La Liga race heats up as Barca collapse
Barcelona fell to Valencia 2-1 at the Camp Nou yesterday, losing their third straight game to allow Atletico Madrid to draw level on points atop the Spanish league with five rounds to go.
Atletico erased Barcelona's lead by beating Granada 3-0 earlier yesterday. Real Madrid are only one point behind after winning 5-1 at last-place Getafe on Saturday.
Atletico were trailing by nine points three rounds ago, and Real Madrid were 12 points back four games ago.
At the time, Barcelona were cruising toward a repeat of the Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey treble. But Luis Enrique's squad has won only one of its last six games, being eliminated by Atletico in the Champions League quarter-finals and seeing its league lead collapse. Its 39-game unbeaten streak ended with a home loss to Real Madrid earlier this month.
Atletico have three of their last five games at home, while Barcelona will play away three times. Real Madrid also are away in three of their last five matches.
Valencia opened the scoring after Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic deflected a cross into his own net in the 26th minute. Midfielder Dani Parejo then provided a perfect pass for Santi Mina's precise shot into the far corner in first-half injury time.
Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal in the 63rd to end a five-game scoring slump that was his worst with Barcelona in five years. He completed a cross by Jordi Alba to keep his team's hopes alive, but it was not able to capitalise on its chances of equalising.
Valencia had several opportunities to put the game away in counterattacks, but the best scoring chance of the match was squandered by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique in the 89th. He had only the goalkeeper to beat but missed from close range.
Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves made a few great saves to help secure the win, including a spectacular one after a Rakitic shot from inside the area in the 75th.
It was the second win in a row for Valencia after four straight losses, moving the club further away from the relegation zone. They have 40 points from 33 games and are in 12th place.