Ousmane Dembele scored an incredible solo effort as La Liga champions Barcelona beat Villarreal 5-1 on Wednesday to remain on track to end the season unbeaten in Spain’s top flight.
Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho and Lionel Messi scored before the break to ease Barca into a three-goal lead at Camp Nou. Nicola Sansone pulled one back for Villarreal before Dembele turned on the style late on, tapping home after brilliant work from Ivan Rakitic and then adding a second when he burst from his own half with the ball and chipped Sergio Asenjo.
Barca must now avoid defeat in their final two games, against Levante and Real Sociedad, to become the first side to ever end a 38-game campaign in La Liga without losing a game.
Dembele. The France forward has had a tough first season in Spain, largely due to injuries, and as recently as this week has been linked with a move away this summer. It’s performances like this, though, which show why Barca spent more than €100 million on him. Getting them out of him on a regular basis next season is Ernesto Valverde’s objective.
Does Andres Iniesta really have to leave? There was something bittersweet about the brilliance of his role in Paulinho and Messi’s goals. Taken off after an hour, he has just one more match to come at Camp Nou before he leaves in the summer.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — Valverde got then balance right, picking a team to win the game but also bringing in the likes of Jasper Cillessen, Thomas Vermaelen, Lucas Digne and Dembele to give them a chance to impress.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 7 — Making his first La Liga appearance of the season, he had a busy evening. Made good saves from Pablo Fornals and Jaume Costa in the first half and could do little about the Villarreal goal, which deflected past him.
DF Nelson Semedo, 6 — With Sergi Roberto suspended for four games, the right-back slot is his for the remainder of the season. Built on his Clasico showing with another solid performance.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 — Comfortable in possession but struggled a little bit in the second half when Villarreal came on strong.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 6 — Was a key part in the Barca side over the new year when Samuel Umtiti was injured and deserved a start here. Did well again, with all his experience on show.
DF Lucas Digne, 7 — Created the second goal, making a clever run to latch on to Iniesta’s pass. Making his eighth start of the season, he was the pick of Barca’s back four.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 — Improved on his performance against Real Madrid but had little to do in the first half as Barca were given time, space and respect. Taken off for Rakitic after the break.
MF Paulinho, 7 — The top-scoring midfielder in La Liga was back at it again, scoring his ninth league goal of the campaign. The Brazilian worked tirelessly all night.
MF Andres Iniesta, 8 — Another night to savour the Barcelona captain. A fine pass to Digne led to Paulinho’s goal and his scooped pass to Messi for the third goal was sensational.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 7 — Scored his sixth Barca goal since signing in January and has now been involved in nine goals in his past 10 appearances (four goals, five assists).
FW Lionel Messi, 8 — Scored again to remain on track to win back-to-back European Golden Shoes. Now has 34 goals in La Liga and 45 in all competitions.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 9 — A great run in the build-up to Coutinho’s tap-in was a preview for what was to come later. After tapping home late on, he added a brilliant second, using his pace to beat two Villarreal players before cheekily chipping the goalkeeper.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 — Worked hard after coming on but didn’t have the rub of green in front of goal.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 — Provided the brilliant assist for Dembele’s first goal, beating two men with a nutmeg included.
DF Yerry Mina, NR — The Colombian defender came on for Pique in the final 10 minutes.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.