Lionel Messi’s stunning free-kick secured Barcelona a last-gasp draw, but failing to win at Villarreal was a damaging result given La Liga leaders Real Madrid’s indomitable form.
Barca needed to respond at Villarreal but could only muster a 1-1 draw, with Messi’s superb free-kick cancelling out a fine second-half Nicola Sansone strike.
The Argentinian magician may have prevented the Yellow Submarine winning this fixture for the first time since 2008, but it continued a disappointing start to the year for Luis Enrique’s side.
Fresh from the midweek Copa del Rey loss at Athletic Bilbao, the draw at Villarreal leaves them third in the standings — a point behind second-placed Sevilla and five off Real Madrid, who also boast a game in hand.
The disappointment of Messi’s late goal was compounded for Villarreal by Jaume Costa’s stoppage-time sending off.
Athletic Bilbao were unable to feed off their superb win over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, held to a 0-0 draw by Alaves.
Three days after beating Barcelona 2-1, despite playing the final minutes with nine men, Athletic failed to win again at home and stayed in seventh place.
It was 11th-place Alaves that came closest to scoring at San Mames when Victor Camarasa struck the left post with a right-foot shot from outside the area in the 36th minute.
Celta Vigo defeated Malaga 3-1 to jump into ninth place at the Estadio Balaídos.
Iago Aspas, Daniel Wass and Fontàs fired the hosts into a commanding 3-0 lead after 73 minutes, while a Daniel Wass own goal provided Malaga their sole consolation on the day.
Meanwhile, Real Betis cruised past Leganes 2-0 thanks to second-half goals from Ruben Castro and Cristiano Piccini.