VALENCIA, Spain, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Champions Barcelona’s domestic strife continued as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia in an absorbing La Liga game on Sunday, with Lionel Messi again coming to their rescue by equalising with an 11th goal in 10 games this season.
The draw stretched Barca’s winless run in Spain’s top flight to four games and saw them surrender first place to Sevilla in a highly competitive campaign in which the leading six teams are separated by only two points.
The Catalans fell behind in the second minute at a bouncing Mestalla stadium after dreadful defending from a corner allowed Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay to stab home from close range.
Barca continued to leak chances but got a foothold in the game thanks to a superb strike in the 23rd minute from talisman Messi, who has been superb recently with a midweek performance for the ages against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League.
Barcelona failed to further breach well-organised Valencia, however, racking up a run of three draws and a defeat in four league games, their longest stretch without a win since 2016.
Sevilla are top on 16 points while Barca have 15 like Atletico Madrid but are second due to a better goal difference.
“This season it feels like we have to come back in every game and we are swimming against the current but we know that this is going to change,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
“You always want to win and when you don’t you leave with the sensation that you have dropped two points but you have to recognise that Valencia did a very good job defensively.”
Barcelona had responded to disappointing domestic results against Athletic Bilbao, Leganes and Girona with a commanding 4-2 victory over Spurs at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday but they were instantly back on the rocks when Garay struck.
Valencia continued to pile forward with little resistance after scoring and carved out three clear chances to double the lead but Michy Batshuayi was twice foiled by Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Geoffrey Kondogbia fired wide.
The Catalans soon got their house in order to establish control and there was an air of inevitability about their equaliser when it arrived, Messi playing a one-two with Luis Suarez before firing first time into the bottom corner.
Valencia, who have picked up one victory in 10 games in all competitions, continued to look dangerous on the break and substitute Denis Cheryshev flashed shots narrowly off target either side of halftime.
There was a cagey feel to much of the second half, with both sides quickly smothering danger when it appeared.
In one instance, Barca’s Philippe Coutinho took too long to shoot inside the area, while in another Messi crept into the area down the left but dragged his shot wide of the near post.
Valencia coach Marcelino was not satisfied with a draw.
“A point tastes like very little to me, Barcelona needed very little to score, aside from their goal I can barely remember another chance,” he said. “We were very dangerous at the start, and logically we should have been 2-0 up.” (Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon)