Barcelona seized on the second-half dismissal of Dani Raba to beat Villarreal 2-0 and restore their five-point lead at the top of La Liga on Sunday night.
Ernesto Valverde's men had struggled to break down their opponents at the Estadio de la Ceramica until Raba's dismissal on the hour for a foul on Sergio Busquets changed the course of the game.
Luis Suarez gave the visitors a 72nd-minute lead and Lionel Messi turned on the style with a brilliant second goal seven minutes from time to seal the points for the title favourites.
Valverde had brought back his big names, including Messi, after resting them for the midweek Champions League tie against Sporting Lisbon.
And the visitors began on the front foot as they almost grabbed the lead after just four minutes when defender Gerard Pique rose highest in the box at a corner to crash a powerful header against the crossbar.
But Villarreal were far from star-struck by their opponents and would go on to have the better of the first period, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen forced to save well to deny both Raba and Roberto Soriano in quick succession.
Messi's first contribution was a floated free-kick in the 23rd minute which was well saved by Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, and Barcelona's frustration continued to mount with a succession of marginal offsides against Suarez.
For their part, Villarreal looked the most likely to break the deadlock but were hampered by the lack of a final ball for lively Soriano up front.
Messi drifted a shot wide in the closing stages of the first period while the hosts almost took the lead with virtually the last kick of the first period, Rodri Hernandez also narrowly missing the target.
After a good chance for Cedric Bakambu early in the second period, Barcelona looked to seize control with substitute Paco Alcacer driving a low shot at Asenjo just before the hour mark.
Messi also stepped it up with a low shot after a neat one-two with Alba, before the dismissal of Raba, which was angrily protested by the home players and officials.
It was the sign for Barcelona to press forward in search for victory, a cross from the impressive Alba deflected onto the post by Suarez, then Ivan Rakitic's follow-up falling into Asenjo's grateful arms.
Messi was instrumental in Barca's slick opener on 72 minutes, finding Suarez who played a neat one-two with Alcacer before rounding Asenjo and slotting home the opener.
Villarreal were still not finished, Manu Trigueros bringing a save out of ter Stegen, but Barcelona should have doubled their lead on 80 minutes when Messi found Suarez who sliced horribly wide.
Messi finally sealed the points in style in the dying minutes when he dribbled between Alvaro Gonzalez and Victor Ruiz in the box before firing past Asenjo to wrap up victory.