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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 24 June, 2019

Dembele at the double as champions Barcelona close in on historic unbeaten season

Barcelona are two games away from going the whole La Liga season unbeaten after they thrashed Villarreal.

Barcelona players congratulate Ousmane Dembele against Villarreal.
Barcelona players congratulate Ousmane Dembele against Villarreal.

LIONEL MESSI WAS on the scoresheet and Ousmane Dembele starred with a double as champions Barcelona cruised to a 5-1 win over Villarreal at Camp Nou, moving a step closer to completing a historic unbeaten season in La Liga.

Philippe Coutinho’s third goal in his last four games put Barca ahead and Paulinho soon doubled the hosts’ lead with his ninth league goal of the season, but first since January.

Messi combined to devastating effect with the departing Andres Iniesta - who received a standing ovation on his penultimate home appearance when he was later replaced – to make it three on the stroke of half-time, the forward’s 34th La Liga goal of the campaign.

Substitute Nicola Sansone scored a goal he knew little about for Villarreal after the break, but Dembele struck with three minutes left and then got the goal of the night in stoppage time as Barca secured a comfortable victory that moves them to within two matches of going the whole top-flight season without defeat.

Barca, whose unbeaten La Liga run is now 43 games stretching back to last season, have fixtures against Levante and Real Sociedad to negotiate if they are to achieve the feat.

Source: Lances Futebol/YouTube

Unlike rivals Real Madrid, sixth-place Villarreal - who had won three straight games coming in and remain firmly in the hunt for a Europa League spot – afforded Barca a guard of honour prior to kick-off.

It only took Barca 11 minutes to move in front, with Dembele the creator. The France winger followed up his impressive weaving run that saw him beat three defenders with a 20-yard shot which spilled out of the hands of Sergio Asenjo, giving an onrushing Coutinho the simplest of finishes from six yards on the rebound.

Jasper Cillessen beat away powerful strike from Pablo Fornals at the other end, but the hosts doubled their lead just five minutes after their opener.

Coutinho fed Iniesta and the veteran midfielder delivered a perfect throughball to Lucas Digne, who avoided an offside flag and squared for Paulinho to tap in from inside the six-yard box.

Cillessen denied Jaume Costa with his feet at the near post following a slip from defender Nelson Semedo, as Villarreal offered some threat.

But a moment of brilliance put the result beyond doubt in the last minute of the half. Messi and Iniesta exchanged a magnificent one-two, which ended with the Argentina forward sending a side-footed volley into the far corner from his team-mate’s lofted return pass.

FBL-LIGA-ESP-BARCELONA-VILLARREAL Villareal gave the La Liga champions a guard of honour before kick-off. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Samu Castillejo and Carlos Bacca sent efforts narrowly wide as Villarreal made a fast start to the second half, and the visitors got the goal back they deserved on 54 minutes, albeit in fortuitous circumstances.

Fornals fired in a shot that inadvertently hit Sansone – who had come on at the break – near the penalty spot and the ball deflected beyond the helpless Cillessen.

The Barca keeper then had to react sharply to stop a Rodri header crossing his line as Villarreal briefly threatened a comeback, prompting Ernesto Valverde to introduce the rested Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic from the substitutes’ bench.

But that was the last of Villarreal’s significant chances, with a superb solo run from Rakitic setting up Dembele to net from close range.

And there was even better to come from Dembele in the third minute of added time, as he carried the ball from his own half in a rapid Barca break and lofted a sublime finish over Asenjo.

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