Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets 8/10 in Barca's latest slip-up
VALENCIA -- After the euphoria of beating Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, Barcelona cashed back down to earth against Valencia, as they were held to a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla on Sunday, extending their winless run in La Liga to four games.
The home side took the lead inside the first minute when Ezequiel Garay turned home at the far post after Barca failed to defend a corner. Michy Batshuayi, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Kevin Gameiro all then had chances to extend Valencia's lead as they threatened to tear Barcelona apart in a pulsating opening 20 minutes.
However, they were made to pay for their profligacy in the 23rd minute, when Lionel Messi drove home from 20 yards after exchanging passes with Luis Suarez.
Despite lacking a cutting edge in the final third and looking far too predictable at times in the second half, Barca did well to recover from being under the cosh to taking control of the game. Arthur Melo once again looked at home in midfield, while Nelson Semedo continues to improve at right-back.
Barca's critics will now suggest the impressive Tottenham win on Wednesday was a one-off, pointing to more dropped points in the league. They have failed to beat Girona, Leganes, Athletic Bilbao and now Valencia in their past four domestic games. In the process, they've been overhauled at the top of the table by Sevilla and are now one of six teams within two points of each other. The general lack of quality elsewhere makes these slip-ups even more frustrating for the Catalans. Their main problem lies in conceding too many goals.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Ernesto Valverde's reluctance to use his bench in the second half was bemusing. He didn't twist until the final 10 minutes, finally bringing on Ousmane Dembele and Rafinha when time was almost up. They were not given much of a chance to make an impression.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- His goal was under pressure early on but he only had a couple of saves to make, both from Batshuayi. Perhaps could have been more commanding for Valencia's goal but was sold short by his defenders.
DF Nelson Semedo, 7 -- Another encouraging performance from the Portuguese full-back, who continues to impress in the absence of the injured Sergi Roberto. Had one brilliant block to keep out Gameiro in the first half.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Once again made mistakes, although none was directly punished this time. Beaten for pace by Goncalo Guedes early on and caught on the ball by Denis Cheryshev after the break.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 6 -- Was indecisive for Valencia's goal, with his awkward header dropping for Garay to score. Improved as the game went on, though, after being the surprise inclusion ahead of Clement Lenglet.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- As usual, was jeered on his return to the Mestalla, but didn't stop getting up and down the left flank all night. Lacked a final pass, mind, when in promising positions.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- Sloppy in possession throughout the game as his inconsistent start to the season continued.
MF Sergio Busquets, 8 -- The midfielder pressed high, and with Barca in control, advanced his position further up the pitch in the second half. Was involved in almost every passing move as Barca probed for a winner.
MF Arthur Melo, 7 -- His performance will feed the Xavi comparisons even more: attempted 142 passes (135 of them completed), which is a La Liga record for the current season. It's also the highest number made by an away player in the Spanish league since Xavi himself in 2012 (148 vs. Levante).
MF Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Lacked a bit of quality for once. Valencia seemed to have his number, stopping him from cutting in from the left and ripping a shot toward the top-right corner, as he likes to do so often. Dallied on Barca's best chance after the break; dispossessed before he got his shot off.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Wasn't his finest performance, but once again, he was the difference between one point or none. Scored a stunning goal, driving home from 20 yards after a one-two with Suarez, and was Barca's best chance of winning the game in the second half.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- A lot of hustle, plenty of bustle, but no end product. Aside from a couple of penalty shouts, he hardly troubled Valencia. A rest over the international break will do him good.
FW Ousmane Dembele, NR -- It was a surprise to see him introduced so late, with just seven minutes to play. His pace and ingenuity could have changed the game.
MF Rafinha, NR -- Came on for Arthur with just three minutes of the game left.