Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has warned his team not to think the league title is wrapped up after his champions moved eight points clear of arch rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish first division with a 1-0 win at Villarreal on Saturday.
Madrid's surprise 1-0 home loss to Sporting Gijon on Saturday allowed Barcelona to turn the screw in the title race and they are firmly on course for a third consecutive league title, holding an eight-point cushion with just eight games left.
A 67th minute goal from Gerard Pique clinched a vital victory over Villarreal at El Madrigal and the celebrations of the Barcelona players underlined the importance of the win, however, Guardiola does not want his team to get complacent.
"If we think we are champions already, we'll lose the league," said Guardiola. "Leagues are won when they are finally won, if you think you've won before that, you can end up losing it.
"Real Madrid are Madrid and they will fight to the end, we've taken a good lead, the biggest we've had so far this season, but in sport bigger leads have been lost. If we see ourselves as champions with an eight point lead and eight games still to play - we can only lose it. There are some very tough games still to come."
Barcelona still have to play Real in the second 'Clasico' at the Santiago Bernabeu on the weekend 16/17 April, having thrashed Madrid 5-0 in the first clash at Camp Nou. Guardiola has won all five of his duels with Madrid and quashed recent reports from Italy that he was ready to leave Barcelona when his contract ended in the summer of 2012.
"The reporter didn't do what we had agreed. I was a bit stupid and he was very clever - let's leave it at that," said Guardiola. "I simply said that when you have been in charge for four years, you are obviously closer to the end. That's only normal, somebody else will eventually take my place."
Since taking charge Guardiola has won two league titles, the Kings Cup and a UEFA Champions League crown and Barcelona are in contention to win all three trophies this season.
Spanish FIFA™World Cup winner Pique, whose winning goal was controversial as he appeared to use his hand to control the ball, admits Barcelona are in good shape in the league and now have to focus on Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg home match against Shakhtar Donetsk. "The goal happened so quickly - I think it hit me on the chest, I don't know, maybe on my arm too. It happened so fast I didn't have time to think," said Pique.
"It's an eight point lead with eight games left to play. It's an important lead, but we have to keep playing as we have been - it's in our own hands now, but it's not impossible for Madrid - it's not done and dusted yet."