Robert Lewandowski scored a dramatic 94th minute winner as Barcelona temporarily returned to the top of La Liga with a 1-0 win over Valencia. The Blaugrana bounced back from their UEFA Champions League exit with a third consecutive league victory without conceding to keep up the pressure on arch rivals Real Madrid.
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In the midst of their best 11-game start to a league campaign since 2017, a gritty Valencia unit led by Gennaro Gattuso were always going to be tough to overcome. Barcelona teenage starlets Pedri and Ansu Fati brilliantly combined to spring the first real threat, as the former fed the latter with an incisive pass, only to see Fati’s chipped effort valiantly saved by onrushing Giorgi Mamardashvili. The Blaugrana winger then saw a goal disallowed for offside midway through the half, forcing the Catalan side to gradually raise the stakes in search of the opener.
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Visibly frustrated by the home side’s passive style of play, Mestalla voiced its frustration, urging Valencia to press harder and win loose balls. Los Che tried doing exactly that, but at the same time risked exposing their backline with little to no support when chasing the ball, as they almost conceded from a Lewandowski tap-in, his header striking the post on the stroke of HT. Xavi Hernández went into the break perhaps the more disappointed of the two coaches, and understandably so, given the fact that Valencia had played second fiddle for the majority of the first period.
A moment of drama ensued right after the game resumed, when Samuel Lino’s close-range effort was rightly disallowed by VAR due to a handball in the build-up play, much to the fury of the frantic home fans. Perhaps realising that Barça had dropped their intensity, Xavi introduced three new faces on the stroke of the hour-mark in a bid to shift the momentum back in their favour, which they eventually did by controlling possession. However, they struggled to carve out an opening in the face of a stern Valencia defence as the final minutes dawned.
Just as all hope appeared lost, Barcelona’s talisman stepped up to win the game deep into stoppage time. Raphinha’s lofted cross dropped to Lewandowski at the back post, and the Poland international managed to steer the ball home with the outside of his foot at full stretch and break Valencia hearts.
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