- 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 Eu