Barcelona bounced back from their Champions League exit in midweek by strengthening their grip on the La Liga title with a 2-1 victory against Valencia.
Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti scored early in each half to put the hosts in control but a late penalty, converted by Dani Parejo, made for a nervy finish.
Barcelona moved 14 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, before Atleti’s match against Levante on Sunday, while Valencia sit a further three points back following the end of their five-match winning run.
Here are our ratings from the Camp Nou.
Ter Stegen 7. Made two decent early diving stops from Guedes, and redeemed himself for a terrible pass out by saving brilliantly from Rodrigo. Kept out another shot by Rodrigo before the break, and nearly stopped Parejo’s penalty.
Roberto 6. Returned to right-back for the dropped Semedo and is more effective there than in midfield, coming forward to play a key role in the build-up to the opener. Occasionally struggled defensively against Guedes but stuck to his task.
Pique 6. Booked early and frequently looked vulnerable, gifting one chance to Rodrigo with a sloppy clearance. But made a vital intervention to deny Valencia an equaliser with a goalline clearance from Rodrigo.
Umtiti 6. Solid until an embarrassing slip gifted a chance for Rodrigo which Pique cleared off the line. Made amends two minutes later with a great header from Coutinho’s corner to double the lead.
Alba 8. Made a couple of key early defensive interventions and did well going forward, although he was once guilty of shooting from a tight angle when Suarez was unmarked. Never stopped running and competing.
Coutinho 7. Lined up on the right of a midfield four, and came inside from that position to slide a lovely assist to Suarez for the opener. Also delivered the corner for Umtiti’s goal and crashed a long-range strike narrowly wide.
Busquets 7. Reportedly took a pain-killing injection in order to play, but you’d never know it as he excelled in the centre of the pitch, showing a wonderful range of passing to keep his team moving.
Paulinho 5. Played a little deeper than usual to support Busquets, but the game at times passed him by as he neither joined in with attacking play nor broke up Valencia’s attacks.
Iniesta 8. Delivered some outstanding probing play from the inside-left channel, producing some moments of sheer quality to draw oohs and aahs from the home fans. Nearly scored a memorable goal with a volley from Messi’s cross.
Messi 7. Headed a reasonable chance wide from a Suarez cross but was relatively quiet in the first half. More influential as the game opened up after the break, coming close with a fierce volley. Also produced a brilliant cross which Iniesta nearly converted and fizzed a low shot just wide.
Suarez 5. An early fresh air shot appeared to betray a lack of confidence but that didn’t last long as he produced an adroit near-post finish for the opener. However, it was a frustrating and frustrated performance from then on.
Dembele 5. Introduced for Coutinho for the final stages. Did little positive and conceded a penalty for a late challenge on Gaya.
Denis 5. Late replacement for Iniesta and had a chance to make it 3-1 after being released by Messi, but shot too close to Neto.
Semedo. Introduced in injury time and didn’t have a touch.
Neto 6. Perhaps could have done more to keeper out Umtiti’s header inside his near post, but made a good instinct save from Iniesta a little later on. Had little else to do.
Vezo 5. A non-factor going forward as he concentrated on his defensive tasks against Iniesta and Alba, and was often exposed with the home team consistently looking dangerous down his flank.
Garay 7. Took a robust approach against Suarez and did well, showing good positional sense to make a seemingly endless series of well-timed clearances.
Gabriel 6. Steady and solid in defence, making one excellent challenge to deny Suarez a shooting chance. But he was beaten in the air by Umtiti from the subsequent corner for the second goal.
Gaya 8. Regularly strode forward to combine with Guedes down the left, earning a reward when he won a late penalty after being fouled by Dembele.
Soler 5. A few nice touches from the young winger, but he couldn’t get regularly involved in the game and struggled both in defence and attack against Alba.
Kondogbia 7. Compromised by an early yellow card for a foul on Paulinho and slightly lucky to avoid a second caution for a clumsy lunge on the Brazilian, but still exerted an influence with his powerful running and confident passing.
Parejo 6. Couldn’t settle into his usual passing rhythm but did a good job defensively protecting his back four. Curled a free-kick narrowly over the top and was fortunate to convert a weakly-struck penalty.
Guedes 7. Had a curler and a long-range strike well saved as he showed his class early on, and then saw a snapshot deflected just wide. Faded sharply after the break and was taken off midway through the second half.
