Barcelona’s weary collection of international globe-trotters produced a workmanlike performance to beat Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday with Samuel Eto’o scoring the only goal.
Barcelona remain six points ahead of Real Madrid, who beat Malaga 1-0, in the race for the Spanish title with nine games left to play.
Having lost three out of four matches following World Cup and international breaks this season, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team knew they could not afford to drop points.
Barcelona began the game with Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry on the bench but while they controlled the game they struggled to create openings. That was until Eto’o coolly beat the Valladolid keeper shortly before half-time with a match-winning lob.
The second half was more even and Messi and Dani Alves were introduced to bolster Barca.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid stayed in second place with a sixth successive away victory.
Real coach Juande Ramos was forced to field a weakened team with several players out injured, most notably Arjen Robben who has been a key performer this season. After a goalless first half, Gonzalo Higuain made the breakthrough powering through the Malaga defense and finishing well.
Villarreal slumped to a 3-0 defeat against Almeria who won through first half goals from Alvaro Negredo, Pablo Piatti and Jose Mane. Villarreal’s miserable night got even worse when Robert Pires was sent-off with 30 minutes left, while midfielder Santi Cazorla suffered a broken leg and will miss the rest of the season.
Sevilla consolidated their third place with an important 1-0 win away to Recreativo Huelva courtesy of a Frederic Kanoute penalty after 33 minutes.
Real Betis looked to have ended their winless streak against Numancia in their relegation battle but a late penalty was converted by Carlos Aranda to earn the visitors a point in a 3-3 draw.
Aranda earlier equalized Sergio Garcia’s opener for Betis and then Jose Barkero put Numancia ahead before Jesus Capi and Ricardo Oliveria turned the game around late on. Numancia had the final say though through Aranda’s spot kick.
Athletic Bilbao ended a seven-match streak without a win with a 2-1 victory over in-form Mallorca. Fran Yeste converted a penalty after just three minutes following a David Navarro handball and then Javi Martinez put them back ahead after Jose Jurado had equalized.