Messi breaks Valencia hearts

Barcelona broke Valencia hearts on Saturday as Lionel Messi’s penalty with the last kick of the game defeated Valencia 3-2 in a sizzling La Liga showdown.

Barca made three changes to the side that beat Manchester City 4-0 midweek as Sergi Roberto shook off a thigh injury to return at right-back, Lucas Digne replaced the injured Jordi Alba on the other flank and former Valencia midfielder Gomes was preferred to Ivan Rakitic.

Aleix Vidal was also a surprise inclusion on the bench, as was B midfielder Carles Alena, although the pair were only in due to the absences of Gerard Pique, Alba, Rafinha and Arda Turan.

Valencia, meanwhile, gave recalls to Eliaquim Mangala and Luis Nani after the pair missed Cesare Prandelli’s first game in charge – a 2-1 win at Sporting Gijon. Paco Alcacer and Munir El Haddadi swapped clubs over the summer, but the forwards were only substitutes for the champions and Los Che respectively.

Mestalla witnessed arguably La Liga’s best contest of the season, with both sides actively seeking the initiative, although the action was overshadowed at times by Barca appearing to profit from several controversial decisions by the referee and Valencia’s overzealous midfield.

The latter saw Iniesta on the receiving end of a tough challenge from Enzo Perez and the midfielder leave the pitch both on a stretcher and in tears, early reports having indicated that the Spaniard had suffered a knee injury.

Mario Suarez joined in on the act as he was massively lucky to avoid even a booking after he crashed into Gomes with his studs up, but that controversy soon turned into a Barca goal.

Suarez appeared to be obstructing the view of Diego Alves when a shot from Messi came in, but he didn’t touch the Argentine’s shot and wasn’t adjudged to have been active by Alberto Undiano Mallenco.

Busquets was then booked for tugging on Dani Parejo’s shirt but, like his Valencia counterparts, was spared the red card, despite proceeding to pull Perez’s shirt from behind. The latter provided the cue for Rodrigo Moreno to come a matter of inches away from sliding the subsequent cross home for 1-1.

Diego Alves suddenly emerged as Valencia’s hero with a string of match-saving stops, firstly pushing away Messi’s shot at his near post after a lovely interchange with Neymar, before tipping wide a Suarez effort, which took a slight nick off Mangala, and denying the No 9 again, this time from Neymar’s superb through ball via the outside of his foot.

However, the tables soon turned and it was Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s turn to star between the sticks. Parejo had been gifted the equaliser, only for the midfielder to shoot straight at the German from point-blank range.

Neymar’s curling shot after the restart was pushed away by Alves but straight in front of Rakitic, whose first-time effort clips the goalkeeper’s near post.

With that, Barca had missed yet another chance and their chips had run out. Munir was completely unmarked when he met Parejo’s cutback and nestled a finish past Ter Stegen. The attacker didn’t celebrate against his former employers, but the crowd certainly enjoyed it.

The Barca defence were all at sea again as Rodrigo was free to smash a half-volley past Ter Stegen from a chipped through ball down the left, leaving the champions to stare at a third League defeat in the face.

Yet just moments later, Suarez powered home the rebound from a saved header to silence the Mestalla crowd. Nani should’ve restored Valencia’s lad, however, when he evaded a last-ditch challenge from behind and only had Ter Stegen to beat, the winger ultimately blasting the ball wide.

Valencia seemed to have held out for a point, but just seconds before the final whistle, Aymen Abdennour tripped Suarez on the turn in the box after magnificent work by Messi to instigate a late attack. Alves guessed correctly to his right, yet Messi's shot was too strong.

An unsavoury ending to the game saw Messi and his Barca teammates hit by a bottle from the crowd during their celebrations, prompting Messi to shout back.

Valencia 2-3 Barcelona

Munir 52, Rodrigo 56 (V) Messi 22, 90, Suarez 62 (B)

Valencia: Alves; Montoya (Munir 46), Garay, Mangala, Gaya (Abdennour 38); Perez, Mario; Cancelo, Parejo, Nani; Rodrigo (Mina 71)

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi, Mascherano, Umtiti, Digne; Gomes (Denis 71), Busquets, Iniesta (Rakitic 14); Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Referee: Undiano Mallenco