Madrid : Barcelona are now 10 points clear at the top of the Spanish Liga after an impressive 2-1 away win away against Villarreal.
Barca won Sunday with second-half goals from Seydou Keita and Thierry Henry, after Cani had given the “Yellow Submarine” the early lead, and despite the harsh sending-off of defender Gerard Pique.
The comeback win in El Madrigal means that Barca break two records. Never before has a Liga team won seven consecutive away games, and a team has never reached the total of 41 points in just 16 games.
It is the first time a team has amassed so many points by Christmas. Josep Guardiola’s team are already “Winter Champions” because they are 10 points ahead of second-placed Sevilla with just three games left before the halfway stage.
“Tonight’s game was really difficult,” said Barca captain Carles Puyol, “but we battled well and came through in tough circumstances.”
Henry almost put Barca ahead after just four minutes, but then Guiseppe Rossi came close for Villarreal. Barca were enjoying 60 per cent possession, but the hosts were lively on the break.
The deadlock was broken three minutes into the second half, when Cani scored with a clever chip after being perfectly set up by Rossi.
Barca reacted like a wounded lion, throwing Villarreal back against the ropes. In the 55th minute Keita made it 1-1 with a brave header to a Daniel Alves centre, with local keeper Diego Lopez looking slow.
Twelve minutes later Euro 2008 star Xavi centred from the right for Henry, who volleyed home with his left foot.
In the 74th minute Pique picked up an unfair second yellow card. Villarreal finally managed to push Barca back, but substitutes Guille Franco and Nihat Kahveci were sluggish in front of goal.
The home defeat leaves Villarreal in joint fifth place with Real Madrid – who beat Valencia 1-0 Saturday – both on 29 points.
Earlier Sunday, Sevilla had moved up to second, despite being held to a 0-0 draw by Mallorca. The disappointing draw leaves Sevilla with 31 points from 16 games, 10 points behind Barca.
Sevilla are now one point above Valencia and Atletico Madrid. Deportivo Coruna, meanwhile, moved up to seventh by thrashing Recreativo Huelva 4-1. The latest defeat leaves Huelva second from bottom, with just 13 points.
Bottom team Osasuna moved up to within one point of Huelva with a 5-2 slaughter of Getafe.