‘Our homage to him’ says Xavi of Vilanova after Barca win

Barcelona kept pace with Atletico Madrid thanks to a 3-2 win on Sunday but manager Gerardo Martino said it was overshadowed by former coach Tito Vilanova's death.

Barcelona players observe a minute of silence in commemoration of former manager Tito Vilanova, who died on April 25 due to a cancer in the parotid gland, before their La Liga match against Villarreal on Sunday. Juan Carlos Cardenas / EPA / April 27, 2014
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Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said it had been an “extremely sad weekend for Barcelona and for football” after the death of former boss Tito Vilanova.

Vilanova passed away at the age of 45 on Friday after a more than two year battle with cancer of the salivary gland.

“Before everything, it is an extremely sad weekend for Barcelona and for football. I just want to send my love and support to Tito’s family,” said the Argentine, who replaced Vilanova when he was forced to resign due to ongoing health problems last July.

The Barca players honoured their former boss on Sunday with a stirring fightback from 2-0 down with 25 minutes remaining to maintain their slim chances of retaining their La Liga title with a 3-2 win at Villarreal.

Atletico Madrid continue to lead the way after their 1-0 win at Valencia on Sunday, four points ahead of Barca with three games remaining, including a clash between the two on the final day of the season.

However, Martino insisted that three points did little to console those who had lived through so much with Vilanova, both in his time as manager and as assistant to Pep Guardiola during a glorious four-year spell that yielded 14 trophies.

“We showed an ability to react, courage and spirit, which is what we needed to be able to remain in with a chance,” said Martino.

“In this circumstance, though, to talk about football seems so futile and out of place. It is totally of secondary importance.”

Barca captain Xavi Hernandez added that it had been difficult for the players to concentrate on the game, but dedicated the victory to Vilanova and his family.

“It was one of the most difficult days to play. The body didn’t feel right, we have lost a reference of what Barcelona means and he will always be an example,” he said.

“We showed pride to be able to win the game. We wanted to dedicate it to Tito and his family. It was our homage to him.”

The miserable week looked set to end with a sixth league defeat of the season as Cani and Manu Trigueros gave Villarreal a commanding lead.

However, own goals from Gabriel and Mateo Musachio brought Barca level before Lionel Messi grabbed the winner eight minutes from time.

Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao continued to make a push for Champions League qualifying by firming up their place in fourth with a 3-1 win over Sevilla. Ander Herrera, Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta netted for the hosts.

Almeria also continue to hold out hope they will avoid the drop after a 2-1 away win over Espanyol. Christian Stani put the hosts in front in the first half before Francisco Velez Jimenez and Suso scored three minutes apart in the second half to secure three points. Almeria are in 18th but trail Elche, Osasuna and Getafe all by three points or less for safety.

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