Barcelona crisis reopens La Liga title race

epa05264651 FC Barcelona's misdielder Andres Iniesta (R), Brazilian striker Neymar (C) and Uruguayan Luis Suarez (L) gestures after the second goal scored by Valencia FC during the Primera Division soccer match played at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain on 17 April 2016. EPA/Quique Garcia

For the first time since February 2003, Barcelona have lost three La Liga matches in a row following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Valencia at the Camp Nou.

An Ivan Rakitic own goal in the 26th minute and a Santi Mina strike right before half-time proved enough for the guests, who fended off a Barcelona comeback that included a Lionel Messi goal in the 63rd minute.

Barcelona have not won in La Liga since a March 12th victory over Getafe and have lost four of their last five matches in all competitions. Sunday’s loss caps a painful week in which Barcelona were eliminated from the Champions League by Atlético Madrid.

Fc Barcelona vs Valencia FC

The result also further tightens the La Liga title race, as Atlético draw even with Barcelona on points at 76, with Real Madrid just one behind in third place. Barcelona still remain top due to their superior goal difference against Diego Simeone’s men in their two league clashes this season.

With the exception of Sergi Roberto slotting in for Dani Alves at right-back, it was a full-strength starting XI for Barcelona boss Luis Enrique.

Barcelona wanted to flex their muscles early on, and came close to breaking the deadlock early on when a Neymar shot forced Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves into a save. Minutes later it was Messi’s turn to get turned away by Los Che’s No. 1, with Alves denying La Pulga in a one-on-one. Finally Luis Suárez rounded out the trio of MSN near misses when he failed to connect on a dangerous cross from Jordi Alba.

After a second Neymar effort was swatted away by Alves, Valencia got their first chance of the match when they dispossessed Barcelona in midfield and quickly broke toward goal. Rodrigo was in on goal, but shot just inches wide of Claudio Bravo’s net.

Football Soccer - Barcelona v Valencia - Spanish Liga BBVA - Camp Nou stadium, Barcelona

Midway through the first half Suárez was presented with a gilt-edged chance from a flicked header off a corner kick, but the Uruguayan’s own header at the near post improbably glanced over the crossbar from a yard out. The Diego Alves Show then resumed with a diving save to prevent a Messi goal.

Valencia used that momentum to break and stunned the Camp Nou with the game’s first goal. Andres Gomes collected a pass on the left edge and fed Guilherme Siqueira, whose shot deflected off of Rakitic and slipped just past a wrong-footed Bravo and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

To top off his sensational first half, Alves made a reaction save on a Messi header from point blank range, leaving the Argentine completely dumbfounded. If the saves from Alves were making the Barcelona players and fans frustrated, Valencia’s second goal right before half-time made everyone astonished. T

he visitors capably circulated the ball around in the Barcelona half and it ended with Dani Parejo expertly dishing off to an unmarked Santi Mina on the left and the young Galician forward finished past Bravo with aplomb to make it 2-0 to Valencia.

The Camp Nou begged for their team to respond in the second half, but still that final touch or pass was still lacking, as Valencia remained solid and compact in defence, while always lurking on the counter. By the hour mark there was a true sense settling in that a comeback was not on the cards, as Barcelona continued to look out of sorts.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-VALENCIA

But it was just at that moment when the champions responded and it could only come from one man: Messi. Alba collected a ball down on the left and found Messi who artfully slid his shot in past a blocked Alves to make it a 2-1 affair.

The goal gave Barcelona life, but they still had to contend with Alves in the Valencia net and the visiting goalkeeper pulled off another massive save with a quarter-hour left, diving to his right to stop a Rakitic shot. Valencia kept their composure and soon found chances of their own with Barcelona pushing so many numbers forward.

There was drama aplenty in the final 10 minutes with Barcelona throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Valencia defence. Neymar had a good look at the equaliser, but Shkodran Mustafi blocked the shot with his body. Valencia then should have put the match to bed on a counter but somehow Paco Alcácer managed to fluff a shot from four yards out.

But the chance that will be remembered by onlookers was the one that fell to Gerard Piqué, as the defender was left unmarked and had a clean look at goal at the far post but fired wide.

That would prove to be the final opportunity as the Barcelona slump has now reached crisis mode.

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