Madrid: Ousmane Dembele took another step on the road to redemption as Barcelona eased past Villarreal Sunday to move back to the top of La Liga.
Dembele, dropped last month by coach Ernesto Valverde, was making his second consecutive start and repaid the faith by teeing up Gerard Pique’s opening goal in a comfortable 2-0 win at the Camp Nou.
Carles Alena, the 20-year-old Spaniard also regarded as a future star, came off the bench to add a late flourish, chipping in his first La Liga goal and Barca’s second after a defence-splitting pass from Lionel Messi.
A narrow victory puts Barca back at the top of the table, although only a point above Sevilla, who played out a 1-1 stalemate at Alaves later in the night. It also extends Barcelona’s lead over Atletico Madrid, who were held earlier in the day to a 1-1 draw by Girona.
Alena, a dainty attacking midfielder with 13 years training in Barca’s academy, is likely to enjoy many more celebrations in front of the club’s fans but for Dembele, the sense was time had been running out.
Valverde’s patience with the 21-year-old appeared to be wearing thin when he was left out against Real Betis three weeks ago but a late equaliser against Atletico Madrid earned a reprieve and this was another lively performance.
Dembele’s shot might have gone in had it not been blocked by Santiago Caseres before the Frenchman turned provider, picking out Pique with a perfectly judged cross. Pique held off Victor Ruiz, perhaps even too vigorously, and headed in.
Barca finally put the result beyond doubt as Messi’s masterful pass from deep freed Alena, who chipped Sergio Asenjo like he had scored dozens of goals like this rather than just his first.