Late goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez earned Barcelona a miracle 4-4 draw at Villarreal on a wild Tuesday night at the Estadio de la Ceramica.
Holding a 2-0 advantage thanks to scores from Philippe Coutinho and Malcom, Barcelona looked to be coasting to victory, but young striker Samu and veteran midfielder Santi Cazorla led a ferocious comeback from the hosts, who took a two-goal lead themselves and appeared on their way to a badly needed three points.
However, a late Villarreal sending off paved the way for Barcelona’s comeback, as a wonderfully-hit free-kick from Messi and a Luis Suarez strike at the death earned Barcelona the improbable point.
The draw still shaved Barcelona’s lead in the table down to eight points ahead of second-place Atletico Madrid, who just so happen to be Barcelona’s next opponent this weekend at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde made a number of notable changes from the team that topped Espanyol in the derby over the weekend. Following his two-goal effort, Messi started on the bench, as did Gerard Pique for the first time this season in league play.
There were chances for both sides to start, with Luis Suarez coming close for Barcelona and Vicente Iborra forcing Barcelona stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a reaction save.
But any early momentum for the hosts came to a crashing halt as some surgical passing from Barcelona led to an opening 0-1 lead. Sergi Roberto played an inch-perfect pass into Malcom, who crossed to Coutinho and the Brazilian had the easiest of redirects into net for the goal.
After playing the role of playmaker on the first goal, Malcom was rewarded for his unselfishness with his first league goal of the season. Arturo Vidal collected a pass from Sergi Roberto and curled in a ball toward the far post where Malcom sliced in between two defenders and headed home for a 0-2 Barcelona advantage.
Barcelona then should have made it three when Suarez played into Coutinho but the Brazilian’s chip glanced off the post.
Mired in a relegation battle, Villarreal were not about to give up easily and they struck back thanks to some immaculate passing, ending with Samu Chukwueze’s stroke into net. Cazorla played an exquisite pass into the young forward, who first rang a shot off the post, but then calmly collected the rebound, sent Jordi Alba flying with a move and swept home a shot to cut the deficit to 1-2.
To start the second half, it was Toko Ekambi’s turn to wreak havoc against the Barcelona defence, as he ran onto a sublime pass from Samu and charged into the Barcelona before hitting a slicing shot from the narrowest of angles that fooled Ter Stegen and brought Villarreal level 2-2.
Valverde had seen enough so on the hour mark Messi was summoned to restore order, but seconds later Villarreal had their third when Morlanes played into Vicente Iborra, who was kept onside by Alba and finished with aplomb past Ter Stegen to earn the Yellow Submarine their first lead of the day, 3-2.
Samu was absolutely tormenting the Barcelona defence and the young Nigerian came within a whisker of a second goal when his left-footed rocket forced Ter Stegen into a save, with the ball hitting the crossbar and top-spinning out for a corner.
More changes came for Barcelona, with Arthur and Sergio Busquets being replaced by Carles Alena and Rakitic, respectively, but Villarreal carved them up for a fourth time when Cazorla played a vertical pass into substitute Carlos Bacca and the Colombian finished for what was thought to be an insurmountable 4-2 lead with 10 minutes to go.
A critical mistake from Alvaro opened the door for Barcelona’s late surge, as his second yellow card reduced Villarreal to 10 men. A free kick 17 metres from goal set up Messi’s score, as the Pulga paid tribute to countryman Manu Ginobili and banked in his effort off the post to close the gap to 4-3.
Then with just seconds remaining, a Barcelona corner kick drifted to Suarez and the Uruguayan could not have hit it any better, sending a low-driving shot past Asenjo and into net for the dramatic 4-4 equaliser.
4.- Villarreal: Asenjo, Gaspar, Alvaro, Funes Mori, Víctor Ruiz, Pedraza, Morlanes (Caseres, min. 63), Iborra, Cazorla, Samu (Bobera, min. 87), Ekambi (Bacca, min. 74).
4.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Lenglet, Umtiti, Jordi Alba, Busquets (Rakitic, min. 73), Arthur (Alena, min. 73), Vidal, Coutinho (Messi, min. 61), Malcom, Luis Suarez.
Goals: 0-1, min. 12: Coutinho; 0-2, min. 16: Malcom; 1-2, min. 25: Samu; 2-2, min. 50: Ekambi; 3-2, min. 62: Iborra; 4-2, min. 81: Bacca; 4-3, min. 90: Messi; 4-4, min. 90+3: Suarez
Referee: Hernandez Hernandez (Las Palmas). Yellow Cards: Alvaro (Min. 36) for Villarreal, Busquets (Min. 39) for Barcelona, Lenglet (Min. 42) for Barcelona, Funes Mori (Min. 45+1) for Villarreal, Vidal (Min. 77) for Barcelona, Alena (Min. 83) for Barcelona, Alvaro (Min. 86) for Villarreal
Red cards: Alvaro (Min. 86) for Villarreal