Barcelona suffered another shock defeat in the hands of Valencia on Sunday night as the Catalans have now lost three successive La-Liga games for the first time since 2003.
Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal and 450th for Barcelona but that feat was overshadowed by his side’s 2-1 loss to Valencia at the Camp Nou.
After beginning April with a nine-point lead, Luis Enrique’s side has won only one of its last six games, being eliminated by Atletico in the Champions League quarterfinals and seeing its league lead collapse. Its 39-game unbeaten streak ended with a home loss to Real Madrid earlier this month.
The race for the Spanish league title is tighter than ever, as Atletico Madrid are now level on points at the top of the standings with Barcelona, and Real Madrid just one point behind them in theird, with five matches to go.
Diego Simeone’s side defeated Granada 3-0 earlier Sunday, while Real Madrid thrashed Bottom of the league Getafe 5-1 on Saturday.
The visitors were ahead in the 26th-minute after an Ivan Rakitic own goal, before Santi Mina doubled their advantage at the stroke of half-time with his fourth league goal of the season.
After a spell of five games without a goal, Lionel Messi eventually got his milestone goal just after the hour mark, however, it was not enough to save a wobbling Barca as Valencia held firm.
“We have to remain strong,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
“We need to win the last five games and I know we can do it.
“We created a lot of chances but we were unlucky.
“We lost three points that we deserved to win. It’s part of football.”
Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves made a few great saves to help secure the win, including a spectacular one after a Rakitic shot from inside the area in the 75th.
“Luck was on Valencia’s side,” Rakitic said. “We had our chances, but the ball just didn’t go in.”
The Catalans could lose top spot if they fail to win at Deportivo La Coruna on Wednesday, with Atletico visiting Athletic Bilbao on the same night, and Real Madrid – just a point behind in third place – also in action, at home to Villarreal.
Atletico has three of its last five games at home, while Barcelona will play away three times. Real Madrid also is away in three of its last five matches. Barcelona remains ahead in the standings on tiebreakers.