Barcelona stumble again

Barcelona stumble again

Football La Liga

Barcelona stumble again

Barcelona’s stuttering title bid suffered another setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Valencia on Sunday, while Atletico Madrid moved level on points with the La Liga leaders after a comfortable win over Granda.

Shell-shocked Barca have 76 points along with Atletico and remain top only due to a superior head-to-head record.

Atletico earlier eased to a 3-0 home win over Granada after Fernando Torres grabbed his fourth goal in as many games with Koke and substitute Angel Correa also got on the scoresheet.

Real Madrid, whose coach Zinedine Zidane said in February that the title race was over, thrashed Getafe 5-1 away on Saturday and stand just one point behind the leading pair.

An own goal by Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic put Valencia ahead after 27 minutes at the Nou Camp and Santi Mina added a second just before halftime to stun the Barca supporters.

Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal to reduce the deficit after 64 minutes but the struggling hosts, who have squandered a nine-point lead, could not find an equaliser.

Despite Barcelona registering a third successive league defeat for the first time since 2003, Luis Enrique remained upbeat about his team's chances of winning the title.

Barca humiliated a Valencia side coached by Gary Neville 7-0 in a King's Cup semifinal game in February but had a much tougher time against successor Pako Ayesteran's side and went behind when Guilherme Siqueira's cross bounced off Rakitic and beyond Claudio Bravo.

Barcelona forwards Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each had efforts saved by the impressive Diego Alves, but Valencia continued to cause the home side problems on the break.

Santi Mina increased the visiting side's advantage just before halftime, receiving a pass from Dani Parejo and beating Bravo at the far post with a powerful driven effort. Messi turned in a low cross from Jordi Alba to end a drought of five games without scoring and net his 500th career goal, but a second proved elusive for the hosts.

Valencia's Alves produced a spectacular save to deny Rakitic late on and Barca defender Gerard Pique agonisingly missed the target at the near post in stoppage time.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Sevilla drew 1-1 at home to Deportivo, Athletic Bilbao won 1-0 at Malaga to move up to fifth, and Rayo Vallecano moved five points clear of the relegation zone after beating fourth-placed Villarreal 2-1.

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