Messi scores 400th goal for Barca in La Liga win over Valencia
Barcelona returned to winning ways in La Liga with a hard fought 2-0 victory over Valencia.
Luis Enrique's team had its lead at the summit cut to two points last weekend when it let a two-goal lead slip in a draw 2-2 at Sevilla. Barca rediscovered its devastating best form with an emphatic 3-1 UEFA Champions League triumph at Paris Saint-Germain in midweek – Luis Suarez starring with a dazzling brace.
Suarez picked up where he left off at Camp Nou on Saturday by firing Barca ahead after 55 seconds. But the anticipated dominant display did not follow as Valencia spurned numerous chances to equalize, most notably when captain Dani Parejo had a penalty saved and Andre Gomes struck the post.
Barca recovered its poise after halftime and Lionel Messi netted his 400th goal for the club in stoppage time, putting pressure on nearest rival Real Madrid, which hosts Malaga later on Saturday. Sergio Busquets was selected in a more advanced position than his customary holding midfield role, with Andres Iniesta an injury absence for Barcelona, and he reveled in this freedom by playing a key role in the opening goal.
Busquets threaded an inch-perfect pass for Messi to race towards a backp-edalling Valencia defense and play in Suarez for a clinical low finish. Valencia forward Rodrigo skipped past Gerard Pique to curl a shot narrowly wide and he drew a foul from the ailing Spain center back to win a 10th-minute penalty. Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo spared his teammate's blushes by saving and holding Parejo's tame effort.
The early setbacks did not dent Valencia's confidence – Nicolas Otamendi headed just wide at the far post before Paco Alcacer turned wide from close range and Javier Mascherano produced a vital 22nd-minute block to thwart the same player. Gomes engineered space on the edge of the area to strike the base of the post after 33 minutes, while Alcacer failed to punish the creaking Barca defense by curling over from 20 yards.
Messi blasted wide at the far post on the end of a move he started five minutes before the break, failing to hand the home side a second goal it scarcely deserved. Luis Enrique introduced Ivan Rakitic in place of Adriano at halftime, meaning Mascherano dropped in at center back and Jeremy Mathieu moved to left back against his former club.
Messi curled a sumptuous 64th-minute free kick against the crossbar having been felled by Parejo before Suarez was replaced by Pedro to a standing ovation. The Camp Nou's other hero of the afternoon, Bravo, displayed excellent reactions to deny Rodrigo following a 75th-minute penalty box scramble.
Pedro rippled the side netting late on but Messi had the final word – striding forward unchallenged on the break to beat Diego Alves at the second attempt and rack up another phenomenal career landmark.
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