BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona slipped five points behind Spanish leader Real Madrid after an 86th-minute equalizer by substitute Alvaro Vazquez gave Espanyol a 1-1 draw against the defending champions on Sunday.
With Lionel Messi relatively anonymous in Barcelona's play, midfielder Cesc Fabregas continued his scoring ways by heading home Daniel Alves' cross to put Barcelona ahead after 16 minutes at the Cornella-El Prat stadium.
Barcelona looked certain to take three points as it controlled the city derby, but Thievy Fibouma flicked on Raul Rodriguez's cross for Vazquez to guide home the equalizer four minutes from time.
Barcelona nearly stole the game at the close as first Gerard Pique hit the crossbar in the 90th and then Rodriguez appeared to handle Pedro Rodriguez's shot on the follow-up.
"The team played hard and at the end we got the draw we deserved," Vazquez said. "We arrived alive to the last minutes and we had a that little bit of luck."
Espanyol has been Barcelona's toughest opponent over the past five seasons — taking more league points off its crosstown rival than any other club, and the European champion continued to look vulnerable on the road. Pep Guardiola's side has taken only 13 of 24 points from eight games.
Messi, who seems certain to win his third straight Ballon d'Or as the world's best player on Monday, managed his only shot in the 77th. The Argentina forward was booked for handling in the 13th after stealing from Cristian Alvarez to feed Fabregas for a goal that was disallowed.
"The other day he played only little, so (his play) was not due to (fatigue)," Guardiola said of Messi before turning his attention to Madrid's advantage. "There's a lot of league left to play, a lot of points. We can recover from this."
Guardiola, who is expected to win FIFA's award as best coach on Monday, started the same 11 that beat Madrid last month, with Andres Iniesta returning from a leg muscle injury, but Espanyol held firm early and looked to the counter, with Victor Valdes clearing Joan Verdu's header off the line in the sixth minute, with the Barcelona defense scrambling to keep Verdu's follow-up out too.
Three minutes after the disallowed goal, Fabregas scored his ninth league goal and seventh in six games after connecting with a cross from Alves, who was subjected to racist chants from sections of the home fans during the match.
Fabregas continued to create Barcelona's best chances with Alvarez saving just before halftime. Verdu and Romaric N'Dri both hit shots over for the hosts while Barcelona defenders Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol blocked hard shots from Sergio Garcia and Thievy Bifouma.
Bifouma was unlucky to be whistled for a foul as he battled with Puyol inside Barcelona's area as the hosts found some second-half momentum.
"We applied a lot of pressure and tried to take the ball away and at the end we had a little bit of luck," Vazquez said.
Espanyol continued to press for the equalizer and Bifouma was tripped up inside the area without being awarded a penalty moments before Vazquez's heroics, although the hosts conceded they were fortunate not to concede a late spot-kick.
"The ball hit my hand but I'm not the referee," Rodriguez said.
Elsewhere, Jose Antonio Reyes' return to Sevilla was spoiled by Rayo Vallecano as the promoted side won 2-1 to break a four-game losing streak.
Miguel "Michu" Perez and Raul Tamudo put Rayo in command before Julien Escude pulled one back for Sevilla.
"Taking into account that (Reyes) was playing with new teammates and that he hadn't played much recently, he played well," said Sevilla coach Marcelino Garcia of former Arsenal player Reyes, who returned to his boyhood club from Atletico Madrid on Thursay.
Elsewhere, Valencia came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Villarreal in coach Jose Molina's debut for the "Yellow Submarine," Athletic Bilbao drew 0-0 at Getafe and Real Betis beat nine-man Sporting Gijon 2-0 for a third straight win.
Villarreal remained winless in nine consecutive games in all competitions, while Valencia stayed in third place, nine points behind league leader Real Madrid, which beat Granada 5-1 on Saturday.
Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente returned after missing seven games with a left knee injury and teammate Iker Muniain set the record for the youngest player to have made 100 league appearances at the age of 19 years and 20 days.
On Saturday, Racing Santander edged last-place Zaragoza 1-0. Malaga vs. Atletico Madrid, Levante vs. Mallorca and Real Sociedad vs. Osasuna all ended in scoreless draws.
Asssociated Press Writer Joseph Wilson contributed to this report.