Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann struck twice to secure a 2-1 win at 10-man Villarreal on Sunday as it stayed within two points of La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
Villarreal's Nigerian forward Samuel Chukwueze gave the hosts the lead in the 27th minute but Griezmann responded immediately with a coolly taken chip before pouncing on a defensive slip to give Barca the lead in the 35th.
Villarreal put the Catalans under renewed pressure in the second half but was reduced to 10 men in the 65th minute when Manu Trigueros was given a straight red card for a crunching tackle on Lionel Messi.
The victory took third-placed Barca to 71 points after 32 games, level with second-placed Real Madrid who has played 33 and two behind Atletico, who has also played 32 but are in action at Athletic Bilbao later on Sunday.
Barca play its game-in-hand at home to Granada on Thursday then visit Valencia before hosting Atletico in a potential title showdown on May 8.
"The important thing was we didn't lose our heads when we went behind and that we kept on working together," said Griezmann.
"We missed three chances before it scored and we need to try and score first so that the rest of the game is a little more comfortable."
Barca had thrashed Getafe 5-2 in its last fixture without playing too well and it made a frantic start with three early opportunities but fell behind when Villarreal defender Pau Torres delivered a pinpoint pass into the path of Chukwueze, who dribbled around goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to score.
The Catalans did not take long to respond thanks to an incisive pass out of defence when Oscar Mingueza picked out Griezmann and the Frenchman let the ball bounce a couple of times before delicately chipping keeper Sergio Asenjo.
Griezmann had also scored with a sumptuous chip in a 4-1 win at Villarreal last season and continued his strong recent record at the La Ceramica stadium by intercepting a sloppy backpass by defender Juan Foyth and beating Asenjo again with one touch.
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Barca was on the back foot early in the first half and Ter Stegen had to use his imagination to save a low shot from Etienne Capoue with his feet after already committing himself.
Villarreal lost some momentum when Trigueros was sent off for a wild tackle on Messi, getting the ball first but then smashing into the Argentine's ankle with his outstretched leg.
Messi was left in some pain by the tackle but eventually got up and Barca should have extended the lead when Frenkie de Jong bore down on Asenjo unchallenged but somehow missed the target.
Villarreal coped well with the sending off and had a couple of chances to get an equaliser but neither top scorer Gerard Moreno nor captain Mario Gaspar could find the target.
"This is a big step towards the title. Every game is another step forward and every game is difficult," added Barca coach Ronald Koeman.
"We reacted well to its goal and kept creating chances. We were tired in the final stages but defended well."
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