A late Lionel Messi strike rescued Barcelona a point in a 1-1 La Liga draw with Villarreal at the Estadio El Madrigal. The Blaugrana began their 2017 campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie on Thursday, and couldn’t find the goals to overcome the Yellow Submarine for most of the day on Sunday.
Nicola Sansone’s 49th-minute strike - off a fine run and layoff from Brazilian forward Pato - slid across and past an outstretched Marc-Andre ter Stegen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead just after the break. Messi hit the post - just as he had in the dying moments against Bilbao - with a curled shot from just inside the box with a quarter-hour remaining as Barca piled the pressure on the hosts in an engulfing second half. However they unlikely to find a break through until Messi curled an unstoppable free kick around the wall and into the the top-left corner of Sergio Asenjo’s goal to even the match at 1-1 and keep Luis Enrique’s men within five points of leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.
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.