Barcelona were not as “superior” to Villarreal after Lionel Messi went off, according to Javi Calleja.
Messi, making his first start of the season after sustaining a calf injury, suffered adductor pain during the opening period of the clash at Camp Nou in LaLiga on Tuesday. He returned to the pitch but was replaced by Ousmane Dembele at half-time.
The Argentina superstar had already set up Antoine Griezmann for the opening goal, while Arthur’s rocket from outside the box doubled Barca’s advantage.
Santi Cazorla reduced the arrears before half-time with a swerving effort that fooled Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but Ernesto Valverde’s team saw out a much-needed 2-1 win after losing 2-0 at Granada on Saturday.
“[Messi] played the first half. The team worked to ensure he was not decisive. When he’s on the pitch he makes a difference, although it’s true he had some discomfort,” said Villarreal coach Calleja.
“Without Messi they are not as superior, that is evident, but we know how to stop them. We were unable to do more damage or defend better at the beginning.
“We are hurt by the defeat, but happy with our job.”
6 – Lionel Messi has been substituted at the half time for the sixth time for @FCBarcelona in all competitions being last time in 2016 January vs Athletic Club at Camp Nou in #LaLiga (W3 D2 L1). Worry pic.twitter.com/JTto27EBr2
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 24, 2019
Ansu Fati replaced Luis Suarez with 12 minutes remaining and went close to sealing the three points before seeing an appeal for a penalty turned down following a VAR review.
“I was amazed. He did everything right,” Calleja said of the 16-year-old attacker.
“He has huge quality and he is not weighed down by the responsibility. For a football lover he is a joy to watch.”
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