A late goal from substitute Aleña made sure of the victory at the Camp Nou on Sunday, but Villarreal made the champions work hard.
Having slumped to a shock 4-3 defeat by Real Betis in their last outing at the Nou Camp, it was paramount that Barcelona got back to winning ways against Villarreal, and although they took the three points their display left a lot to be desired.
Philippe Coutinho was booed off the pitch after an anonymous display and even Lionel Messi struggled to liven up a lukewarm atmosphere until late in the game, when he set up youngster Carles Alena's goal which sealed the win. Gerard Piqué had scored shortly before half-time to help some of the nerves in the stadium.
Barca have become renowned over the last decade for monopolising possession but for the second home game running they saw far less of the ball than they are used to, with coach Ernesto Valverde conceding "without the ball, we suffer".
Barcelona vs Villarreal live: how it happened
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Full-time | Barcelona 2-0 Villarreal
90'+4' And that's that! Barça take the 2-0 win which was deserved although certainly wasn't secured until the final few minutes.
90'+1' Messi stings the hands of Asenjo from distance. Comfy final few minutes for the side that will be leading the table in a few minutes.
90' Pedraza now in the book for a loose challenge on Aleña. 'Take that for scoring' he didn't say.
89' A card out for Fornalls as he seems to go through Busquets and the crowd and Barça players are incensed. The replay shows that Busquets may have made quite a bit more of it than was needed. Really not like him, eh?!
86' Goooooooaaaaaaaaaaalllll!!! Aleña looks to have killed the game as a contest
84' There's a feeling that this game may peter out but Villarreal have a real chance to get something out of this. They may have to take some risks but surely better to do that and lose 2-0 than accept what they've got
82' Pedraza will not want to watch the highlights of this game. Dembélé again says 'see that grass behind you? I'm going to use it.' The defender will be glad that the French winger is not so effective after he gets there.
79' Barça also make a change: Coutinho off for Malcom
78' Another coming together of Piqué and Gerard Moreno, after the striker jumped naughtily into the defender. The stare is broken up by the ref, before Moreno is substituted. Karl Toko Ekambi on.
77' Oooohh! Almost a trademark Coutinho curler. Just wide.
75' From that Villarreal attack comes a break from the lightning quick Dembélé. If only the quality of his final pass was as consistent as that pace.
74' Chance for the visitors. Pedraza getting forward well and hits the long diagonal first time into the danger area. Cleared before Bacca can get onto it.
71' A beautiful example there of the wands that Coutinho owns under his boots, dribbling away from several players although no real danger created in the end. Barça fans may have hoped to see more moments of genius after the 150-million layout (Liverpool fans would have told them that it's a bit like the bus analogy)
70' Valverde's choice to take off Vidal sees the Chilean look to the skies, and the Camp Nou gets their whistle on.
Carlos Bacca is now on for Trigueros in the first change of the match.
Whip, curl, pace...but too high from Cazorla.
67' Another free-kick for Cazorla to wrap his tasty left foot around. Alba booked.
65' Before the deadball is played, the full-back is on again. He doesn't look comfortable though and the reason was a challenge from Chukweze that caught him in the back of the head. Danger quickly cleared.
62' Break in play here as Jordi Alba gets some attention on the pitch. He doesn't look like he can continue but we've as yet not been able to determine exactly what happened.
59' Calleja will be pretty pleased with what he's seen from his team in this second half. The more-than 70,000 in the stadium will be hoping for a nerve-relaxing second goal is coming soon.
58' Dembélé again hits the thrusters to create space for the cross. It's no where near his supporting teammates though.
55' Barça move their whole unit forward and give the backline a little breather. Rakitic though, plays a ball in behind the Villarreal defenders and finds that he's using a different wavelength for his play to everyone else. It rolls out of play.
53' The Yellow Submarine are not going down without a fight here. Some sustained pressure has them on the verge of making something happen but just can't get that final strike at Ter Stegen. Moreno does brilliantly against Semedo and Piqué to win a corner.
50' A little controversy here as Villarreal tried to make something happen down the left (they should have done so better given the space!) and Piqué hands off Moreno who collapses to the ground. Carteras ;-)
48' Another shot at Asenjo, Messi dropping back from the area, moving the ball ahead of him and letting fly. Lively start to this second 45.
47' Close! A free-kick wide on the right for Barça is whipped in to the crowded area and Vidal steps over it. Good save by Asenjo to push it to safety.
46' Immediately the visitors get on the front foot. Break down the left and a cut inside is smothered out amid faint claims for a foul/penalty. No chance that's being given.
We're back underway
Despite their lead and chances created, Villarreal will still fancy getting something here. There has not always been the expected composure at the back from Valverde's defence and it only takes one (like we almost saw from Moreno)
Half-time | Barcelona 1-0 Villarreal
45' No more action here as Munuera Montero blows his whistle and says it's time for oranges.
44' Ruiz does well to nick in front of the lively Dembélé and almost gets those in front of him free. Good defending in the middle of the park to stop the break.
