Lionel Messi scored a sublime last-minute free-kick to rescue a point for FC Barcelona and deny Villarreal a famous win on Sunday.
With the entire team looking sluggish for lengthy periods, Luis Suarez and Neymar wasted good chances, and as the visitors were caught out at the back Villarreal scored with a slick counter from Nicola Sansone – who fired the hosts ahead with a low angled from Alexandre Pato’s threaded pass.
Messi found the woodwork and Barca were denied a penalty when Bruno handled a shot by the Argentina forward. The Catalans searched desperately for an equalizer to no avail before Messi’s brilliant set-piece goal.
Villarreal, who remained fifth in La Liga with the 1-1 result, had full-back Jaume Costa sent off close to full-time after a second yellow card.
Despite Messi’s late heroics, this was a damaging result for Barcelona in their first league game after the winter break. Fresh from the midweek Copa del Rey first-leg defeat Athletic Bilbao, the draw at Villarreal leaves Barcelona third in the table, a point behind Sevilla and five off in form-Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand.
While Athletic were held to a goalless draw by Alaves, Real easily swept aside Granada by 5-0 the day before, equalling Barca’s own 39-match unbeaten record set last season.
Furthermore, Suarez remains on 99 goals for Barca after a frustrating match in which he was presented with several chances to score the landmark goal.
Villarreal were getting ready to celebrate a first win in nine years against their opponents when Messi, who had been fouled by Bruno, found the top corner with an exquisite finish to rescue a point.