MADRID, April 14 (Reuters) - Samuel Eto'o struck his 24th goal of the season to give Barcelona a 1-0 win over Villarreal on Saturday that took them closer to retaining the title.
The Cameroon striker turned sharply on the edge of the area and fired low past Villarreal keeper Mariano Barbosa in the 11th minute at the Nou Camp to earn his side a deserved victory over their fellow Champions League semi-finalists.
The win sent Barca 14 points clear of Valencia and Real Madrid at the top with five games left, although the Catalan side's two rivals have yet to play this weekend.
Valencia host King's Cup winners Espanyol on Sunday, while Real Madrid travel to the south of the city to meet modest neighbours Getafe.
Villarreal, who have won once in their last seven outings, remain eighth and their best hope of playing in the Champions League next season now lies in winning the competition.
Both Barca coach Frank Rijkaard and opposite number Manuel Pellegrini appeared to have their eyes firmly trained on next week's Champions League engagements.
Ronaldinho was rested ahead of Barca's match with AC Milan, while playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, leading striker Diego Forlan and midfielders Juan Pablo Sorin and Alessio Tacchinardi were all missing for Villarreal before they visit Arsenal.
Despite the precautions both coaches were given injury worries ahead of next week's games.
Barcelona striker Henrik Larsson limped off with a thigh strain and his replacement Santi Ezquerro later exited with a knee problem, while Villarreal defenders Gonzalo Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Pena also left the pitch injured.
Barca made all the early running as they went in search of an early goal and their tactics paid off when Eto'o put them in front with his early goal.
Receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the area, the Cameroonian feinted one way then turned the other before drilling low past keeper Mariano Barbosa.
Villarreal had two chances to equalise before the break, midfielder Cesar Arzo had an overhead kick turned past the post by Barca keeper Victor Valdes and Mexico striker Guillermo Franco sliced over the bar from the edge of the area.
The pace slackened in the second half, but it was Barca who continued to enjoy the best of the play.
Midfielder Deco rifled into the side netting minutes after the restart and lively Argentine striker Maxi Lopez created plenty of danger in the area.
Villarreal, however, could have snatched a late equaliser when forward Jose Mari found himself free in the area, but his poorly hit shot squirmed wide of the far post and it was Barca who made off with all three points.