Barcelona bounced back from Saturday’s shock defeat to Granada with a 2-1 home win over Villarreal to move up to fourth in the La Liga table, but their night was marred by Lionel Messi going off injured.
Messi, making his first start this season, received lengthy treatment before being replaced at half-time by Ousmane Dembélé in what coach Ernesto Valverde insisted was a precautionary measure.
Valverde said of Messi, who was named Fifa’s male player of the year on Monday: “He noticed a little bit of an issue with his adductor and we preferred for him not to stay on the pitch, but it was just a precaution. I don’t think it’s any more than just a niggle but we’ll need to wait for tomorrow to confirm.”
Antoine Griezmann and Arthur got the first-half goals at the Camp Nou as Barcelona moved to within a point of top trio Granada, Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid. Former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla pulled a goal back for Villarreal just before half-time.
Barcelona claimed the lead after just 10 minutes as Griezmann applied a deft flick to Messi’s near-post corner to guide the ball over Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and into the net.
The home side doubled their lead five minutes later as midfielder Arthur beat Asenjo once more with a shot from 25 yards out that flew into the top corner. The Brazilian was given space as the Villarreal defenders stood off him and he took his chance with a fine finish.
Cazorla reduced the deficit a minute before the break with a fine long-range effort of his own that eluded Marc-André ter Stegen in the Barça goal.
Teenager Ansu Fati replaced Luis Suérez with 12 minutes to go but was given offside as he finished off an early opening. Shortly after the 16-year-old fired just wide as Barcelona hunted a third goal.
Gerard Pique saw his late free-kick from the edge of the area kept out by Asenjo and Griezmann also shot over the bar late on but Barcelona had already done enough to secure the victory.
Valverde added: “We are playing well at home, but I think with the injury to Leo everyone was stopped in their tracks a little bit. I think we’re very much on the right track at home, though.”