BARCELONA, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Barcelona’s Lionel Messi rescued a 1-1 draw at Villarreal with a sensational late free-kick in their La Liga clash on Sunday but could not prevent the champions finishing the weekend third in the table, five points behind leaders Real Madrid.
Messi bent a stunning free-kick into the top corner in the 90th minute after Villarreal’s Italian forward Nicola Sansone finished off a breakaway to open the scoring in the 50th as they looked set to record a first home win over Barca in 11 years.
Barcelona have 35 points from 17 games, one behind Sevilla, and trail a Real Madrid side who beat Granada 5-0 on Saturday, are unbeaten in all competitions and have a game in hand.
Barca coach Luis Enrique made three changes to the team that lost a King’s Cup last 16 first-leg game at Athletic Bilbao on Thursday and it was one of the players he recalled who made the fatal mistake that led to the opening goal.
France left back Lucas Digne lost possession in Villarreal’s half and Alexandre Pato strode through the middle unopposed, teeing up Sansone to send the ball home 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, while Barca’s Javier Mascherano was also fortunate not to concede a spot kick for handball. (Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Ken Ferris)