Barcelona turned on the style to record a comfortable victory over Villarreal at the Camp Nou to keep their unbeaten domestic season intact.
Barcelona turned on the style to record a comfortable victory over Villarreal at the Camp Nou to keep their unbeaten domestic season intact. A first half masterclass from La Liga champions and in particular, Andres Iniesta, ensured that their dominance was well rewarded.
Barcelona made six changes from El Clasico, notably Luis Suarez was named on the bench with Ousmane Dembele taking his place in the starting XI. Villarreal made just two changes from their win against Valencia.
After a subdued start at the unusually sparse Camp Nou, Messi worked his magic but could only shoot wide. It would not take long for Barca to take the lead though. A mazy run from Dembele put him through on goal. Villarreal keeper Sergio Asenjo made a good save but, former Liverpool man Philippe Coutinho was there to tap home after 11 minutes.
Jasper Cillessen took advantage of a rare La Liga outing for Barcelona, making a great save from Pablo Fornals curling effort. It was then time for vintage Barcelona and, more specifically, vintage Andres Iniesta.
After keeping possession, the Catalan maestro Iniesta threaded a superb through ball to left-back Lucas Digne, who slipped the ball across for Paulinho to double Barcelona's lead after just 16 minutes.
Barca were turning on the style, with Dembele causing all sorts of problems for Villarreal down the right-hand side. Iniesta then shot wide, while Gerard Pique headed over as Barca pressed for a third goal before the break.
Cillessen had to be alert again to stop another Formals shot at his near post before Barcelona scored an unbelievable third goal when Iniesta's sublime lob pass was outrageously finished first time by the Messi.
Barcelona continued to be at their scintillating best, but Villarreal's Castillejo shot narrowly wide with the first attempt of the second half. The Yellow Submarines were playing better with Bacca coming close for the visitors.
Barca worked their magic again but Iniesta could not bundle the ball in and Villarreal would get back into the game moment later. Fonals again had a shot for Villarreal and it fortunately hit his teammate Nicola Sansone to wrong foot Cillessen to give the visitors a glimmer of hope.
Villarreal could have got another back when Rodri's header went straight as Barca keeper Cillessen. Luis Suarez came on with half an hour to go, replacing the outstanding Andres Iniesta, who received a well-deserved standing ovation.
The Villarreal goal gave the visitors a boost in confidence, but that seemed to wake up the Catalonia giants, with Coutinho denied a second goal by the offside flag. Villarreal continued to have a go but all of their shots were harmlessly sailing over the crossbar. There was still time for Dembele to score his first league goal at the Camp Nou after a superb run and pass from substitute Ivan Rakitic.
Dembele would add his second of the game with the last move of the game with a splendid solo effort as Barcelona recorded their 27th league win of the season.
Barcelona finishes the season at Levante and at home against Real Sociedad in hopes of securing an unblemished mark in Spain.