Messi penalty snatches thrilling Barca win
MADRID: Lionel Messi’s 94th-minute penalty moved Barcelona top of La Liga in dramatic fashion in a pulsating 3-2 win at Valencia on Saturday.
However, victory came at a cost for Barca as a tearful Andres Iniesta suffered ligament damage in his right knee that could keep him out for several months.
Messi netted twice and his opener midway through the first half was allowed to stand despite Luis Suarez straying into an offside position.
Valencia hit back with two goals in six second-half minutes through on-loan Barca winger Munir El Haddadi and Rodrigo.
However, Suarez levelled and was then upended inside the area by Aymen Abdennour to allow Messi to hold his nerve and slot past penalty-stopping specialist Diego Alves for all three points.
The frustration of the Valencia fans spilled over and Barca players were showered by objects from the stands as they celebrated.
Victory moves the champions a point clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, who face Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao respectively on Sunday.
The game was only 14 minutes old when Iniesta was carried from the field in tears holding his right knee, which buckled under a heavy challenge from Enzo Perez.
Barca boss Luis Enrique was furious with referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco as Perez avoided even a yellow card, whilst a series of other fouls on Barca players went unpunished.
However, it was Valencia who were up in arms at the officials when Messi opened the scoring on 22 minutes.
The Argentine’s fifth goal in three games since returning from a groin injury sneaked in at Alves’s near post, but the Brazilian goalkeeper had been distracted by the presence of the offside Suarez jumping over Messi’s effort.
Alves kept his side in the game with two great saves from Suarez as the Uruguayan was played in on goal, the first of which was a spectacular stop when Suarez’s effort deflected off Ezequiel Garay.
However, Valencia showed they could also breach a Barca defence without the injured Gerard Pique as Marc Andre ter Stegen rushed from his line to block from Dani Parejo.
Valencia turned the game around early in the second half as Parejo’s cut-back was drilled into the bottom corner by El Haddadi against his parent club.
The 21-year-old held his hands up apologetically after finding the net, but there were wild celebrations led by new Valencia boss Cesare Prandelli moments later when Rodrgio swept home Nani’s through ball.
Valencia’s lead lasted just six minutes despite more Alves heroics as Suarez pounced to smash home a rebound after Ivan Rakitic’s powerful header had been saved by the Valencia stopper.
Barcelona swarmed forward in the final quarter in search of the winner, but looked set to settle for a point when a Suarez free-kick flew inches wide.
However, deep into stoppage time, Messi played in Suarez and he was clearly taken out from behind by Abdennour.
Alves had already saved three penalties this season, but Messi stroked the ball into the bottom corner to secure a vital three points in the title race.