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Barcelona survive Valencia charge to remain league leaders

” Rakitic’s presence and Valencia’s evident tiredness after their first half efforts ensured that Barcelona were not troubled much further.”
Madrid, April 19 (IANS):  FC Barcelona weathered a first half storm at home against Valencia to claim a 2-0 win and three vital points to retain their top-of-the-table status at La Liga.

Goals from strikers Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi gave Barcelona the win in a game which saw them ride their luck, especially in the first half when their rivals had enough chances to punish them on Saturday, reports Xinhua.

Barcelona kicked off knowing anything other than a win would allow second-placed Real Madrid the chance to overtake them at the top of the table and opened the scoring within the first minute. Suarez was on hand to finish a counter-attack involving midfielder Sergio Busquets and Messi.

However, anyone thinking that would open the floodgates for Barcelona would have been sorely mistaken as Valencia reacted brilliantly and took the game to the league leaders with an exceptional 45 minutes of football.

The visitors pressured Barcelona high up the field and were rewarded for their efforts as they forced error after error from the home team’s rearguard. Midfielder Rodrigo twice went close and striker Sophaine Feghouli’s goal was declared offside. Barcelona defender Gerard Pique conceded a penalty failing to contain Rodrigo following a throw in.

But forward Dani Parejo’s weak shot was saved by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Paco Alcacer then saw his close range effort blocked after Pique again surrendered possession and the Valencia striker’s shot moments later rebounded off the cross bar.

Barca were struggling to create anything, but Messi should have doubled their lead in what was only their second attack of the half as he fired wide from close range five minutes from the break.

Luis Enrique had to react and the Barcelona coach decided to reshuffle his side with midfielder Ivan Rakitic replacing right back Adriano, allowing Javier Mascherano to drop back into central defence and defender Mathieu moving to left back.

Rakitic’s presence and Valencia’s evident tiredness after their first half efforts ensured that Barcelona were not troubled much further.

In the second half, Messi hit the Valencia crossbar with a free kick and he sealed the win with the last kick of the game, breaking away from his own half to beat goalkeeper Diego Alves with a cool finish.