Barcelona held on to a tight victory over a battling Valencia side with a thrilling 3-2 win at the Mestalla Stadium.
Lionel Messi hit an amazing first half hat-trick and the Catalan club looked to be cruising to victory, but two goals in two minutes from Helder Postiga dragged Valencia back into the game.
The home side tried to desperately to get back into the game to no avail, while Messi could have had five or six with plenty of great chances.
It took Barca just eleven minutes to get on the scoresheet but poor defending from Valencia helped the away side out. Cesc Fabregas slipped it through for Messi who drifted through two defenders and past Diego Alves, before sliding into the empty net from six yards. It was a great start for the champion and they continued to threaten throughout the first half.
Andres Iniesta flashed a wonderful strike just over from 30 yards, while Alves was called into action when Fabregas looked to place his shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. It was a good effort from the former Arsenal midfielder, but Alves made a good save to keep it out.
Valencia sprang into action in the 34th minute as Victor Valdes was forced into two quick-fire saves. Ever Banega’s low shot from 30 yards seemed to be destined for the bottom corner, but Valdes did well to keep hold of the shot with a diving save. Just after, Banega slipped in Dorlan Pabon with a nice pass but the striker’s shot was brilliantly kept out by the Spain goalkeeper.
Just as the home side were getting a foothold in the game, Messi pulled Barcelona into a 3-0 lead with two goals in as many minutes. The first was another defensive mistake as Sergio Busquets nicked it of Banega in midfield, but Messi was cool and collected when he raced onto Fabregas’ pass and snapped his shot into the bottom corner, leaving Alves with no chance.
The third goal came in the 41st minute and it was the first sign of Messi and Neymar working out an understanding for the rest of the season. The Brazilian winger jinked inside and played the pass in time for Messi’s run and the Argentine had a hat-trick with an assured first time finish.
The game looked done and dusted but Postiga single-handedly dragged Valencia back into it. Joao Pereira’s cross looked harmless until Postiga threw himself at the ball with an acrobatic volley and the shot arrowed in off the far post, with Valdes helpless in the Barcelona goal. The strike could have been just a consolation, but Postiga’s second in first half injury time set us up for an intriguing second half.
It was Banega’s corner that caused a problem as Postiga pulled away from Busquets and flicked a header on at the near post. The ball flew past Valdes into the far corner and Valencia had reduced the lead to one, shockingly.
The second half proved to be a 45 minutes of missed chances and great goalkeeping, with Alves in particular pulling of miraculous saves. Messi was on the hunt for a fourth goal and his 25 yard strike was a blockbuster, but Valencia’s goalkeeper did well to tip the ball over. Just after, Pedro should have added to Barcelona’s lead but headed wide from Iniesta’s cross despite being in a great position.
The misses continued in the last ten minutes as Messi pulled off one of the worse efforts of his career. He played a great one-two with Neymar and smashed at goal from eight yards, but pulled his shot slightly and the ball flew inches wide. It was a bad miss, especially someone of Messi’s calibre and it was followed by another poor miss as he fired straight at Alves from 15 yards.
Valencia did work one great opportunity to complete their comeback, but the frame of the goal denied them an unlikely point. Jonas managed to turn on the edge of the box and curled low with his left-foot, but the ball clipped the edge of the post and went away to safety.
In the end, Barcelona held on and kept up the pressure on rivals Real Madrid who had comfortably beaten Athletic Bilbao earlier in the day.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)