Barcelona 2-2 Valencia: Los Che open up LaLiga title race
Valencia are on the up. Having put together a run of good results that have kick-started their LaLiga campaign and left them in the semis of the Copa, they've now breathed life into the title race by grabbing a point at the Camp Nou. It's a draw that Atlético and Real Madrid will both be pleased with, and one that confirms Los Che's return to form. Rodrigo Moreno is back to his best. He was a key man last term, and his poor start this year had much to do with Valencia being restricted to so many draws. Dani Parejo is also in fine fettle, as is Neto. Above and beyond individuals, though, the team as a whole has recovered its spirit: Marcelino García Toral's men once more look like the strong, confident side of last season.
Messi leads comeback charge before picking up injury
They did superbly to get themselves 2-0 ahead and, having gone in for half time with their lead cut in two after Toni Lato gave away a silly penalty, initially held firm in the face of a veritable onslaught at the start of the second 45. Barcelona were ferocious in the first 20 minutes after the break, pinning Valencia back as Lionel Messi led the charge. With him on the pitch, playing Barça is like trying to hold an argument with someone pointing a gun at you, and he inevitably got the equaliser in the end. However, he then picked up an injury (knock or muscle complaint, I'm not sure), went off for treatment, and wasn't the same after that. Valencia began to buy themselves breathing space with the odd counter, and even felt able to take off Rodrigo with one eye on the Copa...
Stalemate gives chasing pack chance to close gap
It's a bad result for Barça. Depending on what happens in LaLiga today, they could find their serene progress to the title interrupted - just when they have to contend not only with a Copa tie against a revitalised Madrid, but also a return to Champions League duty. Ernesto Valverde had been managing to rest Messi (only introducing him against Leganés when the going got tough, and leaving him out altogether when they went to Seville in the Copa). Now, though, he'll have less leeway to do so. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho is struggling. He isn't having the same impact as the now far more settled Ousmane Dembélé, whose ability to conjure up a moment of magic was missed. All in all, it's a draw that makes Madrid-Alavés, and particularly Real Betis-Atlético, all the more significant.