Luis Suarez had put the visitors into the lead after slotting his shot in at the near post, but Valencia’s work rate was rewarded when Mina fired into the top corner five minutes from time. Real Madrid are now just four points behind Barça as they bounced back from their embarrassing elimination from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player in midweek with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo all on target in their 4-1 thrashing of Getafe. However, Real remain third, two points behind Atletico Madrid, after goals from Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann handed Diego Simeone’s men a 2-0 win at Granada.
Neville doesn’t officially take charge until Sunday, leaving Valencia in the hands of caretaker boss Voro and his brother Phil Neville and the depleted hosts put up a brave fight against the superior quality of the European champions.
“There is nothing to reproach the team for,” Barça boss Luis Enrique said. “We played a complete game at a very difficult place to come, we dominated the whole game and had by far the most chances. We weren’t rewarded for all the effort we put in, but defensively Valencia played very well.”
Barcelona should have had the game wrapped up by half-time, but the star front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez were uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. Messi spooned the first chance over from Neymar’s fine cross before the latter ballooned the ball into the stands with just Jaume Domenech to beat.
More brilliance on the left wing from Neymar teed up Messi once more, but on his weaker right foot he fired straight at Domenech. Suarez then fluffed his lines when he tried to square for Neymar when clean through only to overhit his cross and see the ball fly to safety. Moments later Suarez was denied a tap-in as Aderlan Santos got just enough of a deflection on Jordi Alba’s cross to take the ball away from Suarez.
Suarez finally opened the scoring as he squeezed the ball in at Domenech’s near post. However, Valencia made Barça pay for their profligacy when Paco Alcacer held up a long ball over the top and laid the ball perfectly into Mina’s path to slam home his first goal for the club.
At the Bernabeu, any sign of the fans’ frustration at the club’s latest gaffe in being eliminated from the Cup due to an administrative error was eased when Benzema fired home from Pepe’s fine cross after just five minutes. Benzema looked back to his best as he doubled Madrid’s advantage on 16 minutes when he slotted into the bottom corner from Bale’s headed cut-back after Ronaldo appeared to have been fouled inside the area.
The one-way traffic continued as Bale showed great composure to finish from Ronaldo’s knockdown and score for a second consecutive league game for the first time since January. Ronaldo finally got in on the act three minutes later at the end of a devastating counter-attack as he latched onto Toni Kroos’ fine through ball to register his 17th goal of the season.
“To get the three points playing very well in the first half means that these players, who we know are very important, once they get up to speed can cause a lot of damage to any defence,” Madrid coach Rafael Benitez said. “The fact Benzema scored those two goals and contributed so much to the team going forward reinforces even more what I have said before that he is a very important player for us and makes those around him play better.”
Atletico remained in front of their city rivals thanks to another solid display as they recorded their sixth clean sheet in seven games to extend their winning run in all competitions to six games. Godin powered home the opener from Koke’s corner after 20 minutes to give the visitors the perfect start. Griezmann made the game safe in spectacular fashion 14 minutes from time as the France international blasted high into the roof of the net from Oliver Torres’ clever through ball.
In the night’s other league matches, Deportivo La Coruna were made to settle for a 1-1 home draw with Sevilla, while Real Betis rescued a point at home to Celta Vigo thanks to a late Jorge Molina goal.