Lionel Messi missed a penalty but still scored twice, including an exquisite free-kick, as Barcelona edged out a five-goal thriller with Valencia on Sunday to stay within easy reach of the La Liga summit.
After Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid won on Saturday, there was no margin for error at Mestalla, where Barca’s 3-2 win narrowed the gap behind Atletico to two points, with now four games to play.
Gabriel Paulista led Valencia in the lead early in the second half before Messi missed a penalty, only to break after the resulting scramble.
Griezmann and a stunning free-kick from Messi appeared to have secured the win afterwards, but Carlos Soler’s astonishing long-range strike left Barcelona hanging on in the end, a grueling victory which means they could overtake Atletico Madrid on next weekend if they beat Diego Simeone’s team. at Camp Nou.
“We knew we wouldn’t have quiet games,” said Gerard Pique. “We are still in the fight. Quiet games mean you’re not competing for anything.
After a hectic week in which Real Madrid drew against Real Betis, Atletico lost to Athletic Bilbao and Barca were beaten by Granada on Thursday, order has been restored to some extent this weekend, the first three having returned to victory.
Sevilla are now six points behind Atletico and will need to beat Athletic Bilbao on Monday to stay in the squad ahead of their own decisive game next weekend at Real Madrid.
“The only idea against Atletico is to win,” Pique said. “Hopefully we’ll be in the lead by the end of the weekend, but even if someone else is there I wouldn’t put my house on them as champions.”
Messi the trump card
Barcelona’s main strengths and weaknesses were clearly demonstrated against Valencia, where they once again proved to be the most creative team in the division while showing their vulnerabilities at the back.
And if they have a trump card during the break-in, it’s Messi, whose brace brings his La Liga total to 28 goals for the season, seven ahead of Karim Benzema and even more remarkable given his relatively slow start. The Argentine now has seven in his last five matches.
Ronald Koeman was banned from the bench after being sent off against Granada, with assistant coach Alfred Schreuder in his place on the line.
Barcelona had the best of luck in the first half but Valencia could be encouraged by some clear openings at the break.
They should have capitalized early in the second half as Goncalo Guedes ran on Soler’s pass but failed to beat Marc-André ter Stegen with a stitched finish.
But Valencia scored in the resulting corner with Gabriel heading into an empty net at the back post with Barca claiming a foul on Ter Stegen.
Thierry Correia had crossed the goalkeeper but it was not enough for a free kick.
Correia could have made two soon after but missed the goal and instead Barcelona scored three times in 12 minutes.
Firstly, Valencia’s Toni Lato was guilty of a clear handball to keep Frenkie de Jong from touching and as Messi missed the penalty, a tame attempt repelled by Jasper Cillessen, Sergio Busquets brilliantly managed to keep the ball alive.
Gabriel blocked Pedri’s volley on the line and in the chaos Messi reacted the fastest to crush on the rebound.
Six minutes later Barca were in the lead, with Griezmann finishing after De Jong perfectly timed his run to meet Alba’s floating cross, only for his header to be placed by Cillessen on Griezmann’s path.
And then Messi scored the best of the lot, winning a free kick with a great touch away from his center marker, on the edge of the box, before looping a delicious shot away from Cillessen’s left hand and out of the post.
Barcelona looked safe until Soler set up a dramatic finish by thundering on a 30-yard shot with seven minutes to go. Valencia pushed on, flooding the area and throwing balls forward, but ultimately missing out on the last chance they dreamed of.
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