MADRID: Bitter rivals Barcelona made it two wins in as many games under Luis Enrique with a late winner at Villarreal.
It was a happier evening for Barca as they were 1-0 victors at Villarreal thanks to 19-year-old Sandro Ramirez´s debut goal eight minutes from time.
“It is gratifying to see the young guys score, but the most important thing is the victory,” said Enrique.
“We kept going until the end. Villarreal defended very well and waited for the counter-attack to cause us problems.”
Barca completely dominated possession in the opening 45 minutes, but failed to create clear-cut chances as Sergio Asenjo parried a drive from Pedro before turning a deflected Messi free-kick onto the post.
But Villarreal were nearly gifted the lead at the start of the second period as Barca defender Jeremy Mathieu turned Jaume Costa´s cross off the outside of his own post.
Barca then upped the pace after Neymar replaced Munir El Haddadi and Asenjo had to be at his best again to turn away a well-struck Messi free-kick.
Yet, for all their chances, Barca were inches from being behind moments later when Tomas Pina struck the inside of the post and Javier Espinosa fired the rebound inches wide.
The visitors did finally make the breakthrough eight minutes from time when more fine footwork from Messi provoked another save from Asenjo, but Sandro was on hand to force the ball home from close range.
There was still time for a final scare for Barca as Giovanni dos Santos smashed a volley off the post from a narrow angle, but Enrique´s men held on to go top of the embryonic La Liga table.