Villarreal rally to hold Barca, Espanyol edge Bilbao

Highlights – Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs 1. FSV Mainz 05

Villarreal battled back from two goals down to earn a draw against Barcelona, while Espanyol defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in Sunday’s early La Liga starts in Spain.

Villarreal 2-2 Barcelona

Villarreal produced an impressive second-half comeback as they rallied from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw with Primera Division leaders Barcelona at Camp El Madrigal.

The runaway league leaders looked to be on their way after Ivan Rakitic found the back of the net on 20 minutes, following a botched clearance by the Villarreal defence.

Barca not only dominated possession, as expected, but they were also doing well to match their opponents’ physical approach. However, the Yellow Submarine were often treading a fine line and were lucky to escape unscathed following penalty shouts from first Neymar and then Messi.

However, Villarreal’s resistance was seemingly broken in the 40th minute when goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo was harshly adjudged to have fouled Neymar despite winning the ball. The Brazil superstar dusted himself off before calmly slotting home the resulting spot-kick to make it 2-0 to Barca.

Credit to Villarreal, though, because they didn’t allow their heads to drop and eventually pulled one back in the 57th minute. Denis Suarez’s stinging effort was saved by Claudio Bravo in the Barca goal, but the ball fell kindly for Cedric Bakambu, who converted the rebound from a tight angle.

And the comeback was completed six minutes later as Bakambu’s flicked header struck Mathieu before crossing the line, sending the home support in wild celebrations.

The goal sparked a reaction from the visitors, who redoubled their efforts in a bid to reclaim the lead. However, a combination of dogged defending and brilliant goalkeeping by Asenjo kept Barca at bay and ensured Villarreal would claim a share of the spoils in an entertaining encounter.

Espanyol 2-1 Athletic Bilbao

At RCDE Stadium, meanwhile, Espanyol clawed their way back from a goal down to record a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

The visitors made a strong start to the game and went close to claiming the lead on more than one occasion in the opening exchanges before eventually getting the breakthrough they were looking for in the 20th minute, Javier Eraso finding the bottom-left corner with a shot from the centre of the box.

Espanyol hit back with a series of good chances but were ultimately let down by a lack of cutting edge as the visitors went into the half-time break with a slender advantage.

However, Espanyol weren’t to be denied after the break as Pape Diop headed home from the centre of the box in the 54th minute to level the scores, before Felipe Caicedo fired into the bottom-right corner from inside the danger area three minutes later to help secure a come-from-behind victory.