Barca tame stubborn Valencia

Barcelona cut their deficit on Real Madrid in La Liga back to two points with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over 10-man Valencia on Sunday.

Only Sergi Roberto was missing for Barca, who reverted to a 3-4-3 against a Valencia side that were spearheaded by Munir El Haddadi.

The forward scored 10 goals in 45 appearances for the Catalans’ first team between 2014 and 2016, before heading to Los Che as part of the deal that took Paco Alcacer to Camp Nou.

Despite not having lost at Valencia in La Liga since 2007, Barca had lost two of their last three home games against their rivals of the east.

There was already pandemonium in the Valencia box just a couple of minutes in as Luis Suarez’s cutback was cleared off the line by Jose Gaya. The striker then sprang an awful Che offside trap, but Diego Alves pushed his point-blank finish away.

Moments later, Suarez unselfishly teed up Lionel Messi in the penalty area, but the No 10’s finish was scuffed off the line by Fabian Orellana, before Gaya jumped in front of Rafinha’s rebound.

At the other end, Gerard Pique’s deflected clearance only went so far as Carlos Soler, who forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen to deal with his thumping volley.

Munir sprung Barca’s high line but couldn’t beat Ter Stegen one on one. Nonetheless, the resulting corner saw Eliaquim Mangala beat Ivan Rakitic in the air and power a header past the German.

Like Moses’ parting of the oceans in Christian folklore, however, Suarez latched onto a simple throw, run into the gap that opened up in the Valencia box and side-footed a pinballed finish past Alves.

Worse yet for Voro Gonzalez’s visitors, Mangala went from hero to zero, picking up his second booking after he pulled back Suarez, who was clean through.

Messi drove his penalty through the middle of Alves’ goal, yet Valencia scored directly from the restart as Munir coolly finished off a breakaway.

With their home and numerical advantage, virtually all of Barca’s outfield players pushed up into Valencia’s half for the restart. Neymar latched onto a slide-rule pass down the left from Messi, but Alves made a fine stop to deny his countryman at his near post.

Nonetheless, Messi fared better when he was sent through by Mascherano of all people as the No 10 proceeded to blast the ball past Alves.

Barca refused to slow down, despite their lead, and were almost countered when Suarez missed his overhead kick, only for Munir to pay the price for being too elaborate when facing Pique near Ter Stegen’s penalty area.

That was to be the away side’s final chance as Suarez was slipped in near the right-hand byline but slammed his effort into the side-netting. The No 9 also failed to guide the rebound from Messi’s saved strike into an empty net.

Quietly going about his business was Neymar, who came a whisker away from scoring an identical free kick to his one against Paris Saint-Germain. However, he clipped the woodwork instead.

Messi picked up a yellow card for dissent, ruling him out of Barca’s next game after the international break – against relegation-threatened Granada and not the likes of Sevilla and Madrid.

The hosts finally found a fourth goal just before injury time as a quick-fire counter saw Neymar break down the left, evade a challenge and square the ball to Gomes, who found the roof of former teammate Alves’ net first time.

Barcelona 4-2 Valencia

Suarez 35, Messi pen 45, 53, Gomes 89 (B) Mangala 29, sent off 43, Munir 45 (V)

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Pique, Mascherano, Umtiti; Rakitic (Sergi 65), Busquets, Iniesta, Rafinha (Gomes 74); Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Valencia: Alves; Montoya, Garay, Mangala, Gaya; Parejo, Soler, Enzo; Cancelo (Bakkali 84), Munir (Zaza 73), Orellana (Abdennour 46)

Referee: Hernandez Hernandez