BARCELONA. - Lionel Messi scored twice as La Liga champions Barcelona saw off a persistent Valencia side, which had Eliaquim Mangala sent off in the first half, to win 4-2 on Sunday and stay on the heels of pacesetting Real Madrid.
Manchester City loanee Mangala stunned the Nou Camp by heading Valencia in front in the 29th minute but Luis Suarez soon cancelled out the opener following a quick throw-in by Neymar and the Uruguayan then won a penalty as he was hauled down by Mangala, who was sent off for a second booking.
Messi beat penalty-saving expert Diego Alves from the spot for the second time this season to pull Barca level in the 45th minute but Munir El Haddadi, who is on loan from the Catalans, equalised immediately in injury time of the first half.
Barca dominated the second half and took the lead for the second time when Messi smashed the ball past Alves’s near post but the visiting side created an opening to level again but Munir squandered the chance.
Former Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes then scored his first goal for Barcelona to make sure of the points.
Barca is second in the standings on 63 points, two behind Real, which has a game in hand.
“We controlled the game but they made the most of a set piece and a counter attack. Overall we played well, we played at a high tempo and in general we can be happy with the game,” Barca captain Andres Iniesta told reporters.
“The title race is still alive and we’re obliged to stay up there and take advantage of any opportunity we get if Real Madrid slip up.”
Earlier, Antoine Griezmann scored for the fifth time in four league games and provided an assist as Atletico Madrid beat Sevilla 3-1 to move to within two points of Jorge Sampaoli’s third-placed side in the La Liga standings.
The France international delivered a cross from a free kick for Diego Godin to head in the opener in the 37th minute then sent the ball fizzing in off the bar from a set-piece in the 61st while Koke tapped in the third in the 77th to seal a third straight league win for Atletico.
Joaquin Correa scored a consolation goal for Sevilla in the 85th.
While Atletico is in the midst of a good run of results, Sevilla is in freefall.
It has failed to win any of its last four games in all competitions. T
It has now lost its last two matches as it went out of the Champions League following a 2-0 defeat at Leicester City on Tuesday.
Sevilla has 57 points while Atletico is in fourth place on 55.
“Sevilla have had a magnificent season, praised by everyone and so this makes our performance even more laudable,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone told reporters.– Reuters