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Aug 31, 2014

Sandro secures hard-fought Barcelona win

They had to work hard for it, but Barcelona earned three points thanks to Sandro Ramirez's goal.

Footballers these days are taught from a young age how to deal with the media, and further proof of them saying the right things came on Sunday, after teenager Sandro Ramirez got the only goal for Barcelona in a 1-0 win over a stubborn Villarreal side.

Making his debut from the bench, the Canary Islands-born player only wanted to discuss teamwork and the collective effort of a Barca side that fought hard to get the three points at one of La Liga's toughest away grounds.

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And he was totally right; Barcelona huffed and puffed all evening to make chances against two well-organised banks of defence in the heat of Spain's Valencian coast, but thanks to their collective play and three clever changes by Luis Enrique, a goal always looked likely.

It came late -- with seven minutes remaining -- but will be vitally important to give Enrique's side momentum in the early days of a season that promises much change, plus a little of the usual, from a Barca that still insist on sticking to their basic football beliefs.

In this game, the visitors dominated possession throughout but struggled to make any real headway until the hour mark, when Enrique looked to his bench. In the absence of Andres Iniesta, there was a spark missing at the vital moment, and Neymar was the man Enrique first sought to provide it.

The Brazilian was given just over half an hour to effect some change and almost immediately he and Lionel Messi crossed paths and combined to give Ivan Rakitic space. A corner was won from which Jeremy Mathieu went close.

Until then, Messi had been busy, twisting and turning, looking for space to provide an assist or find a way through for himself. He hit a post with a free kick in the first half and drew a great save from Sergio Asenjo from another early in the second.

With Barca's midfielders constantly buzzing around the little Argentine, who remained mainly central, it was left to the full-backs to provide the width. However, when Jordi Alba and Dani Alves did manage to get into dangerous positions, their crossing was at best average.

Sandro scores late winner
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As Barca searched for a goal, Villarreal remained dangerous and Tomas Pina hit a post as the game retained its end-to-end feel and the away side's control of the game was disputed.

So, for the third and final time, Enrique looked to his bench, and it was time for Xavi Hernandez. He replaced Rafinha and suddenly Barca seemed more patient and precise.

The chances then started to come thick and fast, and just when it seemed Villarreal could hold out, Neymar threaded a pass through to Messi, who stopped and double checked his marker before pushing the ball through the keeper's legs into the path of Sandro. Physically, the youngster looks much older than his 19 years, and he appears to be one of those old-fashioned goal-getting No. 9s that the game has lacked so much recently. Sandro grasped his opportunity and, for the second week running -- following Munir El Haddadi's star turn vs. Elche -- a teenager from La Masia had grabbed the all-important goal and appeared to make Enrique appear he has the Midas touch.

There was still time for Villarreal to test Claudio Bravo, but the Chilean earned his second successive clean sheet.

Ahead of him, Mathieu and Gerard Pique showed enough to suggest their new central defensive partnership may flourish. Pique was neat as usual without being tested too much, while Mathieu was alert early in the second half to snuff out danger following good work from the excellent Manu Trigueros and Cani.

The final word was left to Sandro, who pointed out at the end: "Neymar and Messi are two great players, but it was the whole side that won the game." That was the biggest positive Enrique can take from the evening.

Dermot Ledwith

Dermot lives and works in Spain where he watches a lot of football and does freelance work for a number of magazines and news agencies, including AFP, the Press Association, Vavel.com and Soccerex. Follow him on Twitter @dermotled.

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