Lionel Messi’s 500th career goal was not enough as Barcelona crashed to 2-1 defeat against Valencia on Sunday to leave the La Liga title race wide open.
Dani Alves came under fire for wearing a wig and pretending to be his girlfriend in an Instagram post, suggesting Barca’s Champions League elimination to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday “was just a game of football”, and he made way for Sergi Roberto at right-back as Valencia brought in Enzo Perez for Paco Alcacer.
Having gone three matches without a win in the League, Barca began the game intent on banishing their bad run of form, and the ‘MSN’ all got opportunities to give their side an early lead, only for Diego Alves to stand in their way.
Messi unleashed a finish with the outside of his left boot straight at Alves from point-blank range, before the goalkeeper clawed away Neymar’s volleyed lob and Suarez failed to slide home Jordi Alba’s low cross into the penalty area.
A corner was then flicked on at the near post by Javier Mascherano, which set up a gift for Suarez, but the No 9 couldn’t keep his free header down. The Catalans squandered a fifth chance through Messi, whose curling shot was parried away by the goalkeeper, and it proved one too many for Los Che.
Suddenly, Barca’s defence left in sixes and sevens as a simple through ball splits Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano and was ran onto by Rodrigo, but the striker’s finish drifted inches wide of Claudio Bravo's left-hand post.
Atletico Madrid fans, as well as those of Valencia, were sent into delirium when Siqueira – owned by Los Colchoneros – drove into the box from the left and saw his shot at the byline deflect goalbound.
Sergi could then only ball-watch as Santi Mina got in behind the auxiliary right-back and coolly dispatcheed a finish across Bravo and into the bottom-right corner of the goalkeeper’s net on the cusp of half-time to leave Barca staring into the abyss.
Enrique decided against making any changes in the match, with his likeliest bet Arda Turan suspended, and despite his side seeing most of the ball in the second half, their general play was marred by misplaced passes, snatching at chances and an underlying exhaustion.
Nonetheless, after a month of waiting, Messi finally reached half-a-century’s worth of goals for club and country when he slotted home a low cross from the left.
The goal threatened to spark a dramatic Barca comeback, but hope quickly became despair as Ivan Rakitic turned his marker in the box and found a gap to shoot into, but Alves was at full-stretch to push the ball wide of his left-hand post.
Rodrigo then broke clear down the left after Barca were caught on the counterattack and Paco Alcacer was gifted a tap-in, yet the ball bounced off the striker’s standing leg.
A potential turning point in the season came with the hosts’ final chance with less than a minute of normal time remaining, when Gerard Pique had the goal at his mercy but snatched at his half-volley and sent it wide, even though it was easier to score.
The result condemned Barca to three straight La Liga defeats for the first time in 13 years and, coupled with Atletico Madrid’s win against Getafe, meant La Blaugrana’s 11-point lead in March was closed completely, although they stay top by the virtue of head-to-head.
For a team who lost 7-0 to Barca just two months ago, however, it was a magnificent night’s work as Valencia moved to within a single point of the top half.
Barcelona 1-2 Valencia
Messi 63 (B) Siqueira 26, Mina 45 (V)
Barcelona: Bravo; Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Sergi; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Valencia: Diego Alves; Barragan, Mustafi, Abdennour, Siqueira; Perez (Cancelo 74), Parejo, Fuego; Mina (Alcacer 60), Rodrigo (Gaya 90), Gomes
Referee: Fernandez Borbalan