Lionel Messi's late winner kept Barcelona in the Spanish title race as they marked their first match since ex-coach Tito Vilanova's death with a superb comeback win at Villarreal.

The hosts held a 2-0 lead through Cani's precise finish and a powerful 15-yard header from Manu Trigueros.

Analysis

"Amid the tributes to Tito Vilanova, one thing that should stand out - and should be remembered by football historians for many years to come - is just how influential Vilanova's role was in developing the unique tactical approach that has brought so much success to Barcelona in the past few years."

But Villarreal defenders Gabriel Paulista and Mateo Musacchio both scored own goals to put Barca level.

Messi steered in the winner from close range as Barca moved into second.

The plucky fightback, where all three goals came in the space of 18 second-half minutes, means the Catalan club are four points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid with three matches left.

The pair go head-to-head at the Nou Camp on the final day of the La Liga season, although Atletico - who beat Valencia earlier on Sunday - will become champions for the first time since 1996 if they beat Levante and Malaga in their next two matches.

The odds are still heavily stacked against Barcelona retaining the title which they won less than 12 months ago under the guidance of Vilanova.

Vilanova was forced to quit the club last summer as he battled cancer and the 45-year-old lost his fight against the disease on Friday.

Barcelona's players looked emotional during a minute's silence for their former coach Vilanova

Barcelona's players looked emotional during a minute's silence for their former coach Vilanova

Sunday's trip to Villarreal came under difficult circumstances for the grieving Barcelona players, but they managed to reignite their title ambitions with a gutsy victory.

Villarreal's El Madrigal stadium fell quiet ahead of kick-off, with many Barcelona players close to tears as Vilanova was remembered during a minute's silence.

However, they were focused from the first whistle as they made a high-tempo start against seventh-placed Villarreal.

La Liga title run-in

Atletico Madrid

Real Madrid

Barcelona

3-4 May

Levante (A)

Valencia (H)

Getafe (H)

7 May

Valladolid (A)

10-11 May

Malaga (H)

Celta Vigo (A)

Elche (A)

18 May

Barcelona (A)

Espanyol (H)

Atl. Madrid (H)

Barcelona, as they have done on many occasions in recent weeks, controlled possession in the first half without creating many clearcut chances.

And they were punished as Villarreal took the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Home midfielder Cani was allowed to run unmarked into the Barca area from deep, before steering Jonathan Pereira's perfectly-weighted pass first time into Barca keeper Jose Manuel Pinto's bottom-left corner.

Messi magic

Lionel Messi's winner was his 12th goal in his last eight league games for Barcelona.

Newly-promoted Villarreal have enjoyed a productive first season back in the Spanish top-flight, looking almost assured of finishing seventh and qualifying for next season's Europa League.

Both Atletico and Real Madrid could only manage draws at El Madrigal and even a point looked unlikely for Barcelona when Trigueros was left unmarked to plant in Javier Aquino's right-wing cross.

But Barca were handed a lifeline when Dani Alves's low cross-shot hit the heel of home defender Gabriel Paulista and flew into the net.

It was a huge slice of luck for the toiling visitors - and they were handed another shortly after. Alves, who had a banana thrown at him from the home crowd in a seemingly racially-motivated incident moments earlier, was again the architect as Musacchio headed the Brazil right-back's cross past his own keeper Sergio Asenjo.

Villarreal player wore T-shirts before kick-off with the message 'Forever Tito', while there were many banners around their stadium paying tribute to the ex-Barcelona boss

Villarreal players wore T-shirts before kick-off with the message 'Forever Tito', while there were many banners around their stadium paying tribute to the ex-Barcelona boss

Villarreal's players looked deflated, Barcelona sensed a victory was within grasp.

Messi's free-kick forced Asenjo, on a season-long loan from Barca's title rivals Atletico, into an acrobatic stop, but the home keeper was powerless to prevent the Argentine's 40th goal of the season.

The three-time Ballon d'Or winner latched on to substitute Cesc Fabregas's cushioned header, keeping his composure to bury the winner before poignantly pointing to the sky.

Lineup, Bookings (5) & Substitutions (6)

Villarreal

  • 01 Asenjo
  • 02 Perez Martinez Booked
  • 03 Jokic
  • 21 Soriano Llido
  • 05 Musacchio
  • 20 de Abreu
  • 14 Trigueros Muñoz Booked
  • 10 Gracia Calmache Booked
  • 07 Perbet (Pereira - 14' )
  • 09 dos Santos (Uche - 82' )
  • 04 Pina (Aquino - 36' )

Substitutes

  • 06 Pantic
  • 08 Uche
  • 17 Aquino
  • 18 Costa Jordá
  • 19 Óliver
  • 24 Pereira
  • 25 Sánchez Martínez

Barcelona

  • 13 Pinto Colorado
  • 22 Dani Alves
  • 21 Adriano
  • 16 Busquets Booked
  • 15 Bartra
  • 14 Mascherano
  • 06 Xavi (Tello - 62' )
  • 08 Iniesta
  • 10 Messi
  • 09 Sánchez Booked (Fábregas - 62' )
  • 07 Pedro (Sergi - 90' )

Substitutes

  • 02 Montoya
  • 04 Fábregas
  • 17 Song
  • 19 Afellay
  • 20 Tello
  • 24 Sergi
  • 25 Olazábal Paredes
Ref: David Fernández Borbalán
Att: 22,839

Match Stats

Shots

5 20

On target

3 7

Corners

2 9

Fouls

11 6

Live Text Commentary

Full time

Full Time Match ends, Villarreal 2, Barcelona 3.

90:00 +3:01 Full time

Full Time Second Half ends, Villarreal 2, Barcelona 3.

90:00 +2:59

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

90:00 +2:59

Foul by Gabriel Paulista (Villarreal).

