MADRID, Spain (AFP) — A Lionel Messi penalty rescued Barcelona as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia but the league leaders still maintain a 12-point advantage at the top of the table.
The four-time World Player of the Year extended his record scoring run to 12 matches in the league with a penalty after 39 minutes with Valencia having taken the lead through Ever Banega.
Although Barca won their last league game at home to Osasuna, they lost a fortnight ago against Real Sociedad and this was a lacklustre display the Mestalla.
Like Real Madrid who lost to Granada on Saturday night, Barca seemed to be suffering the effects of their 1-1 Spanish Cup semi-final first-leg but they still maintain a comfortable advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid who play Real Betis later on Sunday.
Barcelona rested captain Carles Puyol as former Livepool player Javier Mascherano was thrown into central defence alongside Gerard Pique while Andres Iniesta was once again chosen in attack instead of David Villa and Alexis Sanchez.
Apart from a 5-0 thumping by Real Madrid and their elimination by the same side in the domestic Cup, Valencia have been in good form with four wins from five matches in the league.
While Barca probed in typical fashion looking for an opening, Valencia broke with speed down the wings with Jose Guardado and Juan Bernat.
Guardado had a snapshot which went wide in an even contest and another break from the home side saw Roberto Soldado brought down by Mascherano after 22 minutes while the resulting free kick was fired into the wall by Tino Costa.
Valencia were snapping at the heels of the Barca midfielders who were looking uncomfortable and Valencia got the breakthrough from Banega.
Pique cleared a cross to the Argentine who had time in the centre of the area to bring the ball down and pick his spot in the corner.
Barca appeared in trouble but then they won a penalty as Joao Pereira clipped Pedro Rodriguez on the edge of the area and Messi finished with aplomb from the spot.
Earlier Malaga could only draw 1-1 with Zaragoza and have now just one win from five games as they compete for a top-four finish, while Sevilla beat Rayo Vallecano 2-1.