Barca slip up in title race despite late Messi free kick

A last-minute free kick by Lionel Messi was not enough to get Barcelona back to winning ways in the Spanish La Liga.
A last-minute free kick by Lionel Messi was not enough to get Barcelona back to winning ways in the Spanish La Liga.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • Barcelona striker Luis Suarez insists that the Catalan football side are "obliged" to chase down Real Madrid at the top of Spanish La Liga, despite losing more ground on their arch-rivals following a 1-1 draw at Villarreal on Sunday.

A fabulous last-minute Lionel Messi free kick failed to prevent Barca from falling five points behind Real, who also have a game in hand, after Nicola Sansone had put Villarreal in front just after half-time.

The draw capped a poor return to action in the new year for Barca, after they also lost the first leg of their King's Cup last-16 tie 1-2 at Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.

"We are aware that we are Barcelona and we are obliged to fight for all the titles," Suarez told Spanish TV station Movistar.

Barca host Bilbao in the return leg tomorrow, hoping to avoid a first Cup exit to anyone other than Real since 2008.

"What matters now is the Cup game on Wednesday," said Suarez. "We have to go out from the first minute to win the game and qualify."

The Uruguayan had an unusually quiet night in front of goal as most of Barca's opportunities fell the way of his strike partners Neymar and Messi.

"(Villarreal) have shown all season that they are very difficult to play against at home. We had our chances in the second-half, but we couldn't take them until Leo's goal," said Suarez. "We've let two points get away, but we just have to keep working hard."

Barca manager Luis Enrique believed his side had done enough to win the game despite a familiar lack of cutting edge up front and fragility at the back this season.

"Without doubt we deserved to win the game," he said. "We played well. We are not on the most positive run and you have to do more to win these type of games, but I have no criticism for my players. They played a complete game."

With still over half the league season to go, Enrique insisted Barca still have time to chase down Real.

"I am sure we will have the chance to fight for the league title," he said.

"The only chance we will have to fight for the title, though, is by getting back to winning soon. To keep playing like this but with a different result."

Off the field, reports emanating from Croatia suggested that Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic could be on his way to Manchester City after being left out of Enrique's squad.

However, Barca vice-president Jordi Mestre said the Croatian is "loved" at the Camp Nou and that negotiations are ongoing to extend his contract beyond 2019.

"We are negotiating Rakitic's renewal," Mestre told Movistar. "We love Rakitic as a player and as a person. At the moment he has a contract and is a Barca player."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Barca slip up in title race despite late Messi free kick'. Print Edition | Subscribe