Barcelona were a long way from their best as they laboured to a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Camp Nou on Sunday.
Gerard Pique and Carles Alena were on target to help a below-par Barcelona to a 2-0 win over Villarreal and send them top of LaLiga.
The Catalan giants leapfrog Sevilla to the summit but Pablo Machin’s side will reclaim top spot if they beat Alaves in Sunday’s late game.
Barca – who had taken just one point from their previous two league games – were far from their best against their lowly opponents and were indebted to Pique’s second league goal of the season for a 36th-minute lead.
Ernesto Valverde’s were insipid in the second half, but did score a second three minutes from time as substitute Alena latched onto Lionel Messi’s pass to clip over Sergio Asenjo for his first LaLiga goal.
Despite Barca’s early dominance, Villarreal almost snatched the lead after 13 minutes when Gerard Moreno crashed against the post following sloppy defending from Clement Lenglet.
Ivan Rakitic and Ousmane Dembele came close for the hosts, who finally went ahead nine minutes before the interval when the latter’s cross was headed in by Pique from eight yards.
Messi was denied a second soon after when Asenjo pawed away his close-range effort.
Santi Cazorla whipped a free-kick over the crossbar after 69 minutes as the visitors looked to find a way back into the game.
Philippe Coutinho curled a trademark effort narrowly wide before Alena raced clear in the 87th minute to coolly steer over the onrushing Asenjo and add undeserved gloss to the scoreline.