Lionel Messi the hero again as he inspires Barcelona fightback to draw with Valencia
The Argentine netted both goals as La Liga leaders come from two down to earn 2-2 result at Camp Nou
Barcelona’s eight-game winning league run came to an end with a 2-2 draw at home to Valencia in another hugely entertaining match at Camp Nou on Saturday night.
Their fans have had plenty to whet their appetites: this Wednesday’s cup clasico against Real Madrid – for which Lionel Messi is a doubt after he picked up a slight thigh problem – will be the Catalans’ sixth match at home in 25 days.
Valencia are one of the few teams to take points off Barca this season after they held them to a 1-1 draw in October, but they had suffered a dreadful start to the season.
Without a win in their first three Uefa Champions League ties, they did not win any of their opening six league games and were 15th as recently as December.
The results of Marcelino’s men have improved since and they have risen to eighth, but they are still seven points off the fourth slot where they finished last season to qualify for the Champions League.
Valencia boast a talented young team, though, and they can shock any foe. Two minutes into the game they attacked along Barca’s left, weakened because Sergi Roberto was playing in place of Jordi Alba.
Captain Dani Parejo’s shot was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, before Kevin Gameiro struck the loose ball against a post. Teams usually get few chances at Camp Nou and several Valencia players rued the miss by putting their head into their hands.
Barca, as expected, established a passing dominance, but Valencia were content to soak up the pressure with their three well-organised lines, while hitting their opponents on the counter attack where possible.
They made it very possible after 23 minutes when Rodrigo ran through the Barca midfield and defence to set up Frenchman Gameiro. The former Strasbourg, Lorient, PSG, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid striker, 31, struck the ball firmly beyond Ter Stegen to open the scoring.
They doubled their lead eight minutes later after a push from Roberto saw a penalty awarded. In-form Parejo scored, stunning the 76,789 crowd, and it looked like one change too many for the Catalans, who had made five from Wednesday’s match against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.
Alba did not start because he was on four yellow cards, but he is integral to Barca and that showed.
Yet Valencia have also played the same number of games. They were also in the Champions League – and they will play even more should they progress in the Europa League – and, like Barca, they are in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
Once again it was Messi to whom Barca looked for inspiration and he did not disappoint.
Barca’s captain helped his side with a 38th-minute penalty that beat the outstanding Neto. Messi now has 50 league penalties to his name. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Hugo Sanchez have scored more, and it was the ninth consecutive game in which Messi scored, his best run for six years.
Valencia were weakened when Gameiro departed injured after 40 minutes. Barca fans have a taste for comebacks and they started the second half with Messi immediately threatening at goal.
Having Alba on, as a substitute, in support helped, but Valencia defended well and still counter attacked, Rodrigo missing the target from a Denis Cheryshev cross after 62 minutes.
Messi claimed the equaliser a minute later, picking up the ball outside the area after good work from Suarez. There did not look to be a way towards goal with three Valencians in front of him plus the goalkeeper, but Messi found one, curling a left-foot shot around defenders and inside the post for his 21st strike of the season.
Barca pushed and pushed for a winner, yet they had to be careful of Valencia’s sucker punch all the same. “We surely deserved to win, we played a much better game than Valencia,” Ivan Rakitic said, but a draw was a fair result in a match in which the excitement never stopped.
Atletico Madrid could close Barca’s lead at the top to three points and Real Madrid can move to within eight points of their greatest rivals if they win on Sunday.
Then all the focus will be on Wednesday’s clasico, the first leg of a Copa del Rey semi-final that has the potential to be the next thrilling game involving Barcelona.
Updated: February 3, 2019 11:29 AM