41' Villarreal are having none of that putting-game-to-bed nonesense. Two half chances coming their way in quick succession first the cross headed away by Piqué and then the latter from Moreno being blocked by the number of bodies in front of him.
39' Shot from Messi is stopped by Asenjo. Valverde's side want to get this game safe.
36' That's a deserved lead for the home side. Villarreal have been working hard at the back but the chances have been coming more and more. Should open up the game a little more now, assuming the visitors go for it.
34' Goooooaaaaaaallllll! It's Piqué who is up highest and nods home
33' A little delay in play then a corner for Barça. Piqué up from the back as usual...
31' Chance. The ball breaks to Dembélé just inside the Villarreal area and he feigns to shoot, creating space for a right foot drive. On target, but well blocked.
30' For all that Barça have been the more dominant side in the first half hour, it doesn't feel like the favourites for the league at home against the team just above the relegation zone. Plenty to play for here.
27' More good play from Dembélé. His acceleration takes him through the middle of two players and his lay-off looks good before being intercepted well.
25' It's a booking for Alvaro there for a foul on Messi, but that all followed a 'fun' break from their own box, with Piqué leading the charge.
23' Dembélé gets a bit of fortune for the ball to run into his path and he takes advantage of that to fashion a curler. Not curly enough, though, and Asenjo collects comfortably.
20' Coutinho is getting no time on the ball but was able there to feed in a scampering Alba. The full-back reaches it just before it goes out of play but it's high and over the supporting cast.
18' Lenglet gets into the book earlier than my four year old. Clumsy on Chukweze
17' Rakitic now tries his luck. Must be about 25 yards out and he catches it sweetly. Just wide of Asenjo's left-hand post.
15' Chimerenka Chukweze (I love that name!) gets a shot away but it's not causing too much trouble.
13' Clang! Off the post from Moreno. Indecision and confusion between Lenglet and Ter Stegen allows the striker to get a shot away, low to the near post. Straight back out. A warning to the blaugrana.
11' Messi hits the wall and the danger is cleared.
10' Clatter! Messi is dispatched mid-run by Victor Ruiz and the little number 10 will no doubt pick himself up and have a strike at goal from the free-kick. Yellow shown for challenge.
9' Most of the play in the last few minutes has been in and around the Villarreal area. The visitors can't find a way out.
8' Dancing feet from Dembélé. He's turned his covering defender inside out, outside in, and then repeated it again. Cross headed away well but the crowd were loving that!
7' Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi... one of those runs from the Argentine along the 18-yard line that no one can stop. The space for the trademark strike never appeared though.
5' Fornalls getting into some useful positions as Villarreal look to take advantage of any loose play from their hosts. Busquets is robbed in midfield but the promising move is broken up before Ter Stegen needed to get involved.
3' Immediately, the visitors decide to hit at pace and get round the right flank well. The cross from Samu looks dangerous but is collected well by Ter Stegen
2' Early touches for much of the home side until the ball is eventually played out for a Villarreal throw deep in their own half.
Peeeeeeeep! Barça get us going.
Right, the players have sorted their hair, had their pics taken, decided on a tossed coin and we are about to get underway
And there was a lovely, all-smiles moment there in the tunnel as Lionel Messi and Cazorla embraced.
One player for the opposition that many will be delighted to see back playing at the top level is Santi Cazorla. In case you've forgotten what happened to the former Arsenal player check this out.
Team news is coming in and it looks like, as expected, Valverde is making no changes to his Champions League side...
A win for Barça will see them go above Sevilla into first place and then they can sit down and see how the Andalucian side do away to another high-flying club, Alaves. That game kicks off at 20:45 CET.
Hello and welcome to the Camp Nou this Sunday evening as Barcelona welcome Villarreal for game 14 of LaLiga Santander 2018/19.
Barcelona vs Villarreal live: preview
After losing to Betis and then drawing in the Metropolitan Wanda, Valverde got a much needed victory in the Champions League midweek. Following that up with three points at home tonight will put the reigning champions back on top of the league (at least until Sevilla play later on) and Villarreal, potentially tired from their Europa League Thursday, are a welcome opponent.
There may be some less familiar clubs near the top of the table, and the accepted 'big three' can't afford to be slipping up at home to lesser opposition. Real Madrid did the business against Valencia on Saturday and valverde needs the same result.
We expect the same line-up from the Champions League win, meaning Dembélé gets another chance to prove his worth.
Too close to the relegation zone for their liking but a win against Real Betis last time out was an important boost. A game at the Camp Nou for a side like the Yellow Submarines can normally be seen as a free hit, but this time out Calleja will look at a less than invincible opponent in their way.
The very young Chukwueze gives fans real reason to be excited, who impressed against Glasgow Rangers. He'll need to be right on form again for this challenge, while several eyes will be keen to see the return of Cazorla to the Camp Nou. Keep an eye on Gerard Moreno to see how he gets at as leaky backline.