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FC Barcelona looked to be heading for a defeat at Villarreal following Nicola Sansone’s strike early in the second period, but up stepped Leo Messi in the 90th minute to score a magnificent free-kick which claims at least a point for the visitors.
Visits to Villarreal are never easy and it looked to be ending in a loss for Barça as they were unable to strike beyond La Liga’s best defence until the final stretch. Though a draw was not the result Luis Enrique’s men were hoping for, it was at least some reward for their persistence and effort.
The first half started brightly with both sides playing open attacking football. It was the Catalans who created the game’s opening chance as a dinked ball over the top from Messi for Neymar forced a good stop out of Sergio Asenjo.
Just a minute later, the home side responded with a swift counter-attack which led to a golden chance for former Barça man Jonathan dos Santos but the Mexican’s volley flew over the bar.
Within seconds, Dos Santos again looked certain to score from close range but a last ditch tackle from Lucas Digne blocked the goal-bound strike.
It was an accurate depiction of the first half in general, with an end-to-end encounter ensuing between the two teams.
Barça went close twice just before the break – first through Messi when the Argentine ghosted into the box to head goalwards but Asenjo did well to tip over the bar.
Then, a good cutback to the edge of the box from Digne found Luis Suárez unmarked but the Uruguayan struck straight at the keeper.
Luis Enrique would have wanted his side to take that forward momentum from the end of the first half into the second but the plan was thwarted as Villarreal took an early lead. Alexandre Pato went on a solo run before threading the ball through to Sansone who placed the ball into the far corner.
Rather than the fast-paced game that was seen in the first 45 minutes, the goal allowed the hosts to sit back while Barça went all out in pursuit of the game’s next goal.
Javier Mascherano came close to scoring his first ever Barça goal with 20 minutes to go but his glancing header from Messi’s inswinging free-kick went just wide.
On 72 minutes came a moment of real controversy as a strike from Messi on the edge of the box was clearly and intentionally blocked by the outstretched arm of Bruno Soriano but the referee failed to award the spot kick.
Seconds later, Messi hit a sweet left-footed strike from the edge of the box only for his effort to smack off the inside of the post and out again.
Barça seemed like they were out of luck for the evening as Soriano again handled in the box as Denis Suárez attempted to wriggle through the opposition’s defence but the referee was again uninterested in strong claims from the Catalans.
But in the last minute of normal time, a free-kick for Barça on the edge of the box was perfectly dispatched by Messi to rescue a point.
With leaders Real Madrid winning comfortably against Granada the day before, a win was of the highest priority to remain hot on the heels of the club’s rivals, but a point at least salvaged something from a game that Barça deserved a lot more.
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