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Villarreal beat Vallecano 5-1 at Estadio de Vallecas.

Villarreal remain in a strong position to secure European football next season after demolishing Rayo Vallecano 5-1 at the Estadio de Vallecas.

The potential of a second-worst LaLiga (LL) finish in the last decade proved incentive enough for Villarreal to make a flying start against Rayo. Little over two minutes were on the clock when Dani Parejo’s teasing delivery was guided home by Alfonso Pedraza to fire the visitors into the lead.

Sergi Guardiola led the Rayo response when he turned Álvaro García’s cross goalwards, but a last-gasp Raúl Albiol block denied him. It didn’t take long for Guardiola to forge another chance, though, as his miscued effort inadvertently teed him up perfectly to stroke home the equaliser.

Rayo’s reprieve was only temporary, as Villarreal regained the lead just moments later. Pau Torres headed Parejo’s free-kick temptingly across the six-yard line, and Juan Foyth was on hand to power a header in off the crossbar.

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Paco Alcácer doubled Villarreal’s advantage before the break with a delicate touch, twist and turn before sumptuously finishing into the corner for his first league goal of the season. There was still time for Villarreal to add a fourth before HT, as Parejo was again the provider, this time for Torres, who fired home from the midfielder’s pinpoint delivery.

Alejandro Catena Marugán thought he had clawed a goal back for Rayo, but a lengthy VAR check resulted in the goal being disallowed due to a handball in the build-up. Rayo never looked like forcing a way back into the game, and with just one home win against top-half sides all season, this result is hardly a surprise.

Pedraza rounded off the victory with Villarreal’s fifth in the dying moments, and Unai Emery’s men now need just one win from their remaining two matches to secure a place in the UEFA Europa Conference League.

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