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Despite utterly dominating possession from start to finish of Sunday night’s game versus Valencia at Camp Nou and just missing out on several sterling scoring chances, it was the visitors who were a model of efficiency, finding the net on their only two shots on target in the first half before hanging on late for a 2–1 victory.
Lionel Messi drew one back for Barça just past the hour mark — his 450th career blaugrana goal — but Los Che, bolstered by stingy defense and sublime goalkeeping, managed to come away with the win.
The loss is FC Barcelona’s third straight in La Liga — their second in a row at home — but, although they are now even with Atlético Madrid on points, Barça remain the front-runner on superior goal differential.
The Catalans fell behind in the 24th minute when Guilherme Siqueira took a feed from Andrés Gomes and fired off the foot of a sliding Ivan Rakitic and past FCB goalkeeper Claudio Bravo for an own goal. It was the fifth time this season in La Liga — the ninth time across all competitions — that FCB had fallen behind 1–0 at home.
Barça eventually came back to win all of those games, however, and, in fact, had never fallen behind 2–0. But that’s exactly what happened in first half injury time when Santi Mina struck from Bravo’s right to double the Valencia lead.
Barça led Valencia in possession by more than two-to-one in the first half but Neymar, Luis Suárez, and Messi (twice) were all afforded exceptional opportunities and came up empty.
With the league lead appearing to be slipping through Barça’s fingers, they came out of the dressing room firing on all cylinders.
The hard charging Catalans were not going down without a fight and, after ratcheting up the pressure in Valencia’s end, Messi finally broke through in the 62nd, one-timing a feed from Jordi Alba and slotting past Diego Alves from just beyond the penalty spot. It was his 450th career goal for FC Barcelona and his 500th overall including 50 for the Argentina national team.
But in order to keep Messi’s newest milestone from becoming a mere footnote, Barça would need more.
Rakitic was close to drawing Barça back level in the 75th, but his turnaround shot from inside the area was deftly swatted away by the diving Alves.
Neymar blasted a loose ball in the 83rd that was smothered in front and sent out of bounds for a corner kick that would bear no fruit.
In the 89th, Gerard Piqué had only the goalkeeper to beat from the top of the six-yard box but fired wide.
With the minutes having all but ticked away and the standard chess match of late Valencia substitutions, spontaneous on-field stretching, and other less-than-subtle delay tactics having stalled Barça’s second-half surge, the final whistle was the only thing left that could impede another Barça comeback.
And then it sounded.
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