Neymar scored twice as Barcelona returned to winning ways in La Liga with a 2-1 victory at home to fifth-placed Villarreal on Saturday at the Camp Nou.
With the result, Barcelona moved three points clear atop the table and five points clear of rivals Real Madrid. Second-placed Atletico Madrid host Valencia on Sunday. Last week, Barcelona had lost their first league match of the season, falling 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao.
The goals were the fifth and sixth in the league this season for Neymar, who was coming off a hat-trick against Celtic midweek in the UEFA Champions League.
Barcelona manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino made five changes to the side that routed Celtic. Marc Bartra, Jordia Alba, Alex Song, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas came into the starting XI in place of Adriano, Javier Mascherano, Xavi, Sergi Roberto and Pedro.
The hosts settled quickly and nearly went ahead in the sixth minute. Neymar took a corner on the left, with the ball falling to Song at the back post. But Song's shot hit the near upright and bounced away to safety.
Barcelona continued to dominate possession and finally went ahead on the half-hour mark. Villarreal conceded a penalty when Mario was whistled for a handling in the box in the 28th minute. Neymar converted the spot-kick in the 30th minute, sending the keeper the wrong way after a stop-start run-up.
Alexis Sanchez came close in the 40th minute, but his close-range shot was saved by Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
Barcelona were made to pay early in the second half.
In the 48th minute, Villarreal won a corner, which Manu Trigueros took from the left. Defender Mateo Musacchio escaped Marc Batra with a near-post run before beating Jose Manuel Pinto with a powerful header to level the score at 1-1.
Villarreal came close again in the 51st minute, but Giovani Dos Santos' low shot was just wide of the near post.
Barcelona regained the lead in the 68th minute following a flowing team move. Cesc crossed from the left for Alexis at the back post. Instead of shooting from a tight angle at close range, Alexis laid off for Neymar, who swept into the unguarded net.
The hosts nearly had a third goal in the 82nd minute when Alexis picked out Andres Iniesta with a lofted cross to the edge of the box. Iniesta met the cross with a sharp volley, but Asenjo pushed the shot around his post to keep the score at 2-1.
Barca had another chance in stoppage time when Neymar picked out Pedro with a cleverly angled through-ball. But Pedro's shot hit the outside of the goal. Moments later, Neymar hit the crossbar with a shot after a nice one-two move with Sergi Roberto in the box.
|Barcelona Player Ratings vs. Villarreal|
|Jose Manuel Pinto||8||9|
Barcelona host Cartagena on Tuesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey fourth-round tie. Barca won the first leg 4-1. Next Sunday, Barcelona play at Getafe in their final La Liga match of 2013.
Villarreal play at Elche on Tuesday in the second-leg of their Copa del Rey fourth-round tie. The teams drew 2-2 in the first leg. Next Saturday, Villarreal host Sevilla in league play.
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