Barcelona drifted five points behind title rivals Real Madrid, who still have a game in hand at the top of La Liga as they managed to rescue a late point at the Estadio de la Cerámica against Villarreal courtesy of Lionel Messi.
V–B_1–1 by mediabh
The scoring was opened early in the second half when the hosts crafted a great counter attack goal as Alexandre Pato played in Nicola Sansone who slotted home well from a tight angle.
But maestro Messi rescued a point late on for the Catalans with an inch-perfect free kick which he dispatched into the top corner from just outside the area.
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Even though Barcelona saw more of the ball early on, it was Villarreal who created the better of the chances.
Their first came when Jaume Costa and Alexandre Pato linked well on the left hand side, with the latter finding Jonathan Dos Santos at the back post, but the former Barca man could only fire his volley over.
Just moments later the visitors were lucky to escape again after Pato shimmied his way into the area and squared the ball back to Dos Santos, but Catalonians right back Lucas Digne made a terrific last-ditch sliding tackle to block a certain goal.
The first half finished with Barcelona on top as Lionel Messi’s first attempt on goal forced Andres Sergio Asenjo into a smart save.
The Villarreal custodian was called into action again just moments later when the 27-year-old Spaniard denied Luis Suarez’s fizzing long-range shot comfortably.
But it was the hosts who took the lead early in the second after Digne gave the ball away cheaply on the edge of the opposition penalty area and allowed Pato to start a counter attack.
The Brazilian surged towards Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal before playing a beautifully weighted ball beyond the backtracking Barcelona defence to the onrushing Sansone.
The Italian took the ball into his stride and provided an inch-perfect finish across the poorly positioned German goalkeeper.
However, Villarreal were lucky to keep their lead just minutes after the restart when Messi caught Villarreal’s defence napping and played in Neymar from a quick free kick.
But the out-of-form Brazilian was unable to end his 10-game-drought and provided a simple save for Sergio Asenjo.
Luis Enrique’s team should have been awarded a penalty mid-way through the second half after Messi’s shot from the edge of the area was blatantly handled by captain Bruno who spread himself in front of goal, but the referee was quick to wave the appeals away.
The Argentine may have thought tonight was not to be his night when moments later his long-range effort flew past stranded Sergio Asenjo. But the beautifully struck shot cannoned back out from the post and away from goal.
The referee was surrounded again minutes later after Soriano’s shot at the other end was ricocheted away from goal by Javier Mascherano’s stray hand in the area, but again the referee was reluctant to give anything.
Messi did finally get his moment and showed his class when he placed a delicious left-footed free kick into the top left-hand corner past the mannequin of Sergio Asenjo from the edge of the area.
The controversy was not over though as Villarreal defender Costa received a second booking after yanking down the little Argentine in a breakaway attempt in stoppage time.
The result sees Barcelona stay third and lose more ground on the La Liga title chase.