Barcelona kept themselves within touching distance of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga with an enthralling and highly entertaining 4-2 win over 10-man Valencia.
Lionel Messi bagged a brace in the Camp Nou victory, with Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes also finding the net for the Catalans. However, Valencia provided stiff opposition, even after the dismissal of Eliaquim Mangala.
The on-loan Manchester City defender was shown a straight red card for bringing down Suarez inside the area just before the break, giving Barca the chance to take the lead. But having also taken the lead early on, Valencia responded immediately through Munir El Haddadi, with the young forward equaling against his parent club.
The visitors continued to pose a threat on the counter attack, but Barcelona’s superior quality and man advantage eventually made the difference as Luis Enrique’s side claimed a win to close the gap on Real Madrid to two points.
TALKING POINT - Neymar has become Barcelona’s most important player
If there was any doubt over how important Neymar has become to Barcelona, it is obvious in the contrast between their last two Liga performances. Against Deportivo La Coruna, when Neymar was missing, Barca’s midfield was congested, with their attacking line denied space. He was back against Valencia, though, freeing up space for his teammates and acting as his side’s wide creator in chief. Barcelona can't do without Neymar.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Lionel Messi
This was a display of all that makes Messi great. Not only did he score twice, but he was the one pulling the strings for Barcelona in a crucial win. Messi came in for criticism after last week’s defeat to Deportivo La Coruna, but he led by example against Valencia, tracking back and making tackles even as Barcelona coasted to victory late on in the match.
Barcelona - Ter Stegen 7, Mascherano 5, Pique 6, Umtiti 5, Iniesta 6, Rakitic 5, Busquets 5, Rafinha 6, Messi 9, Neymar 8, Suarez 7. Subs - Gomes 6, Roberto 6.
Valencia - Alves 7, Montoya 5, Garay 6, Mangala 4, Gaya 7, Perez 6, Parejo 5, Soler 6, Orellana 5, Cancelo 7, Munir 8. Subs - Abdennour 5, Bakkali 5, Zaza 5.
29’ GOAL! Barcelona 0-1 Valencia: Valencia have a surprise lead at Camp Nou! It was a complete mismatch from the corner kick and Mangala leaped above his marker to head home. That was an excellent finish from the defender!
35’ GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Valencia: Barcelona are back on level terms! Neymar's throw in set Suarez through, although the angle was still tight. But he managed to guide a finish past Alves and into the far corner of the net.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Messi brace keeps Barca in title hunt