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Barcelona were held to a 2-2 draw by Valencia on Saturday and Ronald Koeman acknowledged his side switched off too easily at the back.

Ronald Koeman has put Barcelona‘s 2-2 draw with Valencia down to a lack of concentration from his players, rather than a problem with their attitude.

Barca were held at Camp Nou in Saturday’s entertaining La Liga clash and are now eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played a game more than the leaders.

Mouctar Diakhaby scored a free header to give Valencia the lead – a joint-high fourth league goal Barca have conceded from a corner this term along with Huesca – but Lionel Messi equalised and young defender Ronald Araujo put the hosts in front.

Maxi Gomez profited from yet more slack defending 21 minutes from time to score against the Catalan giants for a fourth game running, however, as Valencia became the seventh team to stop their opponents winning in 13 games this term.

Koeman did not want to blame any individuals following this latest setback but conceded his side switched off too easily for Valencia’s goals.

“It was a difficult game. We fought back but have to be more focused,” he told Movistar . “We had chances but weren’t focused on some other actions, and the opponents defended well.

“We made more of an effort in the second half to win the game but didn’t create as many chances as we wanted. It was an irregular game from us; we lost balls in areas that were dangerous.

“I don’t think it was to do with an attitude problem. There was an irregularity to the whole game. We lost balls and doubted ourselves.

“We also know we have problems with set-pieces. You have to get above your opponent, but we have smaller players.”

Barca had won their previous two matches, against Levante and Real Sociedad, but now face a massive battle in chasing down Atletico and the rest of the title challengers.

“We would have liked to have won all of the games,” Koeman said. “The problem is not today’s draw but that we lost four or five other games and that’s why this draw seems worse.

“There are a lot of points left [to be won]. It’s a very tough season. In two months, everything could be different. We have to fight to make up the points difference.”

Koeman made one change from the 2-1 victory over Sociedad, bringing in Philippe Coutinho for Frenkie de Jong in what was an attack-minded starting line-up featuring Messi, Martin Braithwaite, Pedri, Antoine Griezmann and Coutinho.

Sergio Busquets, the sole holding midfielder, picked up a knock and was replaced by De Jong at half-time.

Explaining his team selection, Koeman said: “Frenkie had discomfort in training yesterday and we couldn’t risk him from the beginning, according to the doctors.

“We had to leave him on the bench until the break. I changed things around and brought off Busquets, but not because he was having a bad game.”

Messi’s goal was his 643rd for Barcelona, taking him level with Santos great Pele for the number scored for a single club.

The Argentina international managed 10 shots in total and had a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, but he headed in from two yards in the aftermath to bring up his landmark goal.

“We know all about his impressive career,” Koeman said. “It is another very good achievement.”

However, Valencia head coach Javi Gracia questioned whether a penalty should have been awarded for Jose Gaya’s perceived push on Griezmann with Valencia a goal ahead at the time.

The referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez initially showed Gaya a red card before downgrading that to a yellow after checking the pitchside monitor, but Gracia feels the spot-kick should also have been rescinded at a pivotal moment in a tight game.

“Justice does not exist in football,” he said. “It is always difficult to assess the referee’s performance. The goal just before half-time did us a lot of damage. 

“But the team’s personality was clear to see again. I am proud of my players.”

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December 20, 2020
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