Luis Suarez's hot streak continues with game winner against Valencia
Barcelona have a narrow lead going into next week's Copa del Rey semifinal second leg after they beat Valencia 1-0 at Camp Nou on Thursday.
Luis Suarez scored the only goal of the game in the second half, heading home Lionel Messi's cross at the far post.
Ernesto Valverde spoke of the need to keep a clean sheet in his pregame news conference, and the fact that Valencia failed to register an away goal will have pleased him. It means that if Barca can score at the Mestalla next Thursday, Valencia will have to score three to reach the final.
Samuel Umtiti was another big plus. The centre-back has been feeling his way back into action following a hamstring injury, but his performance was exceptional.
Barca were good, but they were not good enough in the final third. They completed 438 passes in the first half (and had 79 percent possession) but failed to find the back of the net. It was a similar story in the second half, and they will hope their profligacy won't come back to haunt them.
Manager rating (out of 10)
8 -- Valverde surprised onlookers with the inclusion of Aleix Vidal over Philippe Coutinho, but Barca still dominated the first half. It wasn't his fault they weren't ruthless enough, and his substitutes (Coutinho, Paulinho and Paco Alcacer) tipped the game back in Barca's favour when Valencia were threatening to gain a foothold after the break.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 7 -- Held one skidding Dani Parejo effort in the second half and then produced a slide tackle on Santi Mina late in the game to prevent Valencia from leaving with an away goal.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Lucky to get away with just a booking for a high challenge on Andreas Pereira, who caused him problems in the latter stages of the first half. Improved after the break.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Solid enough on the eve of his 31st birthday, containing Valencia the few times they broke forward and protecting Cillessen.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 8 -- Wasn't asked to do a lot but provided some of the game's more daring pieces of defending, not only winning the ball but then beating a man or playing a brilliant pass. Camp Nou was impressed, regularly chanting his name.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Heavily involved in the game, linking well with Andres Iniesta and then Coutinho, but not as effective as he has been at times this season.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Always in the right place to start another attack when Valencia cleared or tried to break.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Another industrious performance, doing the dirty work that allows Messi and Co. to be so effective in front of him.
MF Andres Iniesta, 6 -- Took a while to get going but was involved in most of Barca's most intricate moves in the final third. Valverde took him off in the second half, though, presumably with the intention of saving his legs for Sunday's derby against Espanyol.
MF Aleix Vidal, 5 -- Brought into the team in place of Coutinho, but failed to provide the width or pace Valverde will have been looking for. Blazed one shot over and was unable to come up with any real quality when in promising positions.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Barcelona's motor once again, even if he wasn't able to get his name on the score sheet. Drew several saves from Jaume Domenech and hit the side netting before setting up Suarez's winner.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- The striker's hot streak continued. Headed home Messi's centre to make it 16 goals in his last 16 appearances.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 7 -- Some nice touches off the bench as he switched between left, right and central positions. Forced a good save from Jaume and played some cute passes into Suarez.
MF Paulinho, 6 -- Stretched his legs in a 30-minute run out, but didn't offer too much.
MF Paco Alcacer, 7 -- Came close to scoring against his old side with a brilliant strike from 30 yards, which Jaume did well to tip over.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.