Messi nets twice in Barca turnaround over Valencia

VALENCIA, Spain, (Reuters) – Lionel Messi scored a 50th freekick goal for Barcelona as he led his side to a quick-fire comeback to win 3-2 at Valencia yesterday and keep the pressure on La Liga title rivals Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

With coach Ronald Koeman serving a touchline ban, Barca fell behind in the 50th minute when Valencia defender Gabriel Paulista headed home from a corner after keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had stumbled in his attempt to come for the ball.

The Catalans, who had blown the chance to go top of the league with a shock 2-1 defeat at home by Granada on Thursday, where Koeman was sent off, reacted well to going behind and soon won a penalty thanks to a handball from Valencia’s Toni Lato.

Messi saw his spot-kick saved by former team mate Jasper Cillessen but Valencia failed to clear the danger and the Argentine followed up to score on the second rebound in the 57th minute.

Antoine Griezmann gave Barca the lead six minutes later, also netting on the rebound after Cillessen could only parry a header from Frenkie de Jong.

Messi looked to have clinched the points in the 69th when he fired a set-piece in off the post to score his 28th league goal of the season and bring up a half century of freekick strikes.

Valencia got back into contention out of nowhere when midfielder Carlos Soler scored with an unstoppable strike from long range in the 83rd.

Barca are third on 74 points with four games remaining, level with second-placed Real Madrid and two behind leaders Atletico Madrid after both sides won on Saturday. Fourth-placed Sevilla, on 70, host Athletic Bilbao on Monday.

PIQUE: NO EASY GAMES LEFT

“We know that we won’t have any easy games until the end of the season but we got the job done after the unexpected defeat to Granada. We competed today and are going to keep competing,” said Barca defender Gerard Pique.

“Today we showed we’re still in the fight, that was what we wanted to do at the start of the season and it’s to our credit that we’re still in it.”

Valencia were left 14th in the standings and are still not completely out of the relegation battle, sitting six points above the dropzone.

Javi Gracia’s side had held Barca to a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou in December and they kept the Catalans on their toes for the final few minutes after Soler’s pile-driver, having a couple of half chances to equalise.

But Barca clung on for the win to ensure they head into next Saturday’s crunch game at home to Atletico knowing they will unseat the leaders at the top with a victory. Real then host Sevilla on Sunday to complete a huge weekend in the title race.

“We’re still alive,” added assistant coach Alfred Schreuder, who is taking charge of the team during Koeman’s touchline ban, which will also make him miss the game with Atletico.

“We’re not looking at the other teams, we’re only interested in ourselves and we believe our players can go on and win the league.”


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