Barcelona rely on Lionel Messi's brilliance yet again against Villarreal
Lionel Messi rescued a draw for Barcelona at Villarreal on Sunday as Luis Enrique's side dropped another two points in the title race. It could have been worse, though. The home side took a 1-0 lead in the second half through Nicola Sansone and, boasting the league's meanest defence, looked like they would hang on for the three points. However, in the final minute, Messi won and scored a free kick to earn his side a draw they arguably deserved.
Barcelona are now five points behind league-leading Real Madrid -- and have slipped to third behind Sevilla - but were very close to slipping six points behind Zinedine Zidane's Real side, who have a game in hand. That saved point may feel like scant consolation now, but it may take on extra significance later in the season.
Apart from the battle for the top spot, for all the talent they have, Barca have been too reliant on Messi this season. He saved them in Sevilla and San Sebastian, and he once again had to save them in Villarreal. Others need to contribute when the Blaugrana find themselves with their backs to the wall. Neymar's goal drought dates back to October, and Luis Suarez has been hot and cold this season, but others need to step forward as well.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Luis Enrique was unable to come up with a way to break down the league's best defence and was again left to rely on a moment of Messi magic to rescue a point. However, Enrique did make some tweaks here -- shifting to a back three -- as he looked for a way to breathe life into his side's flagging title hopes.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Villarreal had the better first-half chances, but the only save the German goalkeeper had to make was a comfortable one from Sansone. Had little to do in the second half, too, and was not to blame for the goal.
DF Sergi Roberto, 5 -- Finds himself having to dovetail with a different midfielder every week, and with Messi playing with more freedom to drift inside and deep than previously, Roberto is often isolated at right-back.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Wasn't his finest performance, but he was again one of the players who looked to drive Barca forward when they were chasing the game. Was unable to stop the opening goal as Villarreal broke clinically after a stray Lucas Digne pass.
DF Javier Mascherano, 5 -- Struggled with Villarreal's pace on the break and was lucky not to give a penalty away for handball at 1-0. Could certainly have done more to contain Alexandre Pato in the buildup to the host's goal.
DF Lucas Digne, 5 -- Had some great moments in the first half, throwing himself in the way of a Jonathan Dos Santos shot and creating a good chance for Suarez. However, Digne's sloppiness led to Villarreal's goal when he gave the ball away, allowing them to counter.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- Started the game well with some good passing and one key interception after Digne's vital block, but his contribution decreased as the game progressed. Ended up playing in a back three.
MF Andre Gomes, 4 -- Saw a half-decent chance sail over the crossbar in the first half, but once again offered little on the right of a three-man midfield. Ivan Rakitic was left out of the squad completely, and while the Croatian is not in great form, the Portuguese has yet to prove himself at Barca.
MF Andres Iniesta, 6 -- Lots of good footwork but was unable to apply much magic. Was well-marked by Villarreal and his final pass was surprisingly lacking.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Barca's biggest threat and their best player once again. Dictates the play and scores the important goals. Had a header tipped over the crossbar just before half-time, hit the post at 1-0 with a great effort, and should have had a penalty before that when his shot was blocked by Bruno Soriano's hand. Eventually scored the equaliser when he won and converted a free kick, taking his tally in La Liga to 13 goals for the season.
FW Luis Suarez, 5 -- Another disappointing performance from the Uruguayan. Had two half-chances, one via a Digne cutback and another from a Messi pass, but both were easily stopped by keeper Sergio Asenjo.
FW Neymar, 6 -- A frustrating evening for the Brazilian, who had a number of chances to score. Came close with a 24th-minute effort from outside the area, missing the target by centimetres, and also missed a good chance after a low Suarez cross. Wasted more decent openings in the second half and is now without a club goal in 11 games.
MF Denis Suarez (for Gomes) 5 -- Playing against his former club, was unable to make a difference off the bench.
MF Arda Turan (for Digne) 5 -- Came on with Barca chasing the game and sent a great headed chance wide from a Neymar cross.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.