Mina 6. Sent a skimming header wide in the first half and had a competitive battle with Pique, also robbing Umtiti to tee up Rodrigo for a golden chance.
Rodrigo 6. Frustrated to be brilliantly denied by ter Stegen midway through the first half, then saw Umtiti make a strong block from another strike and another shot saved by ter Stegen. Bad luck continued as Pique cleared his next shot off the line.
Pereira 6. Manchester United loanee was Valencia’s first sub and showcased his dribbling ability with several pacy bursts down the left flank.
Vietto 6. Came on for Mina for the last 20 minutes and was involved in build-up play without offering a threat inside the box.
Zaza 6. Appeared for the latter stages and nearly grabbed a point with a glancing header across the face of goal.
Barcelona are licking their wounds after emerging from the wrong end of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.
Now Ernesto Valverde’s men must put their Rome horrorshow to one side and focus on their quest to finish the La Liga season unbeaten.
In one of their toughest tests left, Barca entertain third-placed Valencia, who are more than capable enough of making their hosts’ week worse.
Follow their every move with our live updates below.
It will be far from an easy task for Ernesto Valverde’s men against a Valencia team which has climbed up to third place in the table, overtaking Real Madrid, with a run of five consecutive wins which has seen them concede just one goal.
Barca are very much in charge of their destiny in La Liga, holding an enormous 11-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid with just seven games remaining, but this weekend’s meeting is all about restoring morale ahead of next weekend’s Copa del Rey Final against Sevilla.
Here are the main talking points ahead of the Camp Nou clash.
VALVERDE FEELING THE HEAT?
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde – who had a brief but successful spell in charge of Valencia in 2012/13 – has been widely praised for his team’s excellent season, which has seen them remain unbeaten in La Liga so far.
But it has been a distinctly different environment for the former Athletic Bilbao boss in the last few days, with Valverde heavily criticised for his role in the calamitous upset in Rome on Tuesday.
Valverde has been accused of failing to prepare his squad for the decisive latter months of the campaign by giving key players inadequate amounts of rest earlier on. He has also been slammed for badly managing the contest in the Italian capital by refusing to make any substitutions until 80 minutes had been played, despite the terrible performance his team was offering.
During Friday’s pre-game press conference Valverde insisted he was not bothered by the criticism, observing that such intense scrutiny is a natural accompaniment to his job, but a bad start in this encounter could well see the Camp Nou faithful turn against the coach for the first time – with his future at the club maybe even coming under threat.
With next weekend’s cup final looming, the last thing Valverde needs is an extension of the negativity which has swamped the club since Tuesday night, and to avoid another very uncomfortable week he desperately needs a strong response from his team this weekend.
ALL CHANGE IN MIDFIELD?
Valverde will be forced into a midfield reshuffle, with Ivan Rakitic ruled out through a hand injury while fellow stalwart Sergio Busquets is a doubt with the remnants of a foot problem which clearly hampered him during the midweek Champions League debacle.
Losing both players would present Valverde with a serious headache so he is likely to select Busquets if at all possible, but there is also a question mark over the selection of skipper Andres Iniesta with the 33 year-old appearing to suffer from the effects of fatigue more than anyone.
One player almost certain to come into the starting line-up is Philippe Coutinho, who was cup-tied in midweek, while there could also be a start for French winger Ousmane Dembele, who many observers believe should have been introduced much earlier against Roma.
Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez and Paulinho are other options, and the release of the teamsheet an hour before kick-off will certainly make interesting reading.
HIGH-FLYING VALENCIA SEEKS ANOTHER SCALP
This has been a fabulous season for Valencia, whose current run of five straight wins – and eight in nine – has seen them become serious contenders for a second-place finish at the end of coach Marcelinho’s first year in charge.
Barca’s defence will certainly not have it easy against hard-working front pairing Simone Zaza and Rodrigo, with the latter scoring in five consecutive games and looking a good bet to earn a place in Spain’s World Cup squad.
One factor counting in Valencia’s favour has been a lack of European football, allowing Marcelinho’s men to retain higher levels of physical fitness than their rivals – which could be particularly important in this encounter considering the jaded appearance of several key Barca players.
Valencia have already taken points off Real, Atletico and Barca this season, and they are travelling to Camp Nou this weekend full of confidence in their ability to earn another big-name scalp. Is La Liga’s title race set to be reignited?