Mon, Oct 06, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Barca win to stay atop La Liga ladder while Atletico stunned by Valencia 3-1


Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi, right, passes the ball to teammate Neymar da Silva, front, during their Spanish league soccer match against Rayo Vallecano de Madrid at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Barcelona recovered from their midweek defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League as goals from Lionel Messi and Neymar handed them a comfortable 2-0 win away to nine-man Rayo Vallecano de Madrid in La Liga on Saturday.

Valencia remained just two points behind the Catalan club at the top of the table with a 3-1 win over champions Atletico Madrid, thanks to three goals in the opening 13 minutes.

After resisting some early pressure from Rayo, Barcelona killed the game off with two goals in as many minutes just after the half-hour mark as Messi and Neymar took advantage of the hosts’ high line to continued their fine goalscoring form.

Rayo were reduced to nine men after halftime after Jorge Morcillo and Javier Aquino were shown second yellow cards and Barca saw the game out to preserve their record of not conceding so far this season in La Liga.

Barca now lead third-placed Atletico by five points and Real Madrid by seven, but Real had the chance to cut the gap when they faced Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu yesterday.

Claudio Bravo now holds the record for an unbeaten start to a La Liga season and Barca’s Chilean goalkeeper needed to be at his best early on to prevent Alberto Bueno firing Rayo into the lead at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas.

However, Barca boss Luis Enrique dismissed the importance of Bravo’s 630-minute run without conceding: “The only statistics that interest me are at the end of the season that will say whether we have deserved to win the title,” he said.

Rayo’s offside trap was being breached regularly as the half wore on and moments after Messi had a goal ruled out, the Argentine showed great composure to dink the ball over the advancing Tono to open the scoring.

Barca doubled their advantage a minute later as this time Munir El Hadaddi fed Neymar and the Brazilian took his time before drilling the ball into the far corner.

Rayo could have been back in the game early after the restart had it not been for another fine save from Bravo to deny Leo Baptistao.

However, any hope for Paco Jemez’s men was ended when Morcillo was given his marching orders for an unnecessary lunge from behind on Neymar.

Messi then missed a number of chances to add to his tally in the final quarter, leaving him still just two goals shy of Telmo Zarra’s all-time La Liga goals record of 251, before a disappointing afternoon for the hosts was rounded off when Aquino was also sent off for a late challenge on Sergio Busquets.

Meanwhile, Atletico paid for their efforts in beating Italian champions Juventus in their midweek Champions League clash as a Miranda own-goal, Andre Gomes’ strike and a Nicolas Otamendi header gave Valencia a dream start at their Estadio Mestalla.

Mario Mandzukic reduced the arrears on the half-hour mark, but any hopes of an Atletico comeback were halted when Diego Alves saved Guillherme Siqueira’s tame penalty just before halftime and they ended the match with 10 men as substitute Alessio Cerci was sent off in stoppage-time.

“Valencia started very strongly and we made mistakes that we don’t usually make,” Atletico boss Diego Simeone said. “After that Atletico played very well and they didn’t have any more chances. If we had scored the penalty, perhaps it would have been different.”

Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo refused to specify what he would deem as success for his side come the end of the season, but believes they can get even better, with star summer signing Alvaro Negredo set to return from injury after the upcoming international break.

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