Barcelona bounced back from their Clasico loss to Real Madrid in style as they cruised to a 3-0 home LaLiga win over Villarreal with a brace from Robert Lewandowski on Thursday.
Xavi Hernandez's side remained second in the table on 25 points, three behind Real Madrid and three clear of third-placed Real Sociedad.
Barcelona scored three times in seven first-half minutes starting with Lewandowski's strike from inside the area in the 31st.
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The Poland striker increased the lead four minutes later with a precise curling shot from the edge of the box to finish off a counter-attack after Pedri stole the ball from an opponent close to the centre circle.
Ansu Fati scored Barca's third three minutes later, placing a close-range shot into the empty net from a low cross by Ferran Torres.
JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Lewandowski, Barcelona respond from recent results
A difficult week had cranked up the pressure on Barcelona. A draw with Internazionale on Oct. 12 left them on the verge of Champions League elimination, followed by an disheartening loss in the Clasico to Real Madrid on Sunday. Barca, though, found a much-needed response in front of a crowd of just over 70,000 at Camp Nou against Villarreal on Thursday.
Three goals in seven first-half minutes proved enough to lift the gloom that had accompanied the team over this last week and led coach Xavi Hernandez admit he could be out of a job if he doesn't win a trophy this season. Robert Lewandowski scored the first two to take his tally for the campaign to 16. The touch and spin for his first goal were bettered by the finish for his second just four minutes later. Ansu added the third.
From that point on, Barca looked like a team brimming with confidence again. Frenkie de Jong was sublime at the base of the midfield, Pedri filtered passes between the lines and, if Villarreal did threaten to break, Jules Kounde's recovery pace ensured they did not succeed. The win means Barca move back to within three points of leaders Madrid, that defeat in Sunday's Clasico still their only loss in 10 league games this season.
2. Ansu, Torres turn heat up on Raphinha, Dembele
When the big games have come around this season, Xavi has opted for Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha to flank Lewandowski. However, after a disappointing week, he turned to young Spanish forwards Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres, who had combined for the consolation goal off the bench against Madrid at the weekend.
They combined again here to add Barca's third. Torres showed brilliant footwork to create a tap in for Ansu, albeit at the second time of asking. It was his third league goal of the season, which is the same amount Dembele and Raphinha have managed combined -- and in much more game time.
It represents a nice quandary for Xavi. Ansu and Ferran tend to offer more control and both like to come into central positions. Dembele and Raphinha are more natural wingers and perhaps suit a more end-to-end game. It's also good news for Spain coach Luis Enrique, who will have been concerned by Ansu's and Torres' lack of minutes at the start of the season.
3. Villarreal's play hindered by heavy heart
Unai Emery's side were never likely to win at Camp Nou, but the manner of their first half collapse will have alarmed their coach. Prior to Thursday, they had conceded just three times in nine league games. In seven chaotic first-half minutes, they conceded three more here, their low block taken apart.
The defeat was insignificant in the wider scheme of things, though, after Villarreal confirmed the death of vice president Jose Manuel Llaneza earlier in the day. That affected their preparation for the game. A home match against Almeria on Sunday represents a good chance to pay tribute to Llaneza and rediscover some form.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6; Roberto 6, Kounde 7, Alonso 6, Alba 7; De Jong 8, Gavi 7, Pedri 7; Torres 7, Lewandowski 8, Ansu 7
Subs: Busquets 6, Bellerin 6, Raphinha 6, Dembele 6, Pique 6
Villarreal: Rulli 5; Kiko 6, Albiol 5, Torres 5, Pedraza 5; Pino 6, Parejo 6, Morlanes 5, Baena 5; Danjuma 5, Jackson 5
Subs: Mojica 6, Morlanes 6, Trigueros 6, Moreno 6, Mandi 6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona.
Lewandowski would be the easy option, but De Jong deserves recognition. There has been a debate about whether he can succeed Sergio Busquets as Barca's defensive midfielder and he showed here he can operate just fine behind Pedri and Gavi. He intercepted, drove forward with the ball and completed 95% of his passes. Camp Nou sang his name when he was taken off for a breather.
WORST: Arnaut Danjuma, Villarreal.
You could take your pick of Villarreal players. The defence switched off in the first half but while they conceded three, Arnaut Danjuma looked the most out of place. The striker scored a brace in the win over Osasuna on Monday as he makes his way back from injury but struggled at Camp Nou. Emery agreed and hauled him off at the break.
Highlights and notable moments
Ahead of the match, a trio of Barcelona stars -- Lewandowski, Alexia Putellas, and Gavi -- show off their accolades received at the 2022 Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris on Monday.
Alexia, Gavi y Lewandowski ofrecen el Balón de Oro, el Trofeo Kopa y el Trofeo Gerd Muller al Spotify Camp Nou.— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona_es) October 20, 2022
¡Felicidades! 👏 pic.twitter.com/nDpkmsdC1l
Putellas made history by winning the Ballon d'Or Feminin for a second successive year, becoming the first woman to win the award twice since it launched in 2018. Gavi won the Kopa Trophy, the award presented to the best player under age 21. Lewandowski won the Gerd Muller award for the best striker of the year.
Also ahead of kick-off, both sides paid homage to Villarreal vice president Jose Manuel Llaneza, whose death was announced prior to the match.
𝗝𝗼𝘀𝗲́ 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝘂𝗲𝗹 𝗟𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗲𝘇𝗮, 𝗮𝗹𝘄𝗮𝘆𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗿𝘁𝘀.#BarçaVillarreal pic.twitter.com/85M4esJoWZ— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) October 20, 2022
Llaneza had been with the club since 1994 and had served in various roles.
After the match: What the managers, players said
Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez on the result: "I think played really well. We needed to react and were due a performance in a big game. It was not an easy day after losing at the Bernabeu and drawing with Inter. There are high hopes for this team, a lot is expected. We stepped up and showed character, good intensity, good in defence and, above all, in attack."
Villarreal's Unai Emery on the death of Llaneza: "Jose Manuel started this project, before the Roig family took over. I wanted to dedicate a win to his family but it was not to be. It has been two really intense years for me with him and news like this always affects you. Now we need to think about Sunday."
Villarreal's Manu Trigueros on Llaneza: "We struggled to adapt after what happened, the passing of Llaneza. If we are playing at stadiums like this, it is thanks to his work. He has been phenomenal for this club. We found out while we were eating earlier and it was a big blow. He was really close and always by our side. The club has grown alongside him."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- With his two goals on the night (11 now in LaLiga), Lewandowski is at 601 goals for club and country.
- Only Manchester City's Erling Haaland (56.3) has a better minute-per-goal ratio than Lewandowski among players with at least 500 minutes played across Europe's top five leagues this season.
Barcelona: Another LaLiga home match, this time with Athletic Club visiting the Camp Nou. Then back to Champions League action as Lewandowski returns to Bayern Munich for the first time since leaving this summer.
Villarreal: At home against promoted side Almeria.