89:53 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Barcelona. Sergi Roberto replaces Pedro.

89:53 Booking

Booking Cani (Villarreal) is shown the yellow card.

88:45 Booking

Booking Manu Trigueros (Villarreal) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

88:40

Dani Alves (Barcelona) wins a free kick on the right wing.

88:40

Foul by Manu Trigueros (Villarreal).

85:28

Offside, Villarreal. Mario tries a through ball, but Manu Trigueros is caught offside.

84:20 Booking

Booking Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) is shown the yellow card.

83:38

Foul by Sergio Busquets (Barcelona).

83:38

Javier Aquino (Villarreal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

82:16 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Villarreal 2, Barcelona 3. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Francesc Fábregas with a headed pass.

81:31 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Villarreal. Ikechukwu Uche replaces Giovani dos Santos.

80:47

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Sergio Asenjo.

80:45

Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner.

79:31

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

79:31

Foul by Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

77:47 Goal scored

Goal! Own Goal by Mateo Musacchio, Villarreal. Villarreal 2, Barcelona 2.

76:45

Hand ball by Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal).

75:46

Attempt missed. Francesc Fábregas (Barcelona) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Dani Alves with a cross following a corner.

75:22

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Sergio Asenjo.

75:19

Attempt blocked. Francesc Fábregas (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Lionel Messi.

73:12

Foul by Javier Mascherano (Barcelona).

73:12

Jonathan Pereira (Villarreal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

68:55

Attempt blocked. Francesc Fábregas (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Sergio Busquets.

67:13

Hand ball by Francesc Fábregas (Barcelona).

65:44

Foul by Pedro (Barcelona).

65:44

Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal) wins a free kick on the left wing.

64:45 Goal scored

Goal! Own Goal by Gabriel Paulista, Villarreal. Villarreal 2, Barcelona 1.

64:06

Attempt blocked. Pedro (Barcelona) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.

64:01

Attempt blocked. Dani Alves (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Lionel Messi.

62:30

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Bojan Jokic.

61:36 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Barcelona. Cristian Tello replaces Xavi.

61:24 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Barcelona. Francesc Fábregas replaces Alexis Sánchez.

60:51

Attempt missed. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Dani Alves.

58:29

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Mario.

57:26

Offside, Barcelona. Sergio Busquets tries a through ball, but Marc Bartra is caught offside.

56:59

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Manu Trigueros.

56:34

Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

55:54 Booking

Booking Mario (Villarreal) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

55:48

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

55:48

Foul by Mario (Villarreal).

54:02 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Villarreal 2, Barcelona 0. Manu Trigueros (Villarreal) header from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Javier Aquino with a cross.

53:23

Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top right corner.

52:26

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

52:26

Foul by Javier Aquino (Villarreal).

51:20

Foul by Javier Mascherano (Barcelona).

51:20

Jonathan Pereira (Villarreal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

50:43

Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Andrés Iniesta.

49:26 Booking

Booking Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona) is shown the yellow card.

49:08

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Gabriel Paulista.

47:51

Offside, Villarreal. Javier Aquino tries a through ball, but Jonathan Pereira is caught offside.

46:33

Offside, Villarreal. Bojan Jokic tries a through ball, but Jonathan Pereira is caught offside.

45:00

Second Half begins Villarreal 1, Barcelona 0.

45:00 +1:07 Half time

Half Time First Half ends, Villarreal 1, Barcelona 0.

45:00 +0:05 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Villarreal 1, Barcelona 0. Cani (Villarreal) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Jonathan Pereira with a through ball following a fast break.

43:37

Attempt blocked. Javier Aquino (Villarreal) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Giovani dos Santos.

41:42

Attempt blocked. Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is blocked. Assisted by Lionel Messi.

40:21

Attempt blocked. Xavi (Barcelona) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Pedro.

38:05

Marc Bartra (Barcelona) wins a free kick on the right wing.

38:05

Foul by Jonathan Pereira (Villarreal).

37:54

Attempt blocked. Pedro (Barcelona) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Lionel Messi.

36:46

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Mario.

36:12

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

36:12

Foul by Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal).

35:08 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Villarreal. Javier Aquino replaces Tomás Pina because of an injury.

33:56

Attempt blocked. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Dani Alves.

28:42

Corner, Villarreal. Conceded by Javier Mascherano.

27:08

Foul by Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona).

27:08

Manu Trigueros (Villarreal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

26:03

Offside, Barcelona. Dani Alves tries a through ball, but Pedro is caught offside.

23:56

Corner, Villarreal. Conceded by Marc Bartra.

23:05

Attempt blocked. Jonathan Pereira (Villarreal) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Cani.

22:12

Marc Bartra (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

22:12

Foul by Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal).

21:23

Attempt missed. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Dani Alves.

18:40

Attempt blocked. Pedro (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Andrés Iniesta.

16:33

Attempt missed. Mario (Villarreal) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Cani following a fast break.

16:15

Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Pedro.

14:06

Attempt missed. Dani Alves (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Lionel Messi following a set piece situation.

13:40

Dani Alves (Barcelona) wins a free kick on the right wing.

13:40

Foul by Jonathan Pereira (Villarreal).

13:25 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Villarreal. Jonathan Pereira replaces Jérémy Perbet because of an injury.

11:20

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

10:41

Delay in match Jérémy Perbet (Villarreal) because of an injury.

10:16

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Gabriel Paulista.

7:36

Attempt saved. Xavi (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner.

6:44

Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

6:44

Foul by Bruno (Villarreal).

2:10

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Gabriel Paulista.

1:30

Offside, Villarreal. Cani tries a through ball, but Giovani dos Santos is caught offside.

0:00

First Half begins.

0:00

Lineups are announced and players are warming up.

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