Robert Lewandowski scored a winner deep into stoppage-time to send Barcelona back to the top of La Liga with a 1-0 victory over Valencia.
It looked set to be a frustrating night for Xavi Hernandez, who also lost defenders Eric Garcia and Jules Kounde to injury, until Lewandowski popped up in the third minute of injury-time to score.
Desperate to bounce back after a disappointing exit from the Champions League group stages, Barcelona dominated from the first whistle, eager to take the initiative.
The best early chances fell to Ansu Fati, who was restored to the side having been dropped to the bench for the defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday. The 19-year-old was through on goal but couldn’t find a way past onrushing goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili, and minutes later he found the back of the net but was clearly in an offside position, cutting short his celebrations.
Lewandowski went even closer on the stroke of half-time, his header from Jordi Alba’s cross crashing agonisingly off the base of the post.
Valencia thought they had taken the lead against the run of play a few minutes after the restart when Samuel Lino finished confidently. However, the goal was chalked off following a lengthy VAR check which showed the ball brushed the arm of Marcos Andre in the build-up.
Gennaro Gattuso’s tactical tweaks ensured Valencia were much more organised than they had been in the first half, and they largely limited Barcelona to half chances in the second period.
There were warning signs though as Ferran Torres failed to connect with Pedri’s cross with the goal gaping before Lewandowski stretched to meet Raphinha’s delivery to bag the winning goal.
Tempers boiled over as Valencia – who had Edinson Cavani injured earlier in the game – failed to hide their frustration with Samu Castillejo and Dimitri Foulquier booked for a row with Torres, who was also cautioned.
Victory sees Barcelona ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference, but Los Blancos will play their game in hand on Sunday at home to Girona. Meanwhile, Valencia remain 10th.
TALKING POINT – INJURIES COULDN’T COME AT A WORSE TIME
On paper, the result will be just what the doctor ordered for Barcelona after a disappointing week for the club. Lewandowski will have sent the travelling supporters home happy with his late heroics, but on reflection, the victory has come at a cost.
Losing defenders Garcia and Kounde to injury so close to the World Cup is obviously far from ideal. And it’s not only Xavi who will be left sweating on their fitness, but also Spain manager Luis Enrique and France boss Didier Deschamps.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (BARCELONA)
The 34-year-old was incredibly unfortunate not to give Barcelona the lead in the first half, which would have prevented all the late drama. He didn’t have too many more openings thereafter, but with the talisman on the pitch there is always a chance he will pop up with something, and on this occasion he produced the goods.
He now has 13 goals in La Liga, some six ahead of the chasing pack.
Valencia: Mamardashvili 6, Correia 7, Paulista 6, Comert 7, Gaya 7, Foulquier 6, Guillamon 6, Almeida 6, Kluivert 5, Cavani N/A, Lino 6.. subs: Lato 5, Castillejo 5, Vazquez N/A, Andre 6.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6, Balde 6, Kounde 6, Garcia N/A, Alba 8, De Jong 7, Busquets 6, Pedri 8, Dembele 6, Lewandowski 8*, Fati 7.. subs: Pique 5, Torres 5, Alonso 6, Raphinha 8, Gavi 7.
44’ – OFF THE POST! Lewandowski looks for all the world that he has given Barcelona the lead with a header from Alba’s cross – but it crashes agonisingly off the bottom of the post!
51’ – GOAL DISALLOWED BY VAR! Correia whips in an early cross and it appears Andre fails to make a connection with the ball allowing Lino to slot it home at the far post. Barcelona are fuming, they feel the ball brushed the arm of Andre which helped it into the path of Lino. The referee goes to the pitch-side monitor, spots the handball and rules the goal out.
86′ – HOW DOES HE MISS?! With the goal gaping, Torres fails to make a connection on Pedri’s cross and the chance is gone!
90’+3 – GOAL! VALENCIA 0-1 BARCELONA (ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI): Who else but Robert Lewandowski pops up with a late goal?! The Poland talisman stretches to meet Raphinha’s cross and score in the 93rd minute. It’s his 13th goal of the season and looks sure to restore Barca’s place at the top of La Liga!