Pedri guides Barca past Villarreal to 11-point lead

Barcelona's players celebrate victory at the end of the Spanish League football match between Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on February , 2023

Pedri's strike earned Barcelona a battling 1-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday to move 11 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

The champions, who won the Club World Cup on Saturday, face Elche in midweek to try and bite back into the growing gap.

Earlier Memphis Depay scored his first Atletico Madrid goal as Diego Simeone's side beat Celta Vigo 1-0 to consolidate their position in fourth.

Barcelona rode their luck in a gripping clash at Estadio de la Ceramica but held off a Yellow Submarine onslaught to continue marching towards their goal of winning the title for the first time since 2019.

Defender Ronald Araujo in particular made a number of superb blocks and interceptions to help protect Barcelona's slim advantage until the end, locking in another clean sheet.

Barcelona have shut out opponents 16 times in 21 league games this season, conceding just seven goals.

"The truth is we are working really hard (defensively)," Araujo told Movistar.

"We had to correct this from last season, when teams scored a lot of goals against us, and it was hard for us to keep clean sheets.

"We're doing well at the back and the midfielders aren't leaving spaces, the forwards too. It's the fruit of (our) work."

La Liga top scorer Robert Lewandowski missed two big chances for Barcelona.

However the Polish international, La Liga's top scorer, made up for it with a cushioned pass for Pedri to open the scoring after 18 minutes.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Pedri celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish League football match between Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on 12 February, 2023

Barcelona fashioned a superb team move, finished off by the 20-year-old midfielder for his fourth goal in seven games across all competitions.

Jose Luis Morales should have levelled for Villarreal but did not connect well with a volley and later fired wide when through on goal.

The hosts, who beat Real Madrid in January, were willing to attack the leaders and it led to an entertaining battle which ebbed and flowed from end to end.

The Catalans face Manchester United in the Europa League next, on Thursday.

"There's a lot of points left (to play for), there's so long to go," said Barca coach Xavi.

"The run is extraordinary but we can improve things. We are efficient and very solid, to win these games which are really hard."

Villarreal, eighth, have now lost three league games in a row.

Depay strikes

Earlier Simeone's Atletico, down to 10 men after Stefan Savic's red card, were outplayed by Celta but Depay reacted quickly to spin and bury a loose ball in the 89th minute.

The Dutch forward, signed from Barcelona in January, netted in La Liga for the first time since September.

"It was an important goal above all for the team, and for him," said Simeone.

"He worked well this week, he needs minutes and will compete in training to get them.

"There's competition between the players and it's good that it's hard for us to decide (who plays)."

Atletico Madrid's Dutch forward Memphis Depay (L) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish League football match between RC Celta de Vigo and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo on 12 February, 2023

Goalkeeper Jan Oblak made a string of stunning saves, while Celta striker Iago Aspas hit the crossbar from a free kick, as the hosts dominated at Balaidos.

Atletico defender Savic was dismissed in the 70th minute for hauling down Swiss striker Haris Seferovic on the edge of the area.

Remarkably the Montenegrin defender has been dismissed three times in his last five appearances across all competitions.

With Atletico out of European competition and beaten in the Copa del Rey by rivals Real Madrid, securing Champions League football with a top-four finish is their target.

The harsh defeat leaves Celta Vigo provisionally 14th, unable to add a third consecutive victory to their wins over Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao.

Elsewhere Rayo Vallecano, sixth, were unable to beat lowly Getafe in a Madrid derby, sharing a 1-1 draw, while Real Valladolid and Osasuna drew 0-0.

Real Sociedad, third, travel to face Espanyol on Monday.