Lionel Messi was away attending the birth of his son but Barcelona still had more than enough to beat 10-man Malaga 2-0 on Saturday and move 11 points clear at the top of La Liga.
Messi was watching the game on a television in hospital as Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho put his team two up inside half an hour at La Rosaleda, before Samuel Garcia was sent off in the 30th minute for a dangerous tackle on Jordi Alba.
Down a man and without a win in 12 matches, Malaga might have feared a rout but Barca settled for a straightforward victory, perhaps with one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 clash against Chelsea.
Messi is expected back against Chelsea at the Camp Nou, where the score is 1-1 from the first leg, but Valverde will have been delighted with how his attackers filled the void, as Suarez, Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele all delivered excellent displays.
In particular, Dembele’s brilliant turn and pass was bettered only by Coutinho’s flicked finish for what was a superb second goal.
The win means Barca extend their advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who can pull the deficit back to eight points with a win over Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Malaga, meanwhile, remain rooted to the bottom of the table.
Earlier on Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo‘s double dragged Real Madrid to a 2-1 win over Eibar.
Ronaldo headed in an 84th-minute winner at Ipurua, having earlier put Real in front with an emphatic near-post finish. Eibar’s Ivan Ramis had equalised in between to give the home side hope.
But Ronaldo’s two goals mean he has now scored in seven consecutive games and boasts a remarkable 13 goals overall in that period.
The 33-year-old’s tally for club and country this season stands at 35 goals in 37 appearances.
Real move four points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid, while Eibar stay eighth.
Valencia remain a point behind Real and all but ended Sevilla’s hopes of finishing in the top four by beating Vincenzo Montella’s men 2-0.
Sevilla trailed Valencia by eight points before kick-off but that gap was stretched to 11 after two goals from Rodrigo Moreno sealed a comfortable victory..