Messi scores in draw at Valencia, Barca winless in 4 rounds
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi helped to earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday, but not even his superb goal could stop the defending champions’ winless streak from reaching four games in the Spanish league.
Messi canceled out Ezequiel Garay’s opener in the second minute with a goal in the 23rd that he conjured up while appearing hemmed in by two defenders.
Messi slipped a pass to Luis Suarez between the legs of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Suarez used one gentle touch to lay the ball back into Messi’s path and the Argentina forward scored with a left-footed strike from outside the area.
Barcelona’s most recent game had been an impressive 4-2 win over Tottenham in the Champions League on Wednesday, when Messi scored twice.
Barcelona, however, couldn’t end its poor league run. It previously drew 2-2 with Girona, lost 2-1 at Leganes and drew 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao.
The latest setback left Sevilla atop the standings after it beat 10-man Celta Vigo 2-1. Barcelona is one point behind, along with Atletico Madrid, which edged Real Betis 1-0.
Real Madrid is in fourth place after its 1-0 loss at Alaves on Saturday, when the European champions failed to score a goal for the fourth straight game overall.
Surprisingly, Espanyol and Alaves are also level on points with Madrid.
“The Liga is pretty good. It is nice to see that we are all fighting for the lead,” Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “There are no easy games.”
The defensive problems that have troubled Barcelona during its domestic dip were evident again in Valencia’s goal.
A corner kick was flicked back toward the center of the six-yard box by Barcelona’s Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian’s inadequate clearance was then compounded by Gerard Pique, who inexplicably ducked, allowing the ball to hit his back and fall to Ezequiel Garay for an easy tap-in all alone at the far post.
Michy Batshuayi drew a save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Geoffrey Kondogbia shot wide as Valencia pressed for a second goal with Barcelona failing to take control until Messi’s majestic goal.
“The ball passed by the head of everyone and nobody touched it,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We can train to prevent it, but these are things that can occur in football.”
Pablo Sarabia once again proved to be Sevilla’s most dynamic player, scoring one goal and setting up another to lead Sevilla to a fourth consecutive victory in the league.
Sarabia headed in a cross by Jesus Navas in the 39th. After Celta’s Nestor Araujo was sent off with a second booking, Sarabia assisted Wissam Ben Yedder for a tap-in that was initially ruled to be offside but allowed after a video review.
Sofiane Boufal scored a superb goal late on for Celta after dribbling forward from the center line and curling in a right-footed strike.
While Sevilla leads the league after eight rounds, Sarabia said “we will watch the other teams on television, we just have to focus on ourselves.”
Substitute Angel Correa came off the bench and created the goal that Atletico needed to break down Betis.
Correa recovered the ball in midfield and exchanged passes with Thomas Partey before stroking a shot from outside the area beyond the reach of goalkeeper Pau Lopez for the 74th-minute winner.
Nikola Kalinic, who made his first start for Atletico in place of the injured Diego Costa, hit the post in the 52nd.
After only one win in the opening four rounds, Atletico has won three of the last four.
“We are happy to have gotten stronger,” Correa said. “You can always improve. We have been working hard and this is the result.”
STRONG AT HOME
Espanyol beat Villarreal 3-1 for its fourth win in as many home matches this season, while Valladolid edged visiting Huesca 1-0 for its third win in a row.