Eletiofe European roundup: Barcelona find top gear against Villarreal to...

European roundup: Barcelona find top gear against Villarreal to stay in title race

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Barcelona put their recent struggles aside in an impressive display at Villarreal, winning 4-1 to move back to within four points of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.

Recent draws with Atlético and Celta, coupled with Madrid’s earlier 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao, meant the defending La Liga champions kicked off at El Madrigal seven points behind their arch-rivals, but there was no sign of the pressure telling in a breathtaking first-half display.

With just three minutes on the clock, Jordi Alba’s low cross from the left was turned into the net by Villarreal defender Pau Torres, under pressure from Antoine Griezmann. The hosts responded 10 minutes later, Gerard Moreno following up after Santi Cazorla’s shot had been saved by Marc-André ter Stegen.

Barcelona regained the lead in dazzling style after 20 minutes, Lionel Messi setting up Luis Suárez who swept the ball into the far corner from 18 yards. Messi then assisted Griezmann on the stroke of half-time, his backheel teeing up the Frenchman to score with an audacious chip from the edge of the area.

In the second half, Messi thought he had added to Barça’s lead from Sergi Roberto’s pull-back with 20 minutes remaining, only for his goal to be belatedly chalked off by VAR for offside. The visitors did add a fourth late on, as substitute Ansu Fati’s shot from 18 yeards deflected in off Raúl Albiol.

Elsewhere in La Liga, Jonathan Silva’s winner at Espanyol kept Leganés’ faint survival hopes alive. Defeat means the hosts are all but certain to be relegated for the first time in 27 years. In the day’s other game, Osasuna and Getafe played out a goalless draw.

In Serie A, Internazionale’s rocky post-restart form continued as they let a goal and man advantage slip in a 2-1 home defeat to mid-table Bologna that leaves them 11 points adrift of leaders Juventus.

Antonio Conte’s side took the lead through Romelu Lukaku in the first half. The Belgian scored his 20th league goal of the season after Lautaro Martínez had headed Ashley Young’s cross on to the woodwork. Inter looked in total control when they were awarded a 62nd-minute penalty, soon after Bologna’s Roberto Soriano was sent off for dissent.

Martínez’s poor effort was saved by Lukasz Skorupski, who also denied Roberto Gagliardini from the rebound. Bologna subsitute Musa Juwara then turned the game on its head, firing the visitors level before forcing Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni into picking up his second yellow card.

Bologna struck again with 10 minutes to play, Juwara’s Gambian compatriot Musa Barrow latching on to a through ball and squeezing his shot under Samir Handanovic. “There’s an enormous disappointment,” Conte said afterwards. “We managed to lose a match that we should have [won] comfortably. I’m angry with myself as the coach.”

Napoli moved level on points with fifth-placed Roma after a 2-1 win at the Stadio San Paolo, with Lorenzo Insigne curling in a late winner for the hosts. José Callejón had earlier put Napoli ahead from Mário Rui’s cross, only for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to equalise with a shot from the edge of the area.

Roma’s third straight league defeat means they are now 15 points behind fourth-placed Atalanta, who edged past Cagliari to move within a point of Inter in third. Luis Muriel’s first-half penalty was enough to earn victory, but the hosts were left aggrieved when Giovanni Simeone’s opener was ruled out by VAR for a handball.

“The disallowed goal is absurd even though it’s in the rules,” said the Cagliari coach, Walter Zenga. “We are disappointed because it is a decision that goes against the spirit of the game, it’s not a rule that belongs in football.”

Genoa earned what could prove a vital point in their relegation battle at Udinese, rallying from 2-0 down to earn a draw thanks to Andrea Pinamonti’s 97th-minute equaliser. The Rossoblù stay 17th, two points above Lecce and six clear of Brescia, who kept their hopes alive with a 2-0 victory at home to Verona.

Karol Linetty scored twice and Manolo Gabbiadini got the other as Sampdoria eased their relegation worries with a 3-0 home win over Spal, who fell to the bottom of the table and appear doomed. In Sunday’s other game, Erick Pulgar’s first-half double earned Fiorentina a 2-1 win at Parma.

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