Barcelona came from behind to win 3-2 at Valencia to keep alive the most enthralling title race for years in LaLiga.
After a shock home defeat to Granada in midweek, Ronald Koeman’s side simply had to win at the Mestalla. Despite Valencia’s lowly league position, they came into the match unbeaten in eight matches at home, so it was never going to be easy for Barcelona.
And so it proved when Gabriel Paulista put the hosts ahead early in the second half. However, Lionel Messi scored either side of an Antoine Griezmann goal to turn the game on its head.
Carlos Soler’s superb late strike set up a tense finale, but Valencia could not find an equaliser and Barcelona kept the pressure on league leaders Atletico Madrid ahead of the showdown between the two teams at the Nou Camp next weekend.
Koeman, who was sent off during the Granada defeat and began a two-match touchline ban at the Mestalla, made four changes to his team. Ronald Araujo and Clement Lenglet replaced Oscar Mingueza and Samuel Umtiti in defence, while Sergino Dest and 18-year-old Pedri were recalled in midfield at the expense of Sergi Roberto and Ilaix Moriba.
Barcelona began well and a sublime move involving Frenkie De Jong, Griezmann and Pedri saw the latter send a right-foot shot narrowly wide. It would have been a wonderful goal.
Jasper Cillessen then made a fine close range save to deny Araujo before the hosts threatened for the first time. A swift counter-attack caught Barcelona out and Goncalo Guedes teed up Jose Gaya, who clipped his effort just wide.
Messi went close with a free-kick from the edge of the box just before half-time as Barcelona finished the first half in the ascendancy.
However, the pendulum swung the other way after the restart as Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to block a Guedes shot with his feet before Valencia then took the lead after 50 minutes.
Ter Stegen made a mess of coming to claim a corner and Gabriel headed the ball into an empty net.
Thierry Correia could have added a quick-fire second goal, but the right-back blazed his shot high and wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
It proved a costly miss as the visitors scored three times in 12 minutes to take control of the match.
Messi levelled things up after 57 minutes, turning the ball home following a scramble inside the box after Cillessen had saved his penalty.
Cillessen could feel aggrieved again shortly afterwards when Griezmann this time reacted quicker than the Valencia defenders to poke the ball home after the goalkeeper had made another fine save to keep out De Jong’s low header.
Messi then fired scored with a free-kick in the 69th minute as Barcelona looked to be coasting.
However, it was to be a nervy finish to the game for Koeman’s men after Soler’s superb 35-yard strike found the top left corner of the net.
But Valencia were unable to find an equaliser and Barcelona returned to winning ways.
They stay third in the table, level on points with Real Madrid and two points behind table-topping Atletico.
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