BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele scored twice and produced a mesmerising display to fire his side to a 5-1 win over Villarreal on Wednesday which stretched the champions’ unbeaten run this season to 36 games with two remaining.
Barca’s record signing Philippe Coutinho fired the home side ahead in the 11th minute on the rebound after a darting run forward and shot from Frenchman Dembele while midfielder Paulinho finished off a delightful team move to double their lead five minutes later.
Barca’s departing captain Andres Iniesta produced the through ball to help create the second goal and he further delighted the crowd with a crafty first-time pass over the top which Lionel Messi tucked into the far corner on the volley for the third goal at the end of the first half.
Villarreal got a goal back nine minutes into the second period when Nicola Sansone diverted a shot beyond Barca’s stand-in goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, who later blocked a shot from Spain international Rodri on the line with his body.
Dembele grabbed a deserved goal in the 87th by knocking in from close range after a stunning individual run from substitute Ivan Rakitic.
The Croatian coasted past two defenders down the right wing, knocking the ball past one and through the legs of the other, before laying on the pass for the Frenchman to score.
Dembele, 20, then delighted the home fans with a virtuoso individual run and stylish dink over goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo to complete the drubbing in stoppage time.
It was the finest display in a Barca shirt from Dembele, who has taken his time to adapt to life in Spain since a 105 million-euro move from Borussia Dortmund last August, not helped by a long layoff with a serious hamstring injury.
“We’ve talked about him a lot, he has so much talent, technique, he’s fast, he has a spark about him, he’s two footed. He has it all and he can help us a lot,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said of Dembele.
“He’s young and he has a lot of time ahead of him. Every player needs time to adapt and when you are young you have a lot to learn, but today for his second goal he was incredible.”
Valverde started without Rakitic and striker Luis Suarez while leaving number one keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen on the bench for the rescheduled game, which was due to take place on the weekend of the King’s Cup final.
His side, however, were still far too good for Villarreal, who are sixth in the Liga standings.
The champions moved on to 90 points, stretching their gap over second-placed Atletico Madrid to 15 points after 36 games.
Barca are two matches away from becoming the first team in La Liga since 1933 to complete a season without losing and the first since the league was expanded from nine teams.
Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond