A Lionel Messi brace helped Barcelona edge a five-goal thriller against Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday night.
The Blaugrana were without the services of manager Ronald Koeman, who was handed a two-game ban for the red card he received in the shock defeat to Granada last week.
Assistant manager Alfred Schreuder took his place, and three changes were made to Barcelona’s starting lineup, with Sergino Dest, Clement Lenglet and Ronald Araujo all handed starts.
The visitors had the first chance of the game, but Pedri shot wide from inside the area while Araujo forced Jasper Cillessen into a point-blank save in the 12th minute.
Valencia seemed content to sit back and frustrate their opponents as they had very little intent of going forward. For the most part, their tactics worked, leading to the frustration of the Catalans.
A rather tepid first half sauntered by without too much goalmouth action, which was rather surprising considering the pedigree of both sides, the history of this fixture and what was at stake for Barcelona.
The second half proved to be the direct opposite and started in the worst possible fashion for Barcelona. A mix-up in the box allowed Gabriel Paulista to head into an empty net from a corner kick.
Despite heavy protests from Marc-Andre ter Stegen that he was fouled, the referee was uninterested and the VAR upheld the decision for the goal to stand.
Barcelona were given a lifeline five minutes later when Toni Lato handled the ball in the box, and Lionel Messi expectedly stepped up to take the penalty.
Messi’s tame effort was easily saved by Cillensen, but the Argentine was on hand to convert when Pedri’s goal-bound shot was cleared into his path.
The visitors then went ahead through Antoine Griezmann. A pristine cross into the box by Jordi Alba was headed goalward by Frenkie de Jong. However, Cillensen pulled off a spectacular save into the path of Griezmann, who tapped in from close range.
Messi got his brace in the 69th minute when he sent a sumptuous free-kick from 25 yards into the back of the net.
This was his 50th career free-kick and took him to 28 La Liga goals for the season. It was also his 31st goal against Los Che.
Carlos Soler scored the goal of the night with a bullet shot into the top corner from 25 yards to threaten a fightback.
However, Barcelona held on to register their first league win at Mestalla since 2016. The victory also took them back to within two points of table-toppers Atletico Madrid.
The win also helped restore confidence in the Blaugrana camp ahead of their potential title-deciding clash with Atletico Madrid next weekend.
Here is a rundown of how the Barcelona players fared against Valencia.
Barcelona player ratings against Valencia
Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 5.5/10
The Barcelona goalkeeper made a horrendous error in the lead-up to Valencia’s first goal but was powerless to stop Carlos Soler’s strike.
Clement Lenglet – 6/10
Clement Lenglet had a solid game on the left of Barcelona’s three-man defense.
Gerard Pique – 6.5/10
Gerard Pique showed discomfort in his knee but still played a key role as the leader of the Blaugrana defense.
Ronald Araujo – 6.5/10
Ronald Araujo made two clearances and one interception on his return to the Barcelona starting lineup.
Jordi Alba – 7/10
Jordi Alba made runs forward throughout the game, with his wing-back role allowing him to focus on attack. His precise deliveries caused a lot of problems for the Valencia defense.
Sergio Busquets – 7/10
The Spain international helped Barcelona control the game from midfield. His anticipation after Lionel Messi’s missed penalty set the equalizer in motion.
Pedri – 6.5/10
Pedri had some good opportunities to score but failed to take them. Despite that, he was still essential to Barcelona’s victory.
Frenkie de Jong – 7.5/10
Frenkie de Jong once again thrived in his preferred position and showed his attacking instincts against Valencia.
Sergino Dest – 6/10
Sergino Dest did not offer too much threat in attack but gave a solid display before his substitution in the 74th minute.
Antoine Griezmann – 7/10
Antoine Griezmann was in the right place at the right time to put Barcelona ahead. His goal took his tally to five goals from his last five games for the Blaugrana.
Lionel Messi – 9/10
Lionel Messi was quiet and shackled throughout the first half. He started the second half by missing a penalty but ended the night with a brace. His precision was on full display from the free-kick.
Sergi Roberto – 6/10
Sergi Roberto came on with 16 minutes to go, and his ball retention ability helped Barcelona see out the game.
Ilaix Moriba – 6/10
The 18-year-old came on in the 74th minute and ended the game with a passing accuracy of 82.4%.