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Lionel Messi equalled Pele’s one-club goals record but it was not enough for Barcelona as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Valencia’s in Saturday’s entertaining LaLiga clash.

The superstar forward notched his 643rd goal for the Catalan giants on the brink of half-time, scoring in the aftermath of having a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech.

That milestone goal cancelled out Mouctar Diakhaby’s deserved opener for Valencia, and Ronald Araujo then put the hosts in front with an acrobatic strike – his first Barcelona goal at senior level.

But Barca could not hold on for a third straight league win – and a fifth in a row at Camp Nou – as Maxi Gomez prodded in 21 minutes from time to inflict another title blow on Ronald Koeman’s men.

Koeman named an attack-minded line-up that contained just one holding midfielder and Barca were regularly caught out at the back, Marc-Andre ter Stegen bailing his side out with a good save to deny Carlos Soler.

Valencia were winless in four league games prior to this clash and were taken to extra time by lower-league side Terrassa in the Copa del Rey in midweek, but they opened the scoring in Catalonia through Diakhaby’s free header in the 29th minute from a Soler corner.

Antoine Griezmann then could not beat Domenech at the end of a swift counter and Martin Braithwaite had a strong penalty appeal turned down, while Ter Stegen produced a superb stop to keep out Gomez in an end-to-end contest.

Barca were given a route back into the game when Jose Gaya was adjudged to have nudged Griezmann in the back, the decision allowed to stand following a lengthy VAR check, though Gaya’s red card was reduced to a yellow on second viewing.

Messi’s spot-kick was pushed to one side by Domenech, only for Jordi Alba to send a deflected cross towards the back post for the Argentina international to nod over the line from two yards for his landmark goal.

Barca were given another scare early in the second half when Denis Cheryshev sliced wide from a glorious position and, three minutes later, Araujo sent a delightful half-volley away from Domenech.

But the visitors responded through Gomez, who got in front of Oscar Mingueza to poke in Gaya’s left-sided cross, and they held on for a share of the spoils – Philippe Coutinho’s off-target curler the closest Barca went to winning the game late on.

What does it mean? Barca lose more ground

Back-to-back victories had revived Barcelona’s title hopes, but this draw leaves them eight points behind Atletico Madrid – 3-1 winners over Elche earlier on Saturday – having played a game more.

The pressure will now be back on Koeman following this latest disappointing result – the seventh time Barca have failed to take maximum points in 13 league outings this term.

Barca may have had 73 per cent of the ball and managed 25 shots – compared to 12 for Valencia – but a draw was arguably the right outcome on the basis of the key chances at either end.

Gomez haunts Barcelona again

Valencia striker Gomez earned what was a deserved point for Valencia with his close-range finish, scoring from one of two shots he attempted, the other being saved by Ter Stegen in the first half.

The former Celta Vigo man has now been involved in at least one goal in six of his seven LaLiga games against Barcelona, scoring in each of the last four. His six goals against Barca in LaLiga is more than any other player has managed since the start of 2017-18.

Barca again undone by a set-piece

Diakhaby was given far too much time and space to head in Soler’s delivery – the fourth corner Barca have conceded from in LaLiga this season, the joint-most along with Huesca.

Mingueza and Araujo are hardly the most experienced of defenders, though the latter did redeem himself slightly with his impressive strike and ended the game with four clearances and three interceptions – no Barca player managing more in either category.

What’s next?

Barcelona are back in action on Tuesday with a trip to Real Valladolid, while Valencia host Sevilla on the same day.

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December 19, 2020
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