- Barcelona salvages point at Villarreal
- Messi scores superb last-gasp free-kick
- Barca trails leader Real Madrid by five points
(CNN)But for another stroke of Lionel Messi magic, it could have been an even worse start to 2017 for Barcelona.
The Argentina striker conjured up a majestic free-kick in the last minute of Barca's clash with Villarreal Sunday to salvage a point for Luis Enrique's side in its first league action of the new year.
Despite Messi's late intervention, Barcelona now sits third in La Liga, five points behind leader Real Madrid, which has a game in hand.
Prospects of a third straight league title are looking ever more distant, while last week's 2-1 last-16 defeat by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Cup has given Barca work to do in Thursday's second leg at the Nou Camp if Enrique's team is to reach the quarterfinals.
"There is plenty of the league still to play, we will definitely be fighting for it," Enrique told Barca's official website after the stalemate.
"We must continue improving and be even stronger to fix this form. The hardest thing in football is to score goals."
Ronaldo to beat Messi to best player gong?
Though Messi was again the star man for Barcelona, he is expected to miss out on The Best FIFA Men's Player Award when it is handed out on Monday.
The 29-year-old helped power Barca to a domestic league and cup double last season but Ronaldo won the European Champions League with Real and Euro 2016 with Portugal.
France forward Antoine Griezmann completes the lineup, after he had a fine season for club -- Atletico Madrid -- and country.
The ceremony takes place at 1830 CET at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
Barca was perhaps lucky not to be trailing at halftime as its former player Jonathan dos Santos squandered two glorious chances to open the scoring for Villarreal.
Messi went close just before the break, with Sergio Asenjo tipping his header over the crossbar, while Luis Suarez failed to register his 100th Barca goal by firing right at the Villarreal goalkeeper.
The home side took the lead through Italian striker Nicola Sansone, who finished off after a fine run from former AC Milan and Brazil forward Alexandre Pato.
Barca claimed handball as a Messi shot was blocked by the arm of Bruno Soriano, and moments later Messi struck the post. Then, in the 90th minute, he curled a brilliant set piece into the top corner.
"The team deserved more, we deserved to win, but football is not always fair," Enrique explained.
"Villarreal are a team that try to play, they have quality players. They know their style of play well, with and without the ball.
"We knew about the difficult of the game against Villarreal, but we deserved to win. I have nothing more to say to my players, we played a great game.
"We created many chances against the team who has conceded the fewest goals in La Liga, although we were not as accurate as we could have been in the final meters."