Yamal, 16, shines as Barcelona edge seven-goal thriller at Villarreal

Barcelona winger Lamine Yamal (R) celebrates with team-mate and fellow academy graduate Gavi (L) (JAVIER SORIANO)
Barcelona winger Lamine Yamal (R) celebrates with team-mate and fellow academy graduate Gavi (L) (JAVIER SORIANO)

Barcelona starlet Lamine Yamal shone in a thrilling 4-3 win for the Spanish champions at Villarreal on Sunday in La Liga.

The 16-year-old winger, making only his second start for the club, hit the woodwork twice and set up the opening goal for Gavi in an impressive performance which stood out amid a chaotic battle.

Veteran Polish striker Robert Lewandowski tapped home the winning goal, his first of the season, after Yamal's drive hit the post, to send Barca provisionally third.

"We have to look at our youth academy, and even more so given the situation we're in economically," Barca coach Xavi told Movistar, after also giving midfielder Fermin Lopez his debut as a substitute.

"Lamine had another great game. He helped us a lot. He set up a couple of goals and he created so much at 16 years old."

With Xavi watching on from high in the stands, serving a suspension, his charges took an early two-goal lead against the run of play.

Villarreal started brightly and Alexander Sorloth had a goal ruled out for offside.

However Barcelona pounced after 12 minutes when Yamal crossed to the back post to find fellow academy graduate Gavi, who headed home.

Just three minutes later Frenkie de Jong rolled home the Catalans' second after a fortunate bounce sent the ball his way.

Barcelona were missing injured midfielder Pedri, and defenders Alejandro Balde and Ronald Araujo -- and Villarreal soon hit back.

Juan Foyth produced a bullet header from Alex Baena's corner to earn the hosts a foothold at the Estadio de la Ceramica. It was the first goal Barcelona have conceded this season.

The second soon followed with Sorloth tapping home Pedraza's cross after a sublime pass by veteran forward Gerard Moreno helped create the chance.

Villarreal went ahead early in the second half after another impressive surge from Pedraza, who teed up Baena for a clinical finish.

Captain Sergi Roberto struggled badly at right back for Barcelona, who are close to signing Joao Cancelo from Manchester City on loan to occupy that position.

Yamal crashed an effort against the crossbar as he frequently pried at Villarreal's defence with menace.

Substitute Ferran Torres continued his strong pre-season form by pulling Barcelona level and soon Lewandowski put the champions ahead.

Yamal was heavily involved again, with his vicious drive tipped on to the post by Villarreal goalkeeper Filip Jorgensen, but Lewandowski was in the right place at the right time to turn home the rebound.

- 'Without fear' -

Yamal, playing in place of suspended winger Raphinha, did more than enough to give his coach a selection headache next weekend when the Brazilian returns.

"Luckily I play without fear, I try to forget about that and just play football, which is what I'm good at," Yamal told Movistar.

"My mother is a bit afraid when I play as a starter, but she supports me a lot."

Xavi said the winger had fully earned to be playing regularly.

"He's a player who makes the difference, smart, the decision he takes is almost always correct and good," Xavi told reporters.

"That's the best thing about him, at 16 -- he's not starting just on a whim."

Athletic Bilbao came from behind to beat Real Betis 4-2 in an entertaining clash at San Mames.

The visitors took an early lead through Willian Jose and Isco, but Los Leones roared back to triumph.

Mikel Vesga netted two penalties before Gorka Guruzeta sent the Basques ahead and Unai Gomez made the game safe.

Betis striker Borja Iglesias was applauded by Athletic fans as he came on as a substitute, following his retirement from the Spanish national team following federation chief Luis Rubiales's controversial kiss and subsequent refusal to quit his post.

Rubiales kissed Spanish Women's World Cup winner Jenni Hermoso on the lips and said it was consensual, which she denies, drawing worldwide criticism.

Valencia suffered their first defeat of the season, with Osasuna's Nacho Vidal netting a 95th minute acrobatic winner from a corner at Mestalla.

rbs/dj