It was a gripping encounter from start to finish. All that was missing was the goal. But just when it looked like Saturday’s game between Barça and Valencia was heading for a 0-0 draw, in the third and final minute of injury time, Sergio Busquets produced a winner to secure three massive points for the Catalans at Mestalla.
The only change with respect to the previous Liga game was Mascherano coming in for Rakitic, with Luis Enrique taking the gamble on playing the Argentinian alongside fellow defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets.
The first half produced plenty of good quality, high-tempo football but little in the way of genuine chances for either side. Bravo saved a fine shot from Rodrigo after ten minutes and three minutes later Neymar set up Luis Suárez for a point-blank range strike inside the Barça area that brought out an incredible save from Valencia keeper Diego Alves. The rest of the half saw Barça dominate with 72% of the possession, and Valencia seemingly happy to rely on the counter-attack. But neither tactical option seemed to be getting the ball into real danger areas. Worryingly for Barça, three of their defenders (Mathieu, Piqué and Jordi Alba) were all yellow carded in the first 45 minutes.
The second half saw a change of script, with Valencia more willing to take the initiative, but Barça managed to lap up that pressure with some confident defending. At one point, Piqué just managed to clear the ball off the line, and Claudio Bravo produced a wonderful save to deny Feghouli in a one-on-one, and five minutes after that, the Chilean was just as impressive as he saved an attempt from Negredo.
At the other end, Luis Suárez was producing most of the danger, and after coming close twice within a minute, he finally beat Diego Alves with a shot from inside the area. He thought he’d scored his first Liga goal for his new club, but the lineman’s flag was controversially raised for offside.
As the clock ticked down, the game opened up more and more with both sides desperately searching to break the deadlock. The game went into injury time, but while Valencia seemed to have finally decided that a draw would be enough, Barça rallied the troops for one last assault.
And that’s when it happened. Neymar met a Messi cross with his head and looked certain to score, but Diego Alves pulled off a tremendous save. However, Sergio Busquets leapt into the rebound and banged the ball into the back of the Valencia net. It was like Stamford Bridge all over again as the Barça players celebrated three vital points that keep the gap between them and Real Madrid at two points.