Watch out Man Utd, Pedri is on fire! Winners, losers & ratings as Barcelona's starboy inspires narrow win at Villarreal that cuts Real Madrid loose in La Liga

Pedri shined to lead Barcelona to an ugly win, and establish a double-digit lead atop La Liga, with Manchester United looming in the Europa League.

It wasn't pretty, but who cares? Pedri grabbed the only goal and starred throughout. While Barcelona missed a few chances, their defensive efforts were enough to secure an ugly 1-0 victory over Villarreal that extends their lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga to 11 points.

Barcelona avoided any early jitters, with Pedri breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute. The 20-year-old latched onto Robert Lewandowski's flick, before wrong-footing Pepe Reina from close range to finish off a beautiful flowing move from the visitors. Villarreal had a chance to equalise on the brink of half-time, but Jose Luis Morales fired into the side-netting after running through on goal.

The Blaugrana pushed for a second after half-time, with Pedri and Raphinha exchanging good chances. But they failed to double their lead, instead relying on a string of Ronald Araujo clearances to hang on to a precarious 1-0 advantage.

At full-time, Xavi's side celebrated with the passion of a team that knows it could be on the brink of something special. And with Madrid now so far behind, albeit with a game in hand, those joyous scenes seem well-founded.

A new challenge awaits, though. Manchester United are looming in the Europa League knockout play-offs, and for all of Barca's success, they might need a better performance to establish a first-leg lead over a fit and firing side, especially with defensive midfield stalwart Casemiro back in the fold...

  1. The Winners

    The Winners


    Manager Xavi told Pedri to get forward more this season, and the young Spaniard seems to have taken on that advice. Pedri scored the winner on Sunday, giving him six La Liga goals for the season, double his total from last year. And it was a confident finish, too, with Pedri showing no hesitation in slotting the ball into the bottom corner after bursting through on goal. Whether the centre midfielder ever becomes a prolific threat remains to be seen, but his attacking output is already much improved this year. And for a Barca side that needed goals to supplement Robert Lewandowski's total, Pedri's contributions have been vital. If he can maintain the same level against United, it will be very difficult for Erik ten Hag's side to stop him and Barca will have a great chance of progressing to the Europa League's round of 16.

    Frenkie de Jong:

    Busquets who? With Barca's captain recovering from an ankle injury, De Jong slotted into the Spaniard's defensive-midfield role. And although De Jong is a different type of no.6 from Busquets, he played the position with aplomb. He did all of the physical stuff: flying into tackles, winning headers, cutting passing lanes. But he also offered some quality going forward. De Jong is a more direct passer than Busquets, with a natural creative streak. It was his penchant for progressing the ball that gave Barca some of their best attacking moments, a quality that their usual holding midfielder doesn't always bring.


    Could he have expected to be in this position? Barcelona are 11 points clear after 21 games, and haven't lost since October. They have scored the most goals in the league and conceded the fewest. Their young stars, Gavi and Pedri, have only improved. And, crucially, they have managed to navigate a series of injuries to major players. And Xavi surely has to take some of the credit. His tactical adaptability has been vital, and he seems to have the backing of the whole squad. A league title is looking increasingly likely.

  2. The Losers

    The Losers

    Ansu Fati:

    Fati has been linked with a Barca exit in recent weeks, and Xavi's handling of the player isn't doing much to quell the rumours. The winger was made to sit on the bench and watch as the out-of-form Ferran Torres came on for the first-choice Raphinha instead of him. Fati has now only played 22 minutes across his last two La Liga games and hasn't scored a goal in the league since October. And with Xavi opting for a more permanent switch to a four-midfielder formation, there's even less room in the squad. Those transfer rumours could turn into reality in a few months.


    Ironically for Fati, the player picked in front of him hasn't exactly set the world alight. Raphinha's Barca career has been marred by inconsistency, with the winger struggling to provide goals and assists with regularity. And Sunday was another forgettable day for the former-Leeds man. Raphinha was impactful for passages, making all the right runs and putting in a shift defensively. But he lacked quality on the ball, highlighted by a poor cross to an open Gavi and a skewed shot that should have put his side 2-0 up. The good news is Xavi seems to have faith in the Brazilian. It'll be interesting to see how long it lasts.

    Real Madrid:

    One day after their biggest win of the season in the Cup World Cup final, Madrid are now forced to confront a harsh reality. Barcelona are now 11 points clear in La Liga, and with Ousmane Dembele due to return soon, they don't have many injury issues to worry about. This game might have been a particularly disheartening one for Los Blancos. Barca weren't very good. They missed chances, made some defensive errors, and should have killed the game in the first half. But they managed to squeak out a win on the road against a very good team. It was the kind of gutsy, drab, league-winning performance that Madrid used to put in. Now they have to watch their fiercest rivals repeating the trick.

  3. Barcelona Ratings: Defence
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    Barcelona Ratings: Defence

    Marc Andre ter Stegen (6/10):

    Didn't have much to do. Very secure on the ball.

    Jules Kounde (7/10):

    Not his best attacking performance, but very solid defensively.

    Ronaldo Araujo (8/10):

    Immense at the back. Made three crucial clearances and won all but one of his headers. He's been magnificent in recent weeks.

    Andreas Christensen (6/10):

    Forming a really impressive partnership with Araujo — a shaky pass or two aside.

    Alejandro Balde (7/10):

    Balde is absolutely rapid, which is lots of fun to watch. His defensive work was improved, too, as he limited Villarreal's wide threat.

  4. Midfield
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    Franck Kessie (7/10):

    Grabbed himself the start and did all of the dirty work very well. A more-than-agreeable stopgap.

    Frenkie de Jong (8/10):

    Barcelona don't need a new no.6. They already have one.

    Pedri (8/10):

    Finished off a flowing move with a lovely finish — his sixth goal of the season. Created two further chances in the second half, and was typically classy on the ball.

  5. Attack


    Gavi (6/10):

    Wonderfully scrappy, not quite as impactful in the final third.

    Robert Lewandowski (6/10):

    Assisted Pedri, but missed a couple of chances, which is a bit ominous ahead of United.

    Raphinha (6/10):

    It didn't quite work for Raphinha, who badly needs to improve his quality in the final third.

  6. Subs & Manager

    Subs & Manager

    Ferran Torres (6/10):

    Likely happy that he was preferred to Fati off the bench.

    Jordi Alba (N/A):

    Added some experienced legs in stoppage time.

    Xavi (8/10):

    Didn't get a revolutionary performance out of his side, but who cares? Barca are 11 points clear, and grabbed a tricky win at a really tough ground to travel to. Everything seems to be clicking at the moment - does he have to change anything against United?