Barcelona back in control after exhibition in Villarreal
Barcelona took a mighty step toward the Spanish title Saturday by thrashing sixth-placed Villarreal 4-1 away, with two goals from league top scorer Lionel Messi, DPA reported.
It was the perfect way for Pep Guardiola's team to respond to Wednesday's bitter Champions League elimination against defensive Inter Milan.
A first-half explosion by the Catalans saw handsome goals from Lionel Messi, Xavi and Bojan.
The defiant win leaves Barca four points ahead of Real Madrid, who need to beat Osasuna on Sunday at home to stay in the race.
"We were really determined to win tonight," said man-of-the-match Xavi, who was shut out by Inter but resumed his mastermind role in El Madrigal.
"They are not a bad team, but we were just determined to win tonight regardless of the opposition."
Xavi played despite pulling a muscle against Inter and ran the show from midfield with his habitual elegance and authority.
Villarreal's Brazilian striker Nilmar wasted a couple of good early chances, with Barca looking unsure of themselves at the back.
In the 19th minute, Xavi set up Messi with one of his precise through-balls, and the Argentine made it 1-0 with a low drive that took a wicked deflection off defender Diego Godin.
Xavi made it 2-0 in the 34th minute with one of his classy free- kicks, giving Villarreal keeper Diego Lopez no chance.
Three minutes before the interval, Bojan made it 3-0 with the best goal of the night. He picked the ball up 40 metres from goal, sped away from Gonzalo Rodriguez and scored with a low drive into the bottom corner.
Bojan was playing in place of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has been relegated to the bench after two dismal displays against his former team Inter.
In the second half, Barca seemed tired as a result of Wednesday's exertions.
Joseba llorente pulled a goal back for Villarreal 21 minutes from time on a centre from Nilmar.
But Barca quickly retook control, and Messi made it 4-1 three minutes from time. The Argentine has now scored 29 goals in La Liga, four more than Real's Gonzalo Higuain.