A magical Lionel Messi free-kick broke Villarreal hearts as Barcelona managed to draw 1-1 at the Estadio de la Cerámica on Sunday night’s late La Liga fixture.
While the visitors monopolised possession as expected, the Yellow Submarine were the side that looked dangerous and took the lead five minutes into the second half with a classic counter-attack that left Barcelona reeling.
Alexandre Pato, signed in the summer for a relatively low fee, ran at the Barcelona defence and as the backtracking Blaugrana defenders started to panic, the Brazilian released his teammate Nicola Sansone, whose low shot went straight into the far corner to give the hosts a deserved lead.
There could be no excuses for defending champions Barcelona, who put out a very strong line-up but with their famed ‘MSN’ trio misfiring, looked rather toothless in attack.
And as has been the norm this season, Messi once again showed just why many consider him to be the best in the world with a free-kick that beat Villareal keeper Sergio Asenjo on his strong side, ensuring the Catalans managed to avoided an embarrassing defeat.
Barcelona had been under pressure to win their game not only because league leaders Real Madrid romped past Granada on Saturday, but even Sevilla had momentarily climbed to second place with a 4-0 humbling of Real Soceidad on Sunday. As it stands, the Catalans are in third place with 35 points and Sevilla are in second place, a point ahead.
With Ivan Rakitic allegedly on the verge of an exit, and arch-rivals Madrid ahead five points ahead with a game in hand, January might be the month Barcelona cede the league title.