Barcelona salvages late draw to keep its lead over Valencia

Las Palmas hold Real Sociedad to a 2-2 draw

VALENCIA: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, right, vies for the ball with Valencia’s Carlos Soler, during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and FC Barcelona at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia. – AP

MADRID: After being denied a legitimate goal, Lionel Messi made sure nobody would keep Barcelona from mounting a comeback against Valencia. Messi was deprived of a goal after a mistake by officials in the first half of the high-profile game between the Spanish league leaders on Sunday. But the Barcelona star made a perfect pass for Jordi Alba’s 82nd-minute equalizer to keep the Catalan club four points ahead of Valencia at the top of the Spanish league.

Rodrigo had put the hosts ahead from close range in the 60th in front of a raucous crowd at the Mestalla Stadium. Messi was sure he had opened the scoring in the 30th when Valencia goalkeeper Neto was unable to control the playmaker’s shot and let the ball slip between his legs, but the linesman did not see it cross the goal line. “It was a clear mistake, I could see from midfield that it was a goal,” Alba said.

“We saw it on television during halftime. It was not a foul or something like that, which can be a matter of interpretation. They have to see this.” La Liga has been loudly criticized for not having video review assistance. It is expected to have a system in place next season. Barcelona reached 35 points from 13 matches, eight points ahead of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, which both won on Saturday. Valencia had won nine straight in all competitions, with its last setback a 1-1 draw at city rival Levante in September. It was an even match at the packed Mestalla, with Barcelona playing better in the first half and the hosts threatening the most in the second. “After the goal we had opportunities to put the game away, but in the end I think it was a fair result,” Rodrigo said. Valencia went ahead after Jose Gaya made a run through the left side of the area and sent a low cross toward the center of the area for Rodrigo. He beat goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to the ball and tapped it into the goal despite being closely marked by a defender. Alba equalized with a left-footed shot into the far corner after Messi’s well-placed pass over the Valencia defenders.

Fifth-place Sevilla came back from two goals down to defeat sixth-place Villarreal 3-2 for its third win in its last four league games. The hosts went ahead with goals by Cedric Bakambu in the first half and Carlos Bacca early in the second, but Sevilla rallied with two quick goals by Clement Lenglet and Franco Vazquez, and Ever Banega netted the winner by converting a 78th-minute penalty kick. Villarreal defender Victor Ruiz was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for the foul that prompted the penalty. It was Sevilla’s first game since the announcement that coach Eduardo “Toto” Berizzo has been diagnosed with a malignant prostate tumor.

The team’s players entered the field carrying messages of support for the Argentine coach, who has been working normally and was on the bench at Ceramica Stadium. LOSING STREAK OVER Las Palmas held Real Sociedad to a 2-2 draw to end its eight-match losing streak in the league. Las Palmas hadn’t earned points since a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao in September. Its only win in its last 10 matches came at Deportivo La Coruna in the Copa del Rey last month. Seventh-place Sociedad had won three of its last four games in all competitions, including two straight at home. Las Palmas is second-to-last in the 20-team standings with seven points, one more than last place Alaves. DISAPPOINTING DRAW Deportivo La Coruna and Athletic Bilbao played to a 2-2 draw that kept both teams near the bottom. Athletic, winless in five matches, was ahead twice but couldn’t hold on to victory at Riazor Stadium in La Coruna. Athletic twice hit the post, including with a close-range shot by Inaki Williams when the score was 2-2. Athletic is sitting 15th in the standings with 13 points from 13 matches. It hasn’t won in the league since a 1-0 result against Sevilla last month. Deportivo, coming off two straight losses, is in 17th place with 12 points. – AP

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