Lionel Messi brace helps Barcelona defeat 10-man Valencia
Barcelona 4 - 2 Valencia

Lionel Messi brace helps Barcelona defeat 10-man Valencia

Lionel Messi scored twice to help Barcelona keep pace in La Liga's title race with a 4-2 defeat of 10-man Valencia at the Camp Nou on Sunday night.

Barcelona controlled the game even before Eliaquim Mangala was sent off for pulling down Luis Suarez in the box before half-time, but some lapses at the back led to a scoreline that made the game seem closer than it truly was.

The hosts nearly had the lead after a quarter-hour when Suarez fed Messi, who couldn't make clear contact with the pass and Fabian Orellana was able to clear the attempt off the line.

Messi showed his intent a minute later, skipping past a host of defenders before curling a shot over the bar.

Valencia then tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen in a rare moment of possession, Carlos Soler slamming a volley at the Barcelona goalkeeper after Gerard Pique deflected a cross into his path.

Barcelona had a penalty shout on 26 minutes when Joao Cancelo made contact with Neymar, though nothing was given.

And two minutes later, Valencia had a lead against the run of play after Munir El Haddadi chased a long ball that went out for a corner. Mangala headed home Dani Parejo's cross into the box to put the visitors ahead.

But the lead would only last six minutes, as Suarez ran onto a quick throw-in from Neymar and scored with a sliding first touch.

Valencia's hopes seemed to be extinguished in the 44th minute, when Messi played through Suarez, who had his shirt grabbed by Mangala. It was a clear red card -- even if the Uruguayan went down rather easily -- and Messi put his penalty down the middle to put Barcelona ahead.

However, there was more drama in an eventful first half as the 10 men caught Barcelona sleeping before the break. Soler passed ahead to Jose Gaya, who fed across for Munir to tap in, though the player declined to celebrate his equaliser against his parent club.

The goal was the last true attack from Valencia, who were under pressure from the start of the second half.

On 52 minutes, Diego Alves made a fine save to deny Neymar, who had been played in by Messi. And less than a minute later the Argentina superstar received an Iniesta pass and found space at the near post to beat the Valencia goalkeeper and restore Barcelona's lead.

Barcelona had more opportunities to add to their advantage, and Neymar came close to marking his 500th senior match in football with his 100th goal for the club from a free kick that hit the post.

The hosts were rewarded for their efforts two minutes from time when Neymar crossed for substitute Andre Gomes to tap in.

The win sees Luis Enrique's men tighten their grip on second place in La Liga, where they are two points behind leaders Real Madrid, who still have a game in hand.

However, Messi received a yellow card with four minutes to play, which will rule him out of Barcelona's next game at Granada on April 2 following the international break.

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