Soccer  

Barcelona beat Valencia on Lewandowski’s stoppage-time goal

Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski scored a 93rd-minute winner as they beat Valencia 1-0 on Saturday to keep pace with Real Madrid atop the LaLiga standings.

Barcelona, who earlier this week were eliminated from the Champions League, were headed toward another disappointing result at the Mestalla before Raphinha looped a cross toward the stretching Lewandowski for the Poland striker’s 13th league goal of the season.

Valencia’s Samuel Lino thought he had opened the scoring four minutes into the second half and the Mestalla crowd erupted, but the referee chalked it off following a VAR check as Marcos Andre had touched the cross with his hand.

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The hosts were then dealt a major blow with 18 minutes on the clock when their top scorer Edinson Cavani, who had netted the club’s four goals in their last three matches, came off with an ankle injury.

The result means Barca have 31 points after 12 games, the same as Real, who host second-bottom Girona on Sunday.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures


Rapid reaction

1. Lewandowski saves Barcelona once more

It was almost another frustrating night for Barcelona until Robert Lewandowski, the one major positive from their campaign to date, popped up in stoppage time to earn them three crucial points at Valencia. The Polish striker finished well at the far post in stoppage time to take his tally to 18 for the season in all competitions and, more importantly, keep Barca on Real Madrid’s tails. They move level with the leaders for now, at least until Madrid host Girona on Sunday.

It looked like the goal would never arrive. A heated affair saw plenty of flare-ups but few real chances. When Ferran Torres missed the best opening of the game late on and Raphinha and Lewandowski combined to fluff the rebound, it looked as if Barca would follow up their midweek elimination from the Champions League by dropping points in LaLiga for just the third time this season.

Lewandowski’s late winner, though, which came after Samuel Lino had a goal ruled out for Valencia because of a Marcos Andre handball, papered over the cracks in the performance. Xavi Hernandez is struggling to get a consistent tune out of his side at the moment. Big wins against Villarreal and Athletic Club have now been followed up by under-par performances against Bayern Munich and now Valencia.

While he can bemoan injuries and bad luck in defence — more on that below — he is struggling to find the right attacking combinations. Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele started here, while Ferran Torres and Raphinha came on — although it was, as has often been the case, Lewandowski who had to come to the rescue.

2. Defensive injuries to see Pique play bigger role?

Eric Garcia and Jules Kounde were both unable to finish the game as Barcelona were again forced to field a makeshift back four at the Mestalla. Garcia went off with a groin injury in the first half and Kounde followed him off after the break. Barca’s backline for the final minutes consisted of three left-backs — Marcos Alonso, Jordi Alba and Alejandro Balde — and Gerard Pique.

They were already without Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen, who have both been sidelined for weeks. It has been injury after injury since the last international break. Right-back Sergi Roberto is also out of action and Hector Bellerin has only just returned. This is the second time Barca have also lost Kounde to an injury, too, and it ultimately cost them in the 3-3 Champions League draw with Inter Milan, which effectively knocked them out.

Xavi will now just be hoping to get through the next three games — Viktoria Plzen in a dead rubber in Champions League and league fixtures against Almeria and Osasuna — before regrouping during the World Cup break. This spate of injuries has also reopened the door for Pique, who at 35 has been cast aside for most of the season but may now once again be handed an opportunity to vindicate himself ahead of the January transfer window.

3. Valencia rue missed chance as Cavani injured

Valencia will feel this game was there for the taking. Roared on by a home crowd who sensed blood as Barca’s defenders dropped one by one, they threw everything at Xavi’s side in the second half. But aside from Lino’s disallowed goal, they will be disappointed with how little they tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who now has 10 clean sheets in 12 LaLiga games.

Losing Edinson Cavani to injury was a major blow in the first half. With him it may have been different. He has scored four goals in just six appearances for the club since joining in the summer. No one else has more than two.

Ultimately, though, it was another winless game for Valencia. That is now four games without a win in LaLiga. There are positive signs under Gennaro Gattuso. They play on the front foot but results have dried up in recent weeks. They sit 10th with 15 points from their 12 fixtures.


Player ratings

Valencia: Mamardashvili 6; Correia 7, Gabriel 6, Cumart 6, Gaya 8; Guillamon 7, Foulquier 6, Almeida 6; Kluivert 7, Cavani 6, Lino 7
Subs: Andre 6, Castillejo 5, Lato 6, Vazquez 5

Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6; Balde 7, Kounde 7, Garcia 6, Alba 6; Busquets 5, De Jong 6, Pedri 6; Dembele 5, Lewandowski 7, Ansu 6
Subs: Alonso 6, Ferran 5, Raphinha 6, Gavi 6, Pique 6


Best and worst performers

BEST: Jose Luis Gaya, Valencia.

This game was curious for the fact that four potential Spain left-backs for next month’s World Cup were all on the pitch: Gaya and the Barca trio of Balde, Alonso and Alba. Balde did well out of position at right-back but it was Valencia’s Gaya who stood out on his 300th appearance for the club. He was brilliant in defence against Dembele and never short of energy to get forward.

WORST: Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona.

Hot one week, cold the next. Last weekend he scored one and set up three against Athletic, but against Valencia he was substituted off in the 56th minute after another frustrating performance. Xavi desperately needs him to be more consistent.


Highlights and notable moments

We were almost without any until this late (very, very late) dramatic goal.

This is Sparta? No, its Gaya being honored with No. 300 jersey commemorating his appearances with the club.

The Spanish defender is the 32nd player in club history to reach that mark.


After the match: What the managers, players said

Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez on result: “It was a really important win, especially with how it arrived in the last second. We never stopped believing. We played with some anxiety, the elimination from the Champions League hit us hard. We tried to disconnect, but it is difficult.”

Xavi on Robert Lewandowski’s goal: “The goal is about quality. Robert is there to make the difference. I thought it might be disallowed for offside with the run we’re on at the moment. But we have to improve. We have to make better decisions. It could have been a draw and it would have been a drama. It should not be like that. We have improved a lot, we’re on the right path, but there is still more [to improve].”

Valencia’s Gennaro Gattuso on the loss: “When you play against teams like Barcelona, you can’t make any mistakes. You have to keep going until the 96th minute. The team was brave. We only had two players to play in midfield. I have to congratulate the team for their attitude and mentality. The team is alive. We have to keep working, not talk so much, and work really hard.”


Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

– Saved by the bell! Robert Lewandowski’s goal (92 mins, 55 seconds) is his latest game-winning goal in either LaLiga or Bundesliga.

– The result is Barcelona’s third stoppage-time winner against Valencia in the last 10 LaLiga seasons, their most against any opponent in that span.


Up next

Valencia: A trip to Real Sociedad on Nov. 6 and then hosting Real Betis on Nov. 10 as the LaLiga campaign marches on.

Barcelona: A formality match against Viktoria Plzen to close out Champions League group-stage action Tuesday, then a couple quick-turn LaLiga matches against Almeria (Nov. 5) and at Osasuna (Nov. 8). As for their Europa League foes, the Blaugrana will learn whom they’ll face on Nov. 7.