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Barca Denied As They Draw 1-1 At Valencia

First came the Lionel Messi ghost goal, then came the sight of Rodrigo Moreno ghosting in front of Thomas Vermaelen to score, and then came Jordi Alba’s dramatic equaliser.

La Liga’s top of the table game had everything from orange-wig celebrations, to dreadful mistakes from match officials, to a sublime assist from Messi for the Barça leveler.

A resurgent Valencia so nearly became the first team to beat Barcelona this season, although they were helped when the most controversial moment of the season went their way.

It arrived on the half hour when Suarez crossed from the right and from the edge of the area Messi shot first time. Neto should have thrown his cap on it, instead it threw it in, allowing the ball to slide off his gloves and bounce between his legs and over the line.

Unfortunately for Barcelona neither the linesman, still sprinting back on the far side, nor the referee, whose vision was blocked by the keeper’s body, saw the goal and when Neto scooped it out of his goal play continued.

Suarez led one group of furious Barcelona players sprinting across to the linesman while other surrounded the referee. The Valencia supporters inside the stadium celebrated Messi’s ghost goal as if it had been a goal for them.

And soon replays on social media spread around Mestalla confirming what everyone, bar the two match officials in question, had sensed at the time, that it was a goal. It wasn’t even close. It was a good Frank Lampard in Bloemfontein distance over the line and yet it would not stand.

To the embarrassment of many of the league’s leader figures La Liga is the only to European League without goal line technology. There are plans to bring in the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) next season – either would have made sure justice was done here. Barcelona will argue that even without the technology the linesman should have spotted the goal.

A similar decision did go Barcelona’s way earlier in the season when Gerard Deulofeu scored from a Lucas Digne cross, delivered after the ball had gone out of play against Malaga. Barcelona now had to try to put the misfortune behind them and find the winner against a stubborn Valencia side who had kept them at bay in the first half.

Barcelona had dominated possession for most of the first 45 minutes. When Valencia did get a touch of the ball they forced their first chance. Ivan Rakitic gave the ball straight to Rodrigo and he forced a corner.

There was some needle between Suarez and former Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista. He was once sent off in England for reacting to Diego Costa and his temper frayed early here kicking-out at Suarez off the ball.

When Valencia broke again it was Rodrigo who tried to get a run at another former Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen, the footballer who plays more for his country than for his club. He was getting a rare run-out for the suspended Gerard Pique and he impressively robbed Rodrigo and cleared the danger.

The pattern of the game changed after the break as Valencia began to take the initiative. And on 60 minutes they were ahead.

Nelson Semedo was beginning to struggle at right back and when Gonzalo Guedes sent Jose Gaya scuttling past him the full-back crossed to the near post where Rodrigo Moreno got in front of Vermaelen and Barcelona keeper Marc Andre ter Stegen to score from close range.

As he ran to celebrate with supporters he was given a bright orange wig famously worn during title celebrations by Jaime Ortiz, the Valencia president who led the club when they won two leagues under Rafa Benitez. Ortiz died last week – what a way to honour him.

Valencia were so close now. Valencia coach Marcelino had never beaten Barcelona but he had seen his team contain them and crucially contain Messi. Famous last words. Messi found space in midfield and spotted left-back Jordi Alba’s blindside run on the left. He dinked a spinning lobbed pass onto Alba’s foot and he scored to ensure the points were shared.

Barcelona had shown they have the metal to win the league, Valencia had shown they have what it takes to stay with them all the way this season.