MADRID: Barca were facing another stumble on the road when Memphis Depay came to the rescue.

The Netherlands striker scored just in time to defuse a Villarreal comeback and secure Barca’s 3-1 victory on Saturday, ending his team’s winless away record in La Liga and handing new coach Xavi Hernandez a second successive triumph in the league.

Depay calmly went around goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli to score a dramatic 88th-minute goal that restored their lead and Philippe Coutinho added a stoppage-time penalty as Barca advanced to 23 points, provisionally seven behind leaders Real Madrid.

Villarreal had fought back through Samuel Chukwueze to equalise after 76 minutes after Frenkie de Jong’s early second-half effort had seen Barca open the scoring.

Villarreal, beaten at home by Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday, remain in 12th spot in the standings with 16 points from 14 matches.

Barcelonas victory followed a fortuitous 1-0 win over Espanyol last week in Xavi’s coaching debut and a goalless draw with Benfica in the Champions League in midweek.

“We dominated less than I expected but in the end we found the goal with Memphis. They are three golden points. You also have to be lucky. Villarreal did not deserve to lose,” Xavi, who coached his first away game since replacing Ronald Koeman, said.

Earlier on Saturday, Rayo Vallecano moved into fifth as they held Valencia to a 1-1 away draw, with Isi Palazon scoring for their visitors midway through the second half after Valencia had gone ahead in the opening 20 minutes through Carlos Soler’s penalty.

Iago Aspas scored the winner as Celta Vigo claimed a 2-1 triumph at Deportivo Alaves to end a run of three successive draws and move further away from the relegation zone.

Getafe remain second from bottom but did get an away point when they held Mallorca to a goalless draw.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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