Lionel Messi came to Barcelona again, keeping the open race for the Spanish league title. Messi scored two goals in the second half on Sunday – including the 50th from a free kick, as Barcelona came from behind to beat Valencia 3-2 and come within two points of leader Atletico Madrid before their key match at Camp Nou Stadium next weekend.
Victory will give Ronald Koeman’s team the league championship for the first time this season. Antoine Griezmann also scored for Barcelona, which is a draw in points with second place in Madrid with four rounds to go. Madrid has a better direct tiebreak against the two rivals at the top. Sevilla also remains in the race for the title.
He could move within a three-point lead if he beats Athletic Bilbao at home on Monday. Sevilla will visit Madrid next weekend.
Barcelona made the trip to Valencia under pressure after both Atletico and Madrid won their matches on Saturday – Atletico beat Elche 1-0 and Madrid beat Osasuna 2-0. The Catalan club won a shocking 2-1 loss to Granada in Thursday, when he could grab the only possession of the lead.
“It was an important victory to keep us in the battle after this unexpected loss,” said Barcelona captain Gerard Pique. “We will try to win next weekend and take the lead. It’s in our hands.”
The pressure increased on Sunday after Valencia opened the score at the Mestala Stadium with a goal by Gabriel Paulista in the 50th minute. The midfielder beat Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet to the ball for an easy header from the far post. A video review was used to check for a possible foul away from the ball, but the goal remained.
Messi led the recovery of Barcelona. The Argentine star equalized in the 57th minute with the consequences of his own penalty kick, after his bad shot from the spot was saved by Valencia goalkeeper Jasper Chilesen. Barcelona midfielders Sergio Busquets and Pedri Gonzalez had attempts before Messi reached the loose ball and scored from close range.
Griezmann scored a goal six minutes later with another save by Cillessen. The former Barcelona goalkeeper stopped with his head to Frankie De Jong, but Griezmann entered unmarked to score easily.
Messi’s second goal came with a beautiful free kick that curled over the wall and hit the crossbar before entering the net in the 69th. His 50th corner from a free kick increased his score at the top of the league standings, leaving him with 28 goals.
It was Messi’s ninth double in the league this season and third in his last five games in all competitions.
Valencia pulled a closer one with a long shot by Carlos Soler in the 83rd, but failed to find an equalizer. Koeman was not on the bench after being sent off to complain about the loss against Granada.
(With AP inputs).