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.

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),”

“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.”

Araujo told Movistar.

Robert Lewandowski missed a big chance in the opening stages, firing too close to veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina when through on goal.

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.

End to end

Jose Luis Morales should have levelled for Villarreal but did not connect well with a volley after Andreas Christensen deflected Yeremy Pino’s pass into his path.

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.

Lewandowski was denied again by former Liverpool stopper Reina, 40, after Frenkie de Jong cheekily scooped a pass over the defence.

Villarreal were set back when Francis Coquelin was forced off on a stretcher after a collision with Franck Kessie, and Morales spurned another fine chance before the break.

The forward broke through on goal but with only Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat smashed a low shot into the near-post side-netting.

Quique Setien’s team continued to impress against the coach’s former side, with Araujo’s last-gasp lunge foiling a slick move into the box.

At the other end Raphinha fired narrowly wide as Barcelona searched for a second goal to take the sting out of the game.

Samuel Chukwueze finally beat Ter Stegen in the 90th minute but his goal was quickly disallowed for a clear offside call.

Barcelona survived four minutes of stoppage time and a late penalty appeal for handball against Jules Kounde to secure a crucial victory.

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

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

“When things don’t go well, you have to work,”

“I am sure that we will pick ourselves up because we are a very united group.

“I am sure we will fight for a high league position.”

Said Villarreal defender Juan Foyth.

Source: AFP

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