x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Cesc Fabregas rescues a point for Barcelona against Valencia

Barcelona draw 2-2 with Primera Liga leaders Valencia, while Real Madrid could only manage a draw themselves at home to Raicng Santander.

Cesc Fabregas has fitted in well at Barcelona and has struck up a very potent understanding with Lionel Messi.
Cesc Fabregas has fitted in well at Barcelona and has struck up a very potent understanding with Lionel Messi.

BARCELONA // A clinical Cesc Fabregas strike rescued a point for the Primera Liga champions Barcelona to secure them a 2-2 draw away to top of the table Valencia.

After the first weekend of fixtures there were complaints that the league had turned into a two horse race as both Barca and Real Madrid won by large margins but since then it has not gone their way and Valencia lead the way with ten points.

Indeed Real dropped further points as they followed up their shock defeat to Levante last weekend by being held 0-0 by modest Racing Santander.

Barcelona started at the Mestalla without the injured Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique while David Villa was rested in attack against his former club.

The home side went ahead after just eleven minutes when Eric Abidal put a Jeremy Mathieu cross into his own net but just two minutes later Pedro equalised after an interchange between Fabregas and Lionel Messi.

It was far from a typical display from Barcelona though as Valencia enjoyed plenty of possession in the middle of the pitch and they went ahead again via a Mathieu cross with Pablo Hernandez slotting the ball home unmarked at the far post.

Then before half time Roberto Soldado missed in front of an empty goal.

It was not until the final stages of the match that Barca asserted themselves on the game and it was once again a Messi and Fabregas combination which has worked so well this season that made the difference.

The Argentine found the former Arsenal captain, who kept his head and placed the ball past the keeper.

In injury time Valencia defender Jordi Alba was given a straight red card for a comment he made to the referee.

Real coach Jose Mourinho rang the changes after the 1-0 defeat by Levante at the weekend which included Jose Callejon and Lassana Diarra coming into the side but it was another ineffective performance.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a header well saved by keeper Tono Rodriguez before the break and in the second half the introduction of Angel Di Maria did make some difference but he was unable to change the course of the match.

In the closing stages Real were reduced to pumping the ball forward hopefully and Racing were able to hang on. The draw leaves Real Madrid on seven points, three adrift of Valencia.

"This was a different match to that against Levante as here it felt as though there was only one side looking to win the game," said Mourinho.

"It is a worrying situation as we have now lost five points from two games away from home.

"It would be wrong to say one player hasn't scored or another one has failed but as a team we weren't at our best although we tried."

Elsewhere last night, Atletico Madrid recorded their second successive 4-0 win as they beat pointless Sporting Gijon with Colombian striker Falcao scoring a double following on from his hat-trick at the weekend.

A second half strike from Santi Cazorla gave the Qatar-owned Malaga victory over Athletic Bilbao and Levante's good form continued with a 2-1 win away at Rayo Vallecano.

Today, Real Betis, another side with a 100 per cent record, face Real Zaragoza.

In Italy, Juventus's new signing Mirko Vucinic scored and then got sent off before half time as Juventus were held 1-1 at home by Bologna to drop their first points in Serie A this season.

The Montenegro striker, signed from AS Roma for €15 million (Dh74.6m) in the close season, turned in a free kick on 30 minutes as Bologna were caught off guard only to be dismissed for two senseless yellow cards just before the half-time whistle.

Daniele Portanova levelled for the visitors after the break.

Champions AC Milan remain without a win as they were held 1-1 at home by Udinese with Antonio di Natale, last season's league top scorer, netting for the third straight game for the visitors.

Napoli, who beat Milan 3-1 on Sunday, came down to earth with a bump as they lost 1-0 at Chievo, Davide Moscardelli scoring the winner midway through the second half.

Germany striker Miroslav Klose notched the winner for Lazio as they secured a 2-1 victory on Cesena's artificial pitch and Atalanta won by the same score at Lecce to remain unbeaten.

Promoted Atalanta moved up to one point, having started the season with a six-point deduction for their involvement in a match-fixing scandal in Serie B.

Argentine striker German Denis scored both their goals, including a penalty, taking his tally to three.

Cagliari, who won their first two games along with Juventus, Napoli and Udinese, were beaten 3-2 at Palermo.

Juventus, Udinese and Genoa are level on seven points from three games at the top, Genoa beating visitors Catania 3-0 with two goals from Argentine striker Rodrigo Palacio.

"It's disappointing not to win but I'm satisfied for the effort today and in general for the three matches so far," the Juventus coach Antonio Conte said.

"We know where we have to improve, especially in the matter of self-belief after two seasons which were not easy."

Juventus, a disappointing seventh last season, made a confident start and deservedly went ahead in the 27th minute.

Andrea Pirlo took a quick free kick in midfield while the Bologna players still had their backs turned and with the ball still moving.

His pass found Vucinic unmarked in the penalty area and he turned the ball past Jean-Francois Gillet with the visitors wondering what had happened.

Vucinic had already been booked for dissent and could have been sent off for pulling a cardboard box over his head in the celebrations.

But there was no let-off in first half stoppage time when he caught Archimede Morleo with a late tackle deep in the opposition half and was dismissed amid angry Juve protests.

Bologna levelled seven minutes after the break when Portanova rose above the defence at a corner to head past Gianluigi Buffon, who stayed rooted to his line.

Pirlo and Giorgio Chiellini had chances to put Juventus back in front but Gillet kept the hosts at bay.

Christian Abbiati, the Milan goalkeeper, was less fortunate as he fumbled a cross and allowed Di Natale the simple task of giving Udinese a 27th minute lead at the San Siro.

Substitute Stephan El Shaarawy, who replaced the injured Alexandre Pato, levelled with a clinical finish in the 64th to leave Milan in 14th place with two points from three games.