Just two days after the passing of former coach Tito Vilanova, Barcelona took the pitch at El Madrigal to face Villarreal. The hosts offered to postpone the match, but Barca decided to play on. That decision appeared to be an ill-advised one when Barcelona conceded twice, but they fought back in the second half, scoring three consecutive goals to record a 3-2 comeback win.
Barcelona got off to a poor start and allowed Villarreal to pull off dangerous counter-attacks with alarming regularity. By the time Cani broke through for the Yellow Submarine -- in first half stoppage time -- it was hardly a surprise. Jonathan Pereira had a great chance inadvertently blocked by his own teammate, Giovani dos Santos, in the 24th minute, and Javier Aquino had a shot cleared off the line in the 44th.
But Cani finally found the breakthrough, and at the end of a brilliant assist. It was Cani who had been pulling the strings and setting up all the chances to that point, but the setup was provided in this instance by Pereira, who found Cani with a perfect pass from the left flank to the center of the box, allowing Cani to bury from just inside the penalty area.
Barca continued to look sluggish after halftime and conceded yet another goal in the 55th minute. Trigueros was the unlikely scorer on that occasion, heading in a cross by Aquino off an intelligent late run into the box. At that point, it was worth wondering whether Barca were in the match mentally and capable of turning the result around.
The match eventually turned due to a freak own goal, in the 65th minute. Gabriel Paulista was the culprit, whiffing on an attempted clearance of a Dani Alves cross. Incredibly, the same thing happened again 13 minutes later, again on a cross by Alves. Mateo Musacchio scored the second own goal, and his was the worse of the two. While Paulista's looked like an unfortunate accident that could have happened to just about anyone, Musacchio's was a perfectly directed header into his own net.
Those goals seemed to give Barcelona the confidence to fight for a winner, which they found seven minutes from normal time. Lionel Messi was the unsurprising hero, though the assist was a bit unconventional. The setup came from Cesc Fabregas, who was benched for poor play and came on as a second half substitute. He nodded a lofted ball into the box on to Messi, who had an easy finish from eight yards.
Barcelona's performance was mostly poor, but they've grabbed all three points thanks to a late surge and a bit of luck. They're still very much in the title race, though they need Atlético Madrid to drop points once before they meet on the final day.
Villarreal: Asenjo, Perez, Jokic, Musacchio, Paulista, Pina (Aquino 36'), Trigueros, Cani, Bruno, Perbet (Pereira 14'), Dos Santos (Uche 82')
Goals: Cani (45'), Trigueros (55')
Barcelona: Pinto, Adriano, Bartra, Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi (Tello 62'), Iniesta, Pedro (Roberto 90'), Messi, Alexis (Fabregas 62')
Goals: Paulista (OG 65'), Musacchio (OG 78'), Messi (83')