Madrid: Lionel Messi scored in his 12th consecutive La Liga game to help leaders Barcelona earn a 1-1 draw at Valencia, allowing second-placed Atletico Madrid to come close to within nine points after a 1-0 win over Real Betis, on Sunday.
World Player of the Year Messi grabbed his 34th league goal from the penalty spot just before halftime at the Mestalla after Ever Banega had given the hosts a lead in the 33rd minute.
Atletico substitute Diego Costa nodded in from a 61st minute corner to maintain their perfect home record, lifting them seven points clear of city rivals Real Madrid in third.
Barca have 59 points from 22 games, Atletico 50, and the champions have 43 after losing 1-0 at lowly Granada on Saturday when Cristiano Ronaldo headed the game’s only goal into his own net.
Valencia’s intense pressure seemed to unsettle Barca, who looked sluggish after Wednesday’s King’s Cup semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu, which they drew 1-1.
Their aggression paid dividends when Gerard Pique’s weak headed clearance fell to Banega in the area and the Argentine midfielder fired a low shot under Valdes.
“It’s possible we were suffering a bit from the Madrid game, but I would point out the work of our rival,” Barca assistant coach Jordi Roura said. “In five years, we have only won once here. A draw is a fair result.”
Barca levelled before the break when Joao Pereira needlessly fouled Pedro in the area and Messi shot a penalty high into the top corner.