Anyone’s League

Perhaps caught up with the euphoria of the moment, no-one took Gareth Bale’s comment seriously. Speaking after Real Madrid had just defeated Barcelona, the Welshman suggested the title race might be back on as he remarked, "you never know, football does funny things to teams when you lose and you never know what could happen.”

Not taken seriously then, his words seem strangely prophetic now. “All they need is a few bad results, we need a few good ones and we're right back in it,” Bale added. And this is exactly what has come to pass.

With their defeat against Valencia, Barcelona have now lost three games on the trot in La Liga – two have been at home. It was February 2003 when they last suffered such a poor run of results. Since the Clasico, Real have continued winning, as have Atletico Madrid. The former are now just a point behind Luis Enrique’s side while Atleti are equal on points. The race is on; a six-game sprint, and it is anyone’s for the taking. Hay Liga as they say in Spain.

To put Barca’s loss to Valencia in perspective, the last time these two teams met, the Catalans won 7-0 in the Copa del Rey. On Sunday, Los Che reversed this with a 2-1 victory. It is an unbelievable turnaround. Despite Barca’s poor form and Valencia’s lowly standing in the League table, no-one expected this result. Except perhaps for Valencia manager Pako Ayesteran.

As Bale’s were have proven prophetic, Pako’s words head of his side’s trip to Camp Nou were telling too. “We are not the same side now… and nor are they,” he warned.

Valencia certainly are not. With Pako in charge Valencia have won two out of three games, just one less victory than what Gary Neville achieved in 16 attempts. Things seem to be taking a turn for the better, finally, at Mestalla.  

Barca are not the same side either. Eliminated from the Champions League without much of a whimper, not only have results been poor but their performances too. In the opening exchanges, though, it did seem that as if things were nearing a return to normality. They did not. Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi all had opportunities to score. Through a mixture of poor finishing and some fine goalkeeping from Diego Alves, Barca could not find a way through.

Valencia did, however. After some nice play down the left, Guilherme Siqueira got in around the back of the home defence, and his cross took a lucky deflection off Ivan Rakitic and caught Claudio Bravo wrong-footed. Confidence seemed to abandon Barca from this point on as Valencia only grew in confidence. Finishing the first period strongly, the visitors struck again with a superb through pass from Dani Parejo, releasing Santi Mina, who neatly finished to make it 2-0.

Not since 1947 had Barca overturned a two-goal disadvantage, and yet again it proved a bridge too far for them. Messi finally ended his worst goal drought since 2008, scoring just after the hour mark. It was goal number 500 for the Argentine, but celebrations over yet another milestone were muted as his side failed to draw level. They did have their chances, however. Gerard Pique, in particular, scuffed a gilt-edged chance to rescue his side in the closing stages. Moments earlier, Paco Alcacer was guilty of fluffing a golden chance to seal the victory for Los Che at the other end. It was end-to-end stuff at Camp Nou, and it ended in jubilation for the visitors and disappointment for the hosts.

The defeat will resonate in the capital. Both Atleti and Real picked up fine wins over the weekend. The former comfortably beat Granada 3-0, with Fernando Torres on the scoresheet for the third consecutive game – a feat he had not achieved since 2005, 4053 days ago. As for Real, they trounced Getafe 5-1.

It is anyone’s guess, what happens now. But, there is perhaps an omen from the Camp Nou result. Only once in the last 13 years have Valencia won in the League away to Barcelona. The last time they did, Atletico Madrid became champions.