Barcelona fought back from two goals down to win, 3-2, at Villarreal and keep alive their slim La Liga title hopes on Sunday, with Lionel Messi grabbing the winner late on.
Goals either side of halftime from Cani and Manu Trigueros looked to have put Villarreal on course for a surprise victory, before they conceded two own goals to bring Barcelona level and Messi struck the killer blow on 83 minutes.
The result means Barca are four points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid, with three games left to play. The last of those games will see Atleti travel to Camp Nou, but Diego Simeone's side may already have the title won by then, if they can win their next two matches.
Had Barcelona lost to Villarreal, their faint hopes would have been extinguished. As things stand, they must now rely on outcomes beyond their control to go in their favor.
Before the game kicked off, there was a minute's silence for the late Tito Vilanova, who passed away aged 45 after a battle with cancer. Emotions were clearly running high among the Barca players who worked under Vilanova during the 2012-13 season.
There was a slow start to the match, with neither side threatening early on and chances at a premium. Messi had a shot saved after 21 minutes, but despite Barca dominating possession, this never looked like a game they would run away with.
And then, on the stroke of halftime, Villarreal achieved the breakthrough. Giovani dos Santos was the provider, with Cani collecting his pass and producing a neat finish to put the home side ahead.
Villarreal doubled their lead 10 minutes into the second half. Aquino sent over a fine cross and Trigueros found space to head powerfully past Jose Pinto and into the top corner.
Barcelona were in serious trouble and didn't look much like rescuing the situation, but an own from Gabriel, after good work from Dani Alves, ignited hope in the visitors.
It was Alves again who prompted the equaliser. This time, Mateo Musacchio was the unfortunate Villarreal player to put through his own net—heading home in the confusion caused by Alves' curled cross.
Barcelona were now in the ascendancy, with the momentum on their side. It was therefore no surprise to see Messi react to Cesc Fabregas' knockdown header and steer a right-footed shot past the goalkeeper to win the match late on.
Barcelona's win was far from convincing, but at least it keeps them in the hunt. Wins against Getafe and Elche are now essential, to set up a potential showdown against Atletico Madrid.
There will no doubt be further concerns raised about Barca's current state after this game, however. We certainly were not watching a team full of confidence.
Villarreal, meanwhile, missed a great chance to close the gap on sixth-placed Real Sociedad in the push for a Europa League spot. With three games left, they will need to finish strongly to achieve that aim, and also rely on other results going their way.
|Villarreal Player Ratings|
|Barcelona Player Ratings|
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