Barcelona ended their season with limp 2-0 home defeat on Sunday night against a brutally efficient Villarreal side.
While the hosts were guaranteed a second-place finish in a campaign which manager Xavi admitted 'could have been worse', Villarreal's participation in European football next season relied upon this term's Champions League semi-finalists bettering Athletic Club's result away to Sevilla.
Despite a lack of incentives, Barcelona started well. Predictably dominating possession but pressing all over the pitch to win it back sharply. However, this proactive approach left space behind a high backline for the yellow shirts to sprint into.
Midway through the first half, Sergio Busquets was caught receiving a terrible pass from Clement Lenglet, sparking a three-v-two breakaway in Villarreal's favour which Dani Parejo squandered with a stray ball of his own.
By the cusp of half-time, Parejo had emphatically found his range. With Dani Alves lured out of position by Manu Trigueros' clever movement infield, Parejo popped a perfectly weighted pass into the path of the onrushing Alfonso Pedraza. Goal-side of a dozing Adama Traore, the left-back steadied himself and fired Villarreal into the lead with their second shot of the match.
Rather than rejig their approach, if anything Xavi's side were more intent on executing a risky man-marking strategy. And so, Villarreal doubled their lead with a strikingly familiar passage of play.
Once again Alves was cajoled away from his right-back slot, leaving Traore scampering after Pedraza. The Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee tracked his man on this occasion but sliced a slashed clearance straight to the feet of Moi Gomez. With time to take a touch inside the penalty area, Gomez rifled in a 55th-minute second with Villarreal's third shot.
Villarreal boss Unai Emery had lost all 13 of his previous managerial visits to Camp Nou in a horror track record stretching back a decade and a half. On a triumphant evening, Emery broke his curse, guiding Villarreal to a seventh-place finish - and the Europa Conference League - with a parsimonious and punishing performance typical of his side's best displays this season.
Barcelona player ratings vs Villarreal
1. Barcelona (4-3-3)
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen - 4/10 - Despite the ever-narrowing angle, Ter Stegen didn't offer much to rebuff Pedraza's opener and was helpless for Gomez's second.
RB: Dani Alves - 4/10 - Crept into an increasingly central position as the match wore on, Alves repeatedly tried to arc the same incredibly difficult cross from deep which didn't come off.
CB: Ronald Araujo - 7/10 - Just 12 days after being taken to hospital for a head injury, Araujo showed no ill effects upon his return, steaming around the pitch with aggression and accuracy.
CB: Clement Lenglet - 4/10 - One of several players who could have played their final game for the club, Lenglet potentially signed off with an error-strewn display typical of his time in Catalonia.
LB: Jordi Alba - 5/10 - A recurring presence in the final third, Alba was often in the right place without quite finding the right pass to pick.
CM: Frenkie de Jong - 4/10 - Darting forward from midfield to provide a late addition in the box, De Jong's involvement was chiefly periphery.
CM: Sergio Busquets - 5/10 - Dropping very deep to lubricate Barcelona's build-up, Busquets was as slick as ever in possession but less fluid and fluent off the ball.
CM: Gavi - 5/10 - Provided tigerish pressing but offered little bite in possession.
RW: Adama Traore - 2/10 - What began as a disciplined display was warped into a catalogue of defensive negligence within the space of ten minutes on either side of half-time.
ST: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - 4/10 - Invariably smothered on the sporadic occasions Barcelona snuck the ball through Villarreal's banks of four.
LW: Ferran Torres - 6/10 - Unsettling the visiting rearguard when he gathered pace with the ball at his feet, Torres was a whisker away from winning a penalty when Barcelona were trailing 1-0.
SUB: Ansu Fati (57' for Aubameyang) - 5/10 - Struggled to exert an influence on proceedings despite his stellar recent record off the bench.
SUB: Ousmane Dembele (57' for Traore) - 5/10 - Flitted in and out of the contest with limited influence ushered out wide.
SUB: Riqui Puig (71' for Gavi) - 4/10 - Overcomplicated his play as he tried to force the breakthrough with every touch.
SUB: Memphis Depay (71' for Torres) - 5/10
SUB: Oscar Minguez (81' for Alves) - N/A