Bengaluru, July 6: Barcelona thrashed Villarreal 4-1 in an away game to keep their La Liga title hopes alive even as leaders Real Madrid extended their stay at top with a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao.
An own goal from Pau Torres put Barcelona in front in the third minute, with Villarreal's Gerard Moreno levelling on the rebound in the 14th before the visitors restored their lead through an outstanding curling strike from Luis Suarez six minutes later.
Antoine Griezmann stretched Barcelona's advantage just before the break with a sublime chip, having been dropped from the starting lineup in the last two games, while 17-year-old Ansu Fati added a fourth in the second half with a low strike.
The Catalans had drawn their last two matches to hand more momentum to Real Madrid, but the win took them to 73 points after 34 games, four behind their arch-rivals.
After the game, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said delivering such a slick performance was as satisfying as returning to winning ways.
"It was crucial to get the three points to stay in the hunt but the way we played was important too because that's a part of our identity so we need to keep playing like that until the end of the season," he said.
Barcelona's confidence was rocked by draws with Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid while the sense of instability at the club deepened amid reports captain Lionel Messi was unhappy with the state of affairs and did not want to stay beyond his contract.
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There had been also been plenty of speculation surrounding coach coach Quique Setien after he had brought Griezmann on in added time against Atletico, a move described in the Spanish media as an act of humiliation against the World Cup-winning forward.
The Spanish media was abuzz with rumours that Setien will soon be replaced by club club Xavi Hernandez, who himself had called it a dream job.
However, with Xavi extending his contract with Qatar Stars League champions Al Sadd, Setien cab breathe easy for now.
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Griezmann was named in the line-up against a Villarreal side who had won five of their last six games and was lively from the kick off, helping force the opening goal as well as working tirelessly in midfield and combining well with Messi and Suarez.
He celebrated his goal by sharing a warm embrace with Messi.
(With inputs from Agencies)