Pique rifles Barça past Villarreal
© AFP

Barcelona took a giant step towards retaining their Primera Division title with a 1-0 victory at Villarreal on a dramatic night in Spain.

With Real Madrid having lost at home to Sporting Gijon earlier in the day, ending Jose Mourinho's nine-year unbeaten home run in the league in the process, Barça knew a win at El Madrigal would put them on the brink of a third successive title.

An eight-point advantage over Madrid was the prize on offer and, after a sluggish opening hour, Pep Guardiola's men finally found a way to take it as Gerard Pique scored the only goal.

Yellow Submarine striker Giuseppe Rossi impressed in the opening exchanges, getting through in the sixth minute before the ball was smothered by Victor Valdes. The former Manchester United striker then worked the keeper again, flashing a vicious drive across his goal, with Marco Ruben unable to pounce on the rebound after Valdes pushed it away.

Rossi fired a fizzing volley just over the bar in the only other notable action of the first half. Short of creativity, Barcelona sent on Lionel Messi with 52 minutes gone and 15 minutes later they were ahead. A Dani Alves cross was flicked on by Sergio Busquets and fell kindly for Pique who displayed fine close control before rifling home from almost under the bar.

Alves then saw a free-kick clawed away by Diego Lopez, before Valdes saved Barça four minutes later with a stunning stop with his legs to keep out Rossi's rocket of a volley.