Barcelona's superstar, Lionel Messi scored in the regulation time to secure a hard earned 1-1 draw at Villarreal but his strike could not prevent the champions from finishing the weekend third in La Liga taple, five points behind leaders Real Madrid who still have a game in hand.
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Messi bent a ssublime free-kick into the top corner in the 90th minute – his second free-kick goal in three days – after Villarreal’s Italian forward Nicola Sansone finished off a sweeping counterattacking move to open the scoring in the 50th minute.
The draw leaves Barca on 35 points from 17 games, one behind second-placed Sevilla, with leaders Real Madrid slipping away after their 5-0 drubbing of Granada earlier on Saturday.
Villarreal were hardly ideal opponents in a must-win game for Luis Enrique’s men having held them to a 2-2 draw last season and halting their 12-game winning streak in the league.
Former Barca star Jonathan dos Santos got the first chance of a thrilling end-to-end game, blasting over the bar with too much power having been freed in front of the goal area.
Things then got bad for the visitors five minutes after the restart as Lucas Digne, recalled to the starting XI after the 2-1 loss to Athletic Bilbao in Thursday’s King’s Cup last 16 clash lost possession in Villarreal’s half, allowing Alexandre Pato to burst through the middle before playing a delightful ball for Sansone to fire in off the far post.
Messi hit the post with a sumptuous shot and had a penalty appeal turned down when his effort was blocked by Villarreal captain Bruno Soriano’s hand as Barca turned on the heat.
And in the 90th minute, the Argentine little magician gave Barca a glimmer of hope with a sensational free-kick to claim a point for the visitors.