After the last league game hiccup at Athletic Bilbao, which saw Pep Guardiola's side drop two invaluable points in the title race, Barcelona bounced back to winning ways with a comfortable 4-0 victory at home to Real Zaragoza to keep the pressure on Real Madrid.
There were concerns over the fitness of some of Barcelona's players prior to kick-off, as eight of the team had taken part in international friendlies for the Spanish national side at Wembley in London and in San José in Costa Rica—two games in which Spain had failed to impress, first losing 1-0 then snatching an undeserved 2-2 draw.
Unsurprisingly then, Guardiola decided to rest Andrés Iniesta and David Villa, giving starts to Seydou Keita and Alexis Sanchez. Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué, finally recovered from injuries, returned to their places at the heart of the Barcelona defence.
The European Champions opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a very un-Barcelona-like goal when Piqué ran across his marker and headed in Xavi's teasing set-piece. It was the defender's first goal of the campaign and he was clearly delighted to get on the scoresheet.
Barcelona had numerous attempts to extend their lead around the half-hour mark but Lionel Messi was twice denied by Roberto in the Zaragoza goal who also saved effectively from a well-struck effort by Maxwell.
Zaragoza were certainly leading a charmed life but the deficit was doubled just before half-time when Messi converted his 15th league goal of the season. Cesc Fabregas played a crisp through-ball into the box to the Argentine who was unmarked and marginally onside and the rest was inevitable, Messi opening up his body and finishing with his right foot into the far corner.
Fabregas should have extended the lead after the break when he was played in by Messi but his feeble one-on-one attempt was comfortably foiled by Roberto.
Zaragoza showed some attacking intent of their own during the second period and twice went close to breaking Barcelona's imperious defensive record at home. Seydou Keita came to the Catalan side's rescue when he bravely threw his body in front of Helder Postiga's goalbound shot to defuse the danger and Lafita was unfortunate to not score after he had beautifully evaded the challenges of Piqué and Abidal but his rasping effort just zipped past Victor Valdes's near post.
And soon enough, Zaragoza's profligacy came to haunt them as a rare strike from Puyol ended the contest. The instrumental Fabregas lofted a cross to the back post where Keita was waiting to head the ball into the path of the veteran captain. His first effort was parried by Roberto but the Zaragoza shotstopper could do nothing to prevent a wild swing of Puyol's left boot from hitting the ball into the net. It was a scrappy goal but one that allowed Barcelona to divert their attention to a decisive mid-week fixture against AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Guardiola's side began to apply the handbrake to their game, intent on retaining possession and not over-exerting themselves. Iniesta and Villa were introduced to the fray around the 70-minute mark and both players had an immediate impact. First, Iniesta was played in by Messi but his outside of the foot flick just dribbled past the post before Villa made it 4-0 on 74 minutes.
Zaragoza were punished for trying to play the ball out from the back as they were caught in possession. Isaac Cuenca raced to the barline and pulled back a wonderful inviting cross for Villa who planted a diving header into the goal. It was a satisfying moment for a player who has struggled to find consistency in recent weeks.
The result leaves Barcelona three points behind Real Madrid in the table as they remain the only unbeaten team in the division and yet to concede a goal at the fortress Camp Nou. Javier Aguirre's Zaragoza, on the other hand, lurk perilously close to the relegation zone, having conceded the most goals this season.