BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 13: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) scores his second goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Villarreal CF at Camp Nou Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

La Liga Saturday Review: Lionel Messi Double Sinks Yellow Submarine

Lionel Messi, who else, settled a fascinating match between the kings and the pretenders. Barcelona simply had too much for a plucky Villarreal who proved they will be intimidated by no-one. In Saturdays other matches, Fernando Llorente goal was enough to see nine-man Athletic Bilbao past Almeria and Diego Forlan came back to life with a clinical double in Atletico Madrids 3-0 win over Osasuna.

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La Liga Saturday Review: Lionel Messi Double Sinks Yellow Submarine

Barcelona 3 - 1 Villarreal

They say in elite football it's the smallest details that mark the difference between the good and the great. Villarreal put up one hell of a fight in the Camp Nou, but commeth the hour, commeth the man, with Lionel Messi stepping up to the plate to rescue Barcelona from a precarious situation and set them on the way to a convincing win. That's not to say Barca didn't display their unique brand of spellbinding football, simply that Villarreal stood toe to toe with their illustrious rivals until the little Argentine stepped it up a gear to steer his side to victory.

It was a fascinating match from the off. perhaps the most entertaining offered up so far in La Liga this season. Barcelona settled into their stride early on, with Xavi and Iniesta exerting their influence on proceedings, keeping possession and probing with intent at every possibility. Villarreal were by no means intimidated and pressurised their opponents, keeping a high line and restricting Barca to half chances throughout a tight opening twenty minutes.

Then out of nowhere appeared David Villa, latching onto a fine pass from Andres Iniesta, steadying himself before slotting a composed finish beneath Diego Lopez. That made it three consecutive matches on the scoresheet for 'El Guaje', the perfect response to those who had foolishly doubted his undoubted ability infront of goal. From then on it became the Delgado Ferreira show, as the referee lost control of the match following a shocking decision that saw Lionel Messi flagged offside, when clearly a metre behind Carlos Marchena when Xavi set him free.

It would have been a certain goal, yet seconds later Barca found themselves on level terms. And what a goal it was from Nilmar, weaving his way into the box before sending a delicious dink over Victor Valdes. The Brazilian has hit the ground running from the off this season and it will be interesting to see if any of the big guns come in with an offer for the ex-Corinthians hitman in January. Suddenly the match was wide open and had it not been for poor finishing from Cazorla and Cani and some devine interventions from Victor Valdes, Villarreal could well have added a second before half-time.

The second half saw Messi explode into life with a sensational goal on the hour mark that lead Barcelona on the road to three points. Messi and Pedro exchanged five passes on a sixpence, Pedros final ball sending Messi one on one with Diego Lopez. Leo rarely fails in these situations, chipping a sumptuous shot over Diego Lopez. The Camp Nou erupted. They had witnessed yet another piece of magic from their master of ceremonies. It was a goal that Barcelona stamped all over it. A goal you would expect to see in a five-a-side knock about. They make it look that easy.

Away from the fantasy football, you always felt the match was on the edge of boiling over, in no small part a result of Delgado Ferreiras dubious ability to control a football match. There were some niggly challenges and a stern exchange of words between the two coaches, but credit to both sides as emotions were somehow kept in check. Even so, the shocking decisions kept coming. Maxwell should have been shown red for a last-ditch foul on Borja Valero, while Messis third was clearly converted from an offside position.

Regardless of the controversy, Barcelona ultimately proved too hot to handle for Villarreal, and while Garridos side more than proved they can mix it up with the big boys, they cannot call upon a talent like Messi when the going gets tough. Villarreal will be there or thereabouts. Third place if you like. Barcelona, on the other hand, are the team to beat. The first installment of this seasons Clasico double bill can't come soon enough.

Athletic Bilbao 1 - 0 Almeria

If ever you wanted to watch a match that epitomised what Athletic Bilbao is all about, this was it. Fernando Llorente, the Lion King himself, continued his superb run of form to score the only goal of the match as Athletic survived two sendings off to edge their way past Almeria.

Koikili saw red on the stroke of half-time for a second yellow after pulling back Ulloa and this signalled the beginning of a second-half onslaught from Almeria. Whether it be the fighting spirit of coach Joaquin Caparros, or the unerring support of a vociferous San Mames crowd, Bilbao put their necks on the line to maintain their slim lead. The introduction of Piatti and Crusat for Almeria, both mysteriously left out of the starting line-up by Juan Lillo, made things even more complicated for the home side.

And their task was made yet more difficult after replacement left-back Xavi Castillo also saw red to reduce his team to nine-men. But with players like Iker Muniain, Carlos Gerpegi and David Lopez, there is no such thing as a lost cause. Roared on by their fanatical support they stood firm in the face of a late barrage from Almeria to hold out for a win that sees the Basque lions jump up to 8th, only two points from the top four.

Atletico Madrid 3 - 0 Osasuna

All the pre-match talk had centred around the relationship between star striker Diego Forlan and his coach Quique Sanchez Flores. So inevitably it was the Uruguayan striker who scored two and set up the other to hand Atletico a morale-boosting win over Osasuna. There is no doubt Atletico have strengthened their back line over the last year. No longer do they concede silly goals as David de Gea continues his rise to stardom and players like Tomas Ujfalusi and Luis Perea defy all those who thought the two defenders were finished goods only 12 months ago.

But without Forlán and Agüero banging in the goals, Atleti are toothless. Just as well the two strikers returned to the kind of form that sent the 'rojiblancos' to two cup finals last season, ruthlessly putting Osasuna to the sword with clincal finishes that belied their recent plight. On their day, the two are among the best forwards in world football, and last nights match provided the perfect proof that when on song, they are nigh on impossible to contain.

In truth they were the only difference between the two sides. Osasuna can knock the ball about, but without Walter Pandiani on the field, you just cannot see Camachos team sticking the ball in the back of the net. They lack that quality in-front of goal and unless they find a way of coping without their veteran talisman, it will be another long season for the team from Navarra.

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