Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Barcelona played to a 1-1 draw with Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium on Sunday night in La Liga.
The hosts seized the lead inside two minutes, as Ezequiel Garay took advantage of some slack defending to tap home a Dani Parejo corner at the far post.
Lionel Messi equalised for Barcelona midway through the first half. The Barcelona captain swapped passes with Luis Suarez and then fired a low shot past goalkeeper Neto.
Barcelona went on to dominate possession for the majority of the game but could not find a winner. The result means they have been knocked off the top of the table and sit a point behind Sevilla in second.
Barcelona’s Defensive Frailties a Threat to Title Hopes
Barcelona were again without the injured Sergi Roberto and Samuel Umtiti against Valencia, which meant Nelson Semedo continued at right-back, while Thomas Vermaelen partnered Gerard Pique at centre-back.
Yet Valencia took less than two minutes to open the scoring. Vermaelen missed a corner in from the left. It then hit Pique and fell to an unmarked Garay, who knocked it home.
The goal means Barcelona have gone five games without keeping a clean sheet, a stark contrast to last season when their title defence was built on rock-solid defensive foundations.
It could have been worse for the visitors. The goal boosted Valencia, and they caused Barcelona big problems in the opening stages.
Michy Batshuayi went close with a couple of shots, as did Geoffrey Kondogbia. Goncalo Guedes was a real threat down the left with his pace. His departure after 12 minutes due to injury was a big relief for Barca.
Barcelona have gone four games without a win in La Liga and will have to improve defensively to retain their title.
Suarez Still the Perfect Partner for Messi
Suarez has come under scrutiny this season after a slow start. He looked slow and off the pace in Barcelona’s opening three games, but he has shown in his last two matches he remains the perfect partner for Messi.
Against Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday he produced two brilliant dummies, which allowed Messi to go through and score.
On Sunday he combined well again with the Argentinian for Barcelona’s equaliser.
Opta highlighted how effective he is alongside Messi:
27 – Luis Suarez has now assisted more @LaLigaEN goals for Lionel Messi than any other @FCBarcelona player, surpassing Dani Alves (26). Duet. https://t.co/iQVhyGtrmh
It was far from a perfect performance from Suarez. At times his touch was poor, he looked clumsy and he gave the ball away.
Squawka’s Muhammed Butt summed up his performance:
Muhammad Butt @muhammadbutt
Suárez been absolute nonsense today, but he has a great assist. must drive Valverde mad.
Suarez has only managed three La Liga goals this term, and Ernesto Valverde will want more from the Uruguayan. Yet his understanding with Messi remains a key part of this Barcelona team.
Arthur the Answer for Barcelona in Midfield over Ousmane Dembele
Arthur kept his place in the Barcelona team after impressing against Spurs on Wedesday, which meant Ousmane Dembele again started on the bench.
The Brazilian put in another strong display and looked at home in La Liga despite the game’s being only his second league start in Spain.
Sports writer Andy West thought Arthur helped Barcelona take control of the match:
Andy West @andywest01
Hugely impressed with Arthur again. He more than anyone helped Barça impose some order after an abysmal and frantic start.
The 22-year-old rarely wasted a pass in the first half. He was always available, moved the ball quickly and helped Barca dominate possession.
Opta noted his contribution:
142 – Arthur Melo attempted 142 passes against Valencia, the most by a player in a La Liga away game since Xavi Hernandez vs Levante in November 2012 (148). Reference. https://t.co/jYspVgc28f
Ben Hayward at the Evening Standard explained how Arthur helps Messi:
Ben Hayward @bghayward
Before Wednesday, Messi was without an away goal this season. He has three in one-and-a-half games since (against two strong teams: Spurs & Valencia). Barça looking more fluid with Arthur in midfield and Coutinho on the left – and it’s helping Leo…
Valverde has been happy to rotate his team this season in search of the right balance. On current form, Arthur looks the better midfield option ahead of Dembele.
Barcelona will be back in action after the international break when they welcome Sevilla to the Camp Nou on Oct. 20. Valencia will play host to Leganes the same day.