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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Record-breaking Barcelona inspired by Luis Suarez as they beat Valencia

Ernesto Valverde's men bounce back from Uefa Champions League despair to make it 39 games without defeat in the Primera Liga

Luis Suarez celebrates scoring Barcelona's opening goal in their 2-1 win over Valencia. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
Luis Suarez celebrates scoring Barcelona's opening goal in their 2-1 win over Valencia. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo

Primera Liga leaders Barcelona broke the Spanish record for unbeaten league matches as they defeated Valencia 2-1 to make it 39 games without defeat on Saturday.

The Catalans have now gone over a year since they lost a league game - against Malaga - and extended their lead at the top of the table to 14 points, with second placed Atletico Madrid in action on Sunday.

Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti were on target for Barca, who had to endure a nervous final few minutes after Daniel Parejo converted a late penalty for Valencia.

Barca were stung by the midweek defeat against a Roma side who came back from losing the first leg of their Uefa Champions League tie 4-1 to knock out Ernesto Valverde's men on away goals as they won the second leg 3-0.

While it was a disappointing end to their European aspirations, Barcelona's fine league form meant they were always confident of a fast response as they remain unbeaten in 2017-18, with the sequence including the final seven games of the previous campaign

Valencia are among the sides to have troubled Barca this season, having coming within eight minutes of beating them in December before the sides drew 1-1.

They started positively on Saturday but it was Valverde’s side who took the lead in the 15th minute.

Suarez converting a through ball from Philippe Coutinho which split the Valencian defence. It was the Uruguayan’s tenth goal in 11 games against Valencia.

Heavy rain and Wednesday’s defeat in Italy limited the attendance to 69,544, 16,000 less than Camp Nou’s last daytime home game a month ago, but despite the flat atmosphere, the fans’ efforts to attend were rewarded by an entertaining game.

Valencia, who are third above Real Madrid in the table, have enjoyed a superb season and played with confidence.

Four minutes after Barca’s opener, Rodrigo Moreno took advantage of a defensive mix-up to strike a shot which Andre Ter Stegen pushed onto the crossbar with his left hand.

Barca’s goalkeeper has been excellent this season and he was kept busy as Valencia attacked, saving again from Rodrigo two minutes before half time.

Barca were two up six minutes after the restart when Samuel Umtiti beat Gabriel Paulista to head a Coutinho corner down past Neto in the visitors’ goal.

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Both Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta went close to adding a third, and they were made to sweat after Valencia had halved the deficit in the closing minutes.

Valencia played well, but for all their youthful verve they do not have the same talent or experience as a Barca side who beat them home and away in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

“Like any other team, Barca suffers from trauma, but they have very high level players,” admitted Valencia’s coach Marcelino.

“This match was important for us,” said Barca’s Coutinho as he acknowledged his side's disappointment at losing to Roma.

“We know it’s been a tough week but a win today was a must. We’re sorry for what happened. We still have two important titles to win. We’re focused. Obviously what happened in the Champions League was bad. We wanted to reach the final.”

Barca have reached the Copa del Rey final, where they face Sevilla next Saturday in Madrid, a game which could see the Catalans come closer to a domestic double.

Even that would feel like a slight let down after European elimination, but this has been a successful year with the prospect now, with six league games to go of the campaign, of a first ever unbeaten season.