x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Coming round the mountains for David Villa

David Villa looked confident and deadly — and relieved after finding the net in what was Barca's best performance so far this term.

Few in Spain had heard of the former mining village of Tuilla (population 1,491) near the fertile mountains of Asturias. That is until David Villa became its most famous son.

The Barcelona and Spain striker celebrated the World Cup win this summer in South Africa on the pitch in Soweto with a CD Tuilla scarf, the local team where he counts many of the players as friends.

And few Barca fans appreciated Saturday's late 10pm kick-off against Sevilla (1am UAE time), but the coach load which made the 12-hour journey east from Tuilla to Barcelona did, as it gave the village's newly formed David Villa Supporters' Club more time for their inaugural visit to Camp Nou.

These were the people who would back the son of a former miner in his darkest times, not that Villa has known many. Yet questions have been asked of him after his relatively slow beginnings at Barca following his summer move from Valencia.

For someone so consistently prolific, two goals in his first seven league starts was a below-par return. Maybe the critics did not take into account that he was being played out of his usual position as a centre forward. Villa never complained though, stating that he is happy to cut in from the left or right.

Maybe the critics did not take into account his excellent link-up play, nor his wretched luck which saw him hit the post more times than he scored.

Villa was not scoring, but he never stopped trying and no Barca player has come close to his 44 shots on goal this season, many of them coming from the intuition and instinct which has made Villa one of the world's best strikers.

To his critics, however, a player like Villa will be judged on goals - though his phenomenal scoring record for club and country means doubters are as rare as the brown bears which live in the mountains of his beautiful home region.

Villa has scored 15 or more league goals in each of the last nine seasons - hitting 20 or more four times. He was the top goalscorer at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup and recently became Spain's all-time leading scorer at the age of 28.

And if Villa's initial goal-shy spell at Barca is a surprise, he will not have been the first big name striker to wilt on the Camp Nou stage. His lack of goals was even more surprising given he had said himself upon signing that he would be playing for a team who created chance after chance.

The travellers from Tuilla chose the right time to visit as it all came good for him on Saturday. El Guaje (the Kid in Asturian dialect) scored twice in Barca's 5-0 demolition of Sevilla - a team who were planning another top-four finish this season and who beat Barca at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey earlier this year.

Barca subjected their visitors to an onslaught from the start and went ahead through Lionel Messi, who was in wondrous form and also bagged a brace.

But Villa was his equal and his first goal was the best of the game when he took a ball from Messi and cut inside, curling a shot from the edge of the area.

The link-up play between the pair was breathtaking at times, with Villa frequently playing in an advanced central role as Messi dropped deeper.

Villa looked confident and deadly - and relieved after finding the net in what was Barca's best performance so far this term, one which saw the 95,000 crowd doing Mexican waves.

Not that his teammates had any misgivings, of course. "Villa? Nobody had doubts about David," Gerrard Pique said after the victory.

And the Villa fans had a lot to smile about to justify their long journey.

"They travelled a long way and I'm grateful to them," said Villa. "I'm sure they'll love Barcelona." Just like Barcelona is starting to love David Villa.

 

sports@thenational.ae