Lionel Messi came off the bench to preserve Barcelona’s unbeaten run in La Liga with a sensational late equaliser in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Sevilla on Saturday as the runaway leaders came back from two goals down in the space of a minute.
Franco Vazquez opened the scoring from close range in the 36th minute and Colombia international Luis Muriel doubled the home side’s lead by smashing in on the rebound five minutes into the second half.
Messi had began the game on the bench due to continued muscle discomfort which caused him to miss Argentina’s friendlies against Italy and Spain and the league’s top scorer was called into action in the 58th minute, replacing Ousmane Dembele.
Barca were instantly lifted by the Argentine’s arrival and Luis Suarez rattled the near post but Sevilla continued to pour forward and Vazquez and Muriel missed clear chances to put the game to bed.
They paid dear for their wastefulness as Suarez pulled one back for Barca with an acrobatic finish in the 88th minute following a corner and Messi whipped in the equaliser in the 89th with a venomous left-foot strike.
The goal stretched the Catalans’ unbeaten league run to 37 games and if they avoid defeat next week at home to Leganes they will equal Real Sociedad’s Liga record of 38 games without defeat, which has stood since 1980.
Barca top the standings on 76 points but if second-placed Atletico Madrid beat Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday their advantage at the top will be cut to nine. Champions Real Madrid are third on 62 after beating Las Palmas 3-0. Gareth Bale scored twice as the European champions warmed up for their Champions League clash against Juventus in the Canary Islands, where Cristiano Ronaldo was rested.
With one eye on next week's quarter-final first leg in Turin, Los Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane opted to leave in-form frontman Ronaldo behind for the trip to Gran Canaria.
However, Real never looked in any real danger of not getting the job done as Bale fired them in front after 26 minutes before Karim Benzema converted a penalty and the Wales forward added another spot-kick early in the second half.