Lionel Messi settles score in entertaining win over Villarreal

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Lionel Messi scored a brilliant winner as Barcelona twice fought from behind to beat Villarreal 3-2 in an entertainment-packed clash at the Nou Camp. Villarreal, unbeaten in any competition since the start of November, were briefly on course for their first win over Barca in 12 attempts thanks to goals from Denis Cheryshev and Luciano Vietto, which sandwiched a Neymar equaliser. However, Barca then struck twice in quick succession during a frenetic start to the second half to record an eighth successive win in league and cup, Rafinha drawing the teams level before Messi curled home a stunning 20-yard strike. Villarreal pushed for an equaliser as the game swept from one end to another, but Barca held firm to remain a point behind Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. Sunday's encounter bore more than a passing similarity to Barca's Copa del Rey win over Atletico Madrid in midweek, where Luis Enrique's men also twice trailed before snatching a 3-2 win thanks to two quickfire goals. On that occasion Barca found themselves behind inside a minute, but it should have been the Catalan side who took the lead on Sunday as they dominated the opening exchanges. They could not make their dominance count though – Luis Suarez seeing their best effort well saved by Sergio Asenjo – and they were hit with a sucker-punch in the 30th minute as Villarreal took the lead in fortuitous fashion. Mario Gaspar's hacked shot from the edge of the area was going nowhere near goal but a quick-thinking Cheryshev stuck out a boot to deflect it past Claudio Bravo. That looked set to earn Villarreal a half-time lead, but Barca had other ideas and Neymar drew the teams level in stoppage time when he pounced on the loose ball after Asenjo had pushed out a Rafinha shot. That dramatic end to the half continued after the break with the two teams conjuring up three goals in as many minutes, with Villarreal re-taking the lead only to see Barca hit back with a brace to go 3-2 up. Vietto put the visitors 2-1 ahead in the 52nd minute after former Barca youngster Giovani dos Santos had capitalised on a bad mistake from Gerard Pique on the halfway line to set up an easy finish for his fellow forward. Villarreal's celebrations barely lasted a minute before Barca drew level, however – and within three minutes the Yellow Submarine were trailing. Rafinha made it 2-2 with a close-range finish after Messi's header had been blocked on the line, then Messi put Barca ahead for the first time in the match with a wonderful curling right-footed shot into the top corner from the edge of the box. The goalmouth incidents continued to mount up in a hugely entertaining match and both sides looked certain to score during a manic 60-second spell just after the hour mark. Villarreal did think they had levelled as Victor Ruiz volleyed home from close range, but that effort was ruled out for offside and Barca immediately broke down the other end where Messi put Neymar through with a fantastic pass. A slipping Neymar went crashing to the ground as he lifted the ball over Asenjo, but no penalty was awarded and then in the ensuing chaos, Suarez just failed to head into an empty net. That was a let-off for the visitors, but the could not make it count as Barca held on for the points.