Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has hailed Villarreal as one of the best teams in the world after his side’s 3-1 win over the Yellow Submarine.
Lionel Messi struck a second-half brace to lead Guardiola’s side to victory on Saturday night after the champions had been frustrated by an incorrect offside ruling in the first period.
That decision had come after David Villa’s opener and denied Barca a 2-0 lead as Messi was erroneously adjudged offside in a quick counter-attack before he rolled the ball to Pedro for a simple finish.
Nilmar levelled for Villarreal immediately afterwards to leave the home side stunned and it looked as if they may not recover until Messi’s brilliant first goal just before the hour.
The Argentina forward sealed the win with a late strike which may also have been offside, but Barca looked in full control by then and moved provisionally above Real Madrid – who play Sporting Gijon on Sunday – at the top of the table.
Guardiola was happy to see his side beat such high-quality opponents.
"It was a very difficult game," he said.
"I was very impressed with Villarreal in every sense. They play really, really good football.
"The rival was immense. They are a top team. They play so, so well. We have beaten one of the best teams in the world."
The Barca coach believes Villarreal would cause havoc in the English Premier League.
"Put them in the Premiership and they would cause problems to the big teams," he said.
Guardiola, who refused to be drawn on the offside decision which had threatened to deny his side victory, was happy with his team’s continued good form.
"We are doing well and I am happy with the players," he said.
"We all work very hard. There are people with great human qualities here – footballers known at a world level because of how good they are. It’s a big club, a great club.
"It’s through hard work and great players and staff (that we can be where we are).
Guardiola reserved special praise for his two central defenders.
Of captain Carles Puyol, making his 500th competitive appearance in Barca colours, he said: "He is an example to everyone at the club."
And full-back Eric Abidal, in for the suspended Gerard Pique, also received a glowing tribute from his boss.
"He was spectacular," the coach said.
"One of the reasons we decided not to sign any central defenders was that we knew how well he could play there.
"We also have Adriano, who is flexible, but Eric was spectacular today."
Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido was philosophical after the defeat.
"We lost to the best players and the best team in the world," he said.