Barça drop points in 2010 opener
Barcelona dropped home points for the first time in the league this season as they were held to a draw by Villarreal at the Nou Camp. Pep Guardiola's side showed off the six trophies they had won in 2009 prior to this game, in what was intended to be an evening of celebration for the Catalan club in their first match of the year.
And they looked to be on their way when Pedro, who scored in all six of those competitions, opened the scoring after just seven minutes. But the Yellow Submarine failed to read the script and David Fuster levelled for the visitors within six minutes of the restart. Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a great opportunity for the hosts late on and Guardiola's league leaders can now be caught by rivals Real Madrid, who visit Osasuna tomorrow.
After winning their sixth trophy of 2009 with an extra-time success over Estudiantes in the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 before Christmas, Guardiola warned against a period of relaxation following such an epic effort. And Villarreal, unbeaten in their last two visits to the Nou Camp, came into this match on form, having won six of their last eight games in La Liga.
This would be their biggest test by far, though, and they did not look up to the task when they went behind after just seven minutes. With Lionel Messi given special permission to miss this match, Pedro started on the right and the Tenerife-born forward made a quick impression as he swept home from close range after Thierry Henry's shot had come back off the woodwork.
Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita were also missing for Barça, while Andres Iniesta was left on the bench after his recent injury. That meant a first-ever league start for Jonathan Dos Santos, brother of former Barça forward and current Tottenham Hotspur player Giovani.
Sergio Busquets also started in what was an unfamiliar midfield for the Catalans. The experienced Xavi was still pulling the strings, though, as Barça stroked the ball around with their usual aplomb. Ibrahimovic almost made it 2-0 after 20 minutes, but blasted his effort over the bar.
Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez got down brilliantly to save Henry's powerful header four minutes later as the home side looked to kill the game off early on. But the visitors were looking dangerous on the break and Fuster headed over from a good position after 27 minutes. Pedro then almost got on the end of Henry's clever pass as normal service was resumed for Barça.
The second goal was remaining elusive, though, and the home team still had just a one-goal advantage at the break. And just over five minutes into the second period, that was gone. Fuster, who a minute earlier had fired over the bar with only Victor Valdes to beat, made no mistake at the second time of asking as he sent an angled drive past the Barça goalkeeper at the far post to level the scores.
Guardiola's side huffed and puffed after that, but lost fluidity after the goal and appeared ruffled by the visitors. Iniesta came off the bench and tested Diego Lopez with a neat drive, but the home side were struggling to penetrate a disciplined Villarreal back-line.
Ibrahimovic should have clinched it with nine minutes left, but the Sweden striker flashed his shot just wide from the edge of the box. After that, Villarreal stood firm for a valuable point which served to confirm the revival of Ernesto Valverde's side, who stayed provisionally ninth. Barça remained top, but can be joined on 40 points tomorrow by Real Madrid. The two teams currently have exactly the same goal difference.