Reuters

Lionel Messi brace keeps Barcelona in title hunt

Messi brace keeps Barca in title hunt

19/03/2017 at 22:01Updated 19/03/2017 at 22:20

La Liga, Camp Nou - Barcelona 4 (Suarez 35, Messi 45p, 52, Gomes 89) Valencia 2 (Mangala 29, Munir 45)

Barcelona kept themselves within touching distance of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga with an enthralling and highly entertaining 4-2 win over 10-man Valencia.

Lionel Messi bagged a brace in the Camp Nou victory, with Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes also finding the net for the Catalans. However, Valencia provided stiff opposition, even after the dismissal of Eliaquim Mangala.

The on-loan Manchester City defender was shown a straight red card for bringing down Suarez inside the area just before the break, giving Barca the chance to take the lead. But having also taken the lead early on, Valencia responded immediately through Munir El Haddadi, with the young forward equaling against his parent club.

The visitors continued to pose a threat on the counter attack, but Barcelona’s superior quality and man advantage eventually made the difference as Luis Enrique’s side claimed a win to close the gap on Real Madrid to two points.

TALKING POINT - Neymar has become Barcelona’s most important player

If there was any doubt over how important Neymar has become to Barcelona, it is obvious in the contrast between their last two Liga performances. Against Deportivo La Coruna, when Neymar was missing, Barca’s midfield was congested, with their attacking line denied space. He was back against Valencia, though, freeing up space for his teammates and acting as his side’s wide creator in chief. Barcelona can't do without Neymar.

MAN OF THE MATCH - Lionel Messi

This was a display of all that makes Messi great. Not only did he score twice, but he was the one pulling the strings for Barcelona in a crucial win. Messi came in for criticism after last week’s defeat to Deportivo La Coruna, but he led by example against Valencia, tracking back and making tackles even as Barcelona coasted to victory late on in the match.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 19, 2017.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 19, 2017.AFP

PLAYER RATINGS

Barcelona - Ter Stegen 7, Mascherano 5, Pique 6, Umtiti 5, Iniesta 6, Rakitic 5, Busquets 5, Rafinha 6, Messi 9, Neymar 8, Suarez 7. Subs - Gomes 6, Roberto 6.

Valencia - Alves 7, Montoya 5, Garay 6, Mangala 4, Gaya 7, Perez 6, Parejo 5, Soler 6, Orellana 5, Cancelo 7, Munir 8. Subs - Abdennour 5, Bakkali 5, Zaza 5.

KEY MOMENTS

29’ GOAL! Barcelona 0-1 Valencia: Valencia have a surprise lead at Camp Nou! It was a complete mismatch from the corner kick and Mangala leaped above his marker to head home. That was an excellent finish from the defender!

35’ GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Valencia: Barcelona are back on level terms! Neymar's throw in set Suarez through, although the angle was still tight. But he managed to guide a finish past Alves and into the far corner of the net.

44’ PENALTY KICK TO BARCELONA! Suarez is pulled back by Mangala and the Valencia centre back is shown a straight red card.

45’ GOAL! Barcelona 2-1 Valencia: Alves has a terrific record from penalties, but he is sent the wrong way on this occasion, with Messi sending his spot kick straight down the middle. Barcelona have the lead just before the break!

46’ GOAL! Barcelona 2-2 Valencia: Incredible! Valencia have hit back within seconds! Gaya broke up the left wing on the counter attack, squaring for Munir who finished into the corner of the net. He's scored against his parent club!

52’ WHAT A SAVE! Messi's pass releases Neymar clean through on goal, but Alves reads the effort from the Brazilian and makes the save with his legs. He really should have scored!

53’ GOAL! Barcelona 3-2 Valencia: Barcelona have taken the lead again! Suarez leaves the ball for Messi inside the penalty area, with the Argentine powering home a shot at the near post.

58’ WHAT A CHANCE FOR MUNIR! Once again Barcelona are found out at the back, with Munir surging through on goal, but he delays in taking the shot and Pique makes the challenge.

77’ OFF THE POST! Neymar takes his turn on freekick duty, curling a shot towards the Valencia goal from the edge of the box, but his effort comes back off the outside of the post.

89’ GOAL! Barcelona 4-2 Valencia: Gomes finally gets his first goal for Barcelona and it has come against his former club! It was made by Neymar, though, picking out Gomes with a perfect pass, giving the midfielder a simple finish.

KEY STATS

Lionel Messi has scored 40 goals in all competitions for the eighth consecutive season.

Neymar has made more assists (19) than any other player in any of Europe’s big five leagues this season.

Messi scored his 100th brace for Barcelona in all competitions.

Messi has scored more penalty kicks against Diego Alves than any other goalkeeper in La Liga (four).

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