Barcelona take a further step towards La Liga title
Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti scored early in each half to put the hosts in control
Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring the opening goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Valencia at Camp Nou. Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Barcelona 2 Valencia 1
Barcelona bounced back from their Champions League exit in midweek by strengthening their grip on the La Liga title with a 2-1 victory against Valencia at the Nou Camp.
Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti scored early in each half to put the hosts in control but a late penalty, converted by Dani Parejo, made for a nervy finish.
Barcelona moved 14 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, before Atleti’s match against Levante on Sunday, while Valencia sit a further three points back following the end of their five-match winning run.
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde made two changes from the side beaten 3-0 by Roma in midweek in the team’s remarkable Champions League capitulation. Ivan Rakitic was replaced in midfield by Paulinho while Philippe Coutinho came in for Nelson Semedo.
Valencia also made two changes as Santi Mina was recalled at the expense of Simone Zaza in attack and Ruben Vezo replaced Martin Montoya at right-back.
Home goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was called into action early on as he palmed away a curling effort from Goncalo Guedes but Barcelona soon found their stride and went ahead after 15 minutes.
Coutinho was afforded too much time and space just outside the penalty area, allowing him to roll an inch-perfect pass into the path of Suarez who calmly slotted past Murara Neto at his near post.
Valencia responded well to the setback and would have at least been on level terms heading into the break was it not for the fine form of Ter Stegen. The German showed good reflexes to push a shot from Moreno on to the crossbar and denied the same player again just before half-time.
Between those saves, Lionel Messi missed the target with a couple of headers, glancing the first one wide of the far post before powering another over the crossbar.
A slip by Umtiti presented Valencia with a clear-cut opportunity to equalise five minutes into the second half. With Umtiti out of the game, Santi Mina and Moreno had a two-against-one on Gerard Pique but Moreno miscontrolled Mina’s pass before eventually getting a shot away which Pique managed to block on the goal line.
Umtiti immediately made amends by heading home Coutinho’s corner to give Barcelona a two-goal cushion and some breathing space.
The two goals aside, the league leaders were kept relatively quiet as an attacking force. Messi had been marshalled well but he showed a glimpse of his brilliance after 70 minutes with a trick and turn of pace to set up Andres Iniesta whose volley was well saved by Neto.
Barcelona were now knocking the ball around with their usual swagger but they were stopped in their tracks five minutes from time when a poor challenge from Ousmane Dembele on Parejo gave Valencia a penalty.
Parejo picked himself up to score the spot-kick, squeezing the ball beneath Ter Stegen’s body to set up an unexpected tense finale.
Barcelona might have restored their two-goal cushion in injury time following a swift counter attack but Neto won the one-on-one duel with Denis Suarez after a pass from Messi had put him in the clear.