Villa, Messi on the mark for Barça
Lionel Messi scored his 50th competitive goal of the season and David Villa ended his goal drought as Barcelona recovered from their Copa del Rey final defeat with a 2-0 victory over Osasuna that keeps them firmly on course for the La Liga title.
Villa had gone 11 matches without finding the back of the net for his club, including Wednesday's painful cup loss to bitter rivals Real Madrid, but the Spain international was back on the mark today to put a much-changed Barça ahead at the Nou Camp. However, the home side found it far from easy to finish off their lowly opponents and they needed a late strike from substitute Messi to finally guarantee themselves the spoils.
The victory keeps Barça eight points clear of second-placed Real Madrid with only five games remaining, and also means they will go into Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Jose Mourinho's men on a winning note. For struggling Osasuna, though, this defeat was their fourth on the trot and they could find themselves in the relegation zone if other results go against them.
As Madrid manager Jose Mourinho did against Valencia earlier in the evening, Guardiola rang the changes following his side's extra-time defeat in the cup final and the likes of Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez all started on the bench. But whereas the new-look Madrid clicked right from the outset en route to thumping third-placed Valencia 6-3 at the Mestalla, Barca found it much harder to get into their stride.
Sliding Villa ends drought
Despite a sluggish start though, Guardiola's men still managed to make the breakthrough with 24 minutes gone thanks to Villa. Ibrahim Afellay fed the ball out to Jeffren on the left and the young winger fired in a perfect low cross which the sliding Villa turned in at the far post.
That was Villa's 18th league goal of the season and his first for Barça since scoring against Real Mallorca in February. The goal was just what Barcelona needed as they looked to get back on track following their loss to Madrid, but it would not prove to be a comfortable night for the two-time reigning champions, with Osasuna creating three decent chances to draw level just before the break.
The first saw the unmarked Krisztian Vadocz's header saved by Victor Valdes, who then produced a crucial goalline block to turn Damia Abella's shot against the post soon after. Vadocz also fired wide of the far post when well-placed on the stroke of half-time. Valdes was also called into action at the start of the second half to keep out Alvaro Cejudo's free-kick.
With his side struggling to click, Guardiola sent on Iniesta, Messi and Xavi in the second period, but even with those three on the pitch Barça still found decent goalscoring chances hard to come by against battling Osasuna.
However, any hope the visitors may have had of nicking an equaliser late on were crushed when Messi netted his side's second in the 87th minute. Dani Alves' through-ball on the edge of the area was perfectly weighted for Messi to run onto and slide a low shot past Ricardo Lopez for his 50th goal of an incredible season, and one that helps Barcelona take another step towards the title.