Barcelona dropped a surprising two points at Villareal on Tuesday night, although they staged a stunning comeback, after trailing the hosts 2-4, to snatch a point.
The introduction of Lionel Messi as a substitute for Philippe Coutinho at the 63rd minute after Vicente Iborra had netted the third goal for Villareal, appeared to have changed the course of play.
Messi and Luis Suarez combined to turn the game around for Barcelona, even after Villareal added a fourth goal, to make the scoreline 2-4.
Messi, who had started on the bench, drove in a free-kick in the 90th and in the 93rd, Suarez fired in a devastating half-volley to earn Barca a 4-4 draw and an unlikely point.
Combined with Atletico’s earlier 2-0 victory over Girona, the result means the gap at the top is reduced to eight points ahead of this weekend’s top of the table meeting but Ernesto Valverde’s side celebrated Suarez’s goal like it was a winner.
“In the end it is only a point but there is a certain feeling after coming back from two goals down in the last minute,” Valverde said.
Ex-Arsenal star, Santi Cazorla inspired struggling Villarreal to lead the Catalans 4-2 going into the final minute.
Cazorla, meanwhile, sank to his knees, a chance spurned for Villarreal to pull four points clear of the relegation zone, with Celta Vigo, now only two behind, still to play Huesca on Wednesday.
They had come from two down, as Samuel Chukwueze and Karl Toko Ekambi cancelled out early goals from Philippe Coutinho and Malcom. Vicente Iborra and Carlos Bacca looked to have sealed an incredible win, only for Messi and Suarez to intervene.
The pair have now scored 51 goals between them in the league this season, just one shy of the total managed by Real Madrid.
“The spirit we showed at the end, to refuse to give in, to come back in the last minute – we showed that we want to win this league,” said Suarez.
Rested along with Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic, it seemed Barcelona would not need Messi as Coutinho tapped in a pass by Malcom, who then headed in Arturo Vidal’s cross for a 2-0 lead after 16 minutes.
But Villarreal sprung into life, revived by Chukwueze, who pulled one back seven minutes later. A sumptuous flick by Iborra launched the counter-attack and Cazorla sent the striker clear. Chukwueze’s shot struck the post but cannoned back to him and this time, he guided it into the far corner.
Any control Barcelona had increasingly gave way to chaos, particularly on the break, where Villarreal broke through almost at will. Toko Ekambi’s equaliser shortly after half-time looked like a fluke but perhaps he meant it.
Barcelona will next meet Atletico Madrid at Nou Camp on Saturday.