Highlights: Villarreal 0-1 Barcelona

Pedri’s strike earned Barcelona a battling 1-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday to move 11 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

The champions, who won the Club World Cup on Saturday, face Elche in midweek to try and bite back into the growing gap.

Earlier Memphis Depay scored his first Atletico Madrid goal as Diego Simeone’s side beat Celta Vigo 1-0 to consolidate their position in fourth.

Barcelona rode their luck in a gripping clash at Estadio de la Ceramica but held off a Yellow Submarine onslaught to continue marching towards their goal of winning the title for the first time since 2019.

Defender Ronald Araujo in particular made a number of superb blocks and interceptions to help protect Barcelona’s slim advantage until the end, locking in another clean sheet.

Barcelona have shut out opponents 16 times in 21 league games this season, conceding just seven goals.

“The truth is we are working really hard (defensively),” Araujo told Movistar.

“We had to correct this from last season, when teams scored a lot of goals against us, and it was hard for us to keep clean sheets.

“We’re doing well at the back and the midfielders aren’t leaving spaces, the forwards too. It’s the fruit of (our) work.”

La Liga top scorer Robert Lewandowski missed two big chances for Barcelona.

However the Polish international, La Liga’s top scorer, made up for it with a cushioned pass for Pedri to open the scoring after 18 minutes.

Barcelona fashioned a superb team move, finished off by the 20-year-old midfielder for his fourth goal in seven games across all competitions.

Jose Luis Morales should have levelled for Villarreal but did not connect well with a volley and later fired wide when through on goal.

The hosts, who beat Real Madrid in January, were willing to attack the leaders and it led to an entertaining battle which ebbed and flowed from end to end.

The Catalans face Manchester United in the Europa League next, on Thursday.

“There’s a lot of points left (to play for), there’s so long to go,” said Barca coach Xavi.

“The run is extraordinary but we can improve things. We are efficient and very solid, to win these games which are really hard.”

Villarreal, eighth, have now lost three league games in a row.

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