Villarreal win 'crucial' for Barcelona boss Valverde
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde felt Sunday's 2-0 win at Villarreal could prove vital to their LaLiga title hopes.
The Catalans went into the game at the Estadio de la Ceramica on the back of consecutive draws in the top flight and having seen Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid all claim three points this weekend.
Sixth-place Villarreal proved to be stubborn opponents but Barca eventually wore them down after Raba's red card in the second half, with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi getting the goals to restore the visitors' five-point lead at the top.
And Valverde believes it was a very important time to return to winning ways, with games against Deportivo La Coruna and Real Madrid to come before the end of the year.
"It was a crucial and difficult game," he said, as quoted by Mundo Deportivo. "We had to face a great team on a pitch where it's difficult to get points.
"They gave us a tough game, with problems in circulating the ball and danger on the counter-attack.
"We've kept up the winning run. We knew our rivals had won but we're always relying on ourselves. Regardless of rivals having won, before a game, you have to win. You prepare to win and that's that.
49 - Lionel Messi has scored more goals than any other player from the top five European leagues in 2017 (all competitions). Gold. pic.twitter.com/g34bwa5YH1
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"If your rivals win, you have more pressure and you deal with that. After drawing at home [against Celta Vigo], we wanted to refocus with a victory."
Valverde praised the impact of full-back Jordi Alba, who was once more a dangerous attacking outlet for Barca and linked superbly with Messi throughout.
"Alba is one of our weapons," he said. "Villarreal close down a lot and they stopped the advance of our full-backs.
"In the second half, the runs of Jordi Alba were key. He has a really good understanding with Messi and these connections always appear. It's insurance for the team."
Raba received a straight red card for a lunge on Sergio Busquets near the Barca penalty area, a decision that was argued against furiously by the Villarreal players, but Valverde understood why he was sent off.
"I haven't seen it on TV. I have a feeling that the one who protested the least was the player himself," he said.
"It's a hard tackle and the referee saw it that way."