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Barcelona lose to Valencia to blow La Liga title race wide open

Barcelona lost their third league game in a row, with Lionel Messis second-half goal not enough in the 2-1 defeat at home to Valencia

Barcelonas stuttering title bid suffered another setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Valencia on Sunday, while Atltico Madrid moved level on points with the La Liga leaders after a comfortable win over Granada.

Shell-shocked Bara have 76 points along with Atltico, who knocked the holders out of the Champions League in midweek, and remain top only due to a superior head-to-head record.

Atltico earlier eased to a 3-0 home win over Granada after Fernando Torres grabbed his fourth goal in as many games with Koke and substitute Angel Correa also on the scoresheet.

Real Madrid, whose coach Zinedine Zidane said in February that the title race was over, thrashed Getafe 5-1 away on Saturday and stand just one point behind the leading pair.

An own goal by Bara midfielder Ivan Rakitic put Valencia ahead after 27 minutes at the Camp Nou and Santi Mina added a second just before half-time to stun the Bara supporters.

Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal to reduce the deficit after 64 minutes but the struggling hosts, who have squandered a nine-point lead, could not find an equaliser.

Despite Barcelona registering a third successive league defeat for the first time since 2003, Luis Enrique remained upbeat about his teams chances of winning the title. Weve got a marvellous challenge, if we win the five games remaining we will be champions, he said.

Of course, our credit has run out and we are aware of the challenge. Were going to approach it like a Bara player always does, with our heads held high.

Bara humiliated a Valencia side coached by Gary Neville 7-0 in the Copa del Rey in February but had a much tougher time against successor Pako Ayesterans side and went behind when Guilherme Siqueiras cross bounced off Rakitic and beyond Claudio Bravo.

Valencias players celebrate their victory. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

Messi, Luis Surez and Neymar each had efforts saved by the impressive Diego Alves, but Valencia continued to cause the home side problems on the break.

Santi Mina increased the visiting sides advantage just before half-time, receiving a pass from Dani Parejo and beating Bravo at the far post with a powerful driven effort.

Messi turned in a low cross from Jordi Alba to end a drought of five games without scoring and net his 500th career goal, but a second proved elusive for the hosts.

Valencias Alves produced a spectacular save to deny Rakitic late on and Gerard Piquee agonisingly missed the target at the near post in stoppage time. We were better than Valencia in every aspect apart from effectiveness. Weve dropped three points that we could have taken fairly but football is like that, added Luis Enrique.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/apr/17/barcelona-valencia-la-liga-match-report