the Copa Del Rey matchup between Barcelona and Villarreal will be on March 4 at 2 p.m. ET.
The match was quite different than the last time Barcelona and Villarreal played. The prior result was a 3-2 Barcelona comeback league win on Feb. 1, in which Messi also scored and assisted.
Barcelona move on to host relegation-zone-dwellers Levante in a La Liga matchup on Sunday. Villarreal will look to rebound when they travel to Rayo Vallecano for a league match on Sunday.