Barcelona's title hopes are hanging by a thread with Frank Rijkaard's team eight points behind Real Madrid after a late goal from Jon-Dahl Tomasson helped Villarreal to a 2-1 win at Camp Nou on Sunday. With 11 games left, Barça need a minor miracle to overhaul Real, 2-1 conquerors of Espanyol on Saturday, and prevent their arch-rivals from retaining the Spanish championship.
Xavi looked to have snatched a point for Barca after he cancelled out Marcos Senna's first-half penalty, but Danish substitute Tomasson struck the winner nine minutes from time. It was a historic win for Villarreal, who have completed a league double over the Catalans and are now only four points behind them in third.
Barça were without Lionel Messi, sidelined for six weeks with a leg injury, but their attacking trident of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o still made fearsome reading for the Villarreal back four. With Carles Puyol missing, Ronaldinho took over the captain's armband.
The home side dominated possession but Victor Valdes hauled down Guille Franco in the box and Senna braved the home whistling to convert the spot-kick. Xavi equalised on 67 minutes, but substitute Tomasson produced a shock winner as Villarreal won at Camp Nou for the first time in six years.
'Great team effort'
Earlier, Sevilla bounced back from their midweek UEFA Champions League exit with Luis Fabiano's 20th goal of the season sealing a 2-1 comeback win over Levante. Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez watched in agony as his team crashed out of the Champions League on penalties to Fenerbahce five days ago and was under fire as he struggles to fill the shoes of Juande Ramos - now at Tottenham.
Levante went ahead through Rahamat Riga after just four minutes but Seydou Keita equalised and Luis Fabiano struck a second-half winner. Sevilla move up to sixth and close to within two points of the top four with the win taking advantage of the fact that Atletico Madrid and Espanyol both lost.
"It was a great effort from the players because they were very tired after Tuesday," said Jimenez. "We face Valencia and Atletico Madrid next and those matches will be very important for our season.
"After going out of the Kings Cup and the Champions League we only have one competition to fight for and we have to give our all to be near the top of the table."
Brazilian forward Luis Fabiano leads the goalscoring charts with 20, and his efforts have seen him linked with a move to Real Madrid.
Racing Santander are a surprise Champions League contender and they moved level on points with fourth-placed Atletico following a 3-0 win over Real Betis. Argentines Ezequiel Garay and Aldo Duscher were both on target for Racing.
Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw at the Mestalla in a match-up between two fallen giants. Depor, Champions League semi-finalists in 2004, are two points clear of the relegation zone after the hard-earned point, while Valencia are ninth.