La Liga: Barça title hopes dealt a blow with loss to Valladolid
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Barcelona's title defense took a blow on Saturday when it stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at Valladolid, missing the chance to move top of the Spanish standings ahead of its Champions League clash with Manchester City at Camp Nou.
Lionel Messi was the only Barcelona player who looked sharp, while his teammates were plagued by uncharacteristic passing errors and again proved brittle at the back.
Valladolid outplayed the defending champions early and midfielder Fausto Rossi netted the winner in the 17th minute. The relegation-threatened side then did well to protect three points against the star-studded visitors for the remainder.
Once league leader, Barcelona has won just two of its last seven away league games, and leader Real Madrid can increase its one-point advantage over the Catalan club when it hosts Levante on Sunday. Atletico Madrid can draw level on points with Barcelona if it wins at Celta Vigo later Saturday.
After its strong start this season under first-year coach Gerardo Martino, Barcelona has dropped points in five of the last nine rounds.
''As long as it is mathematically possible we will keep fighting,'' said Martino, whose team visits Madrid in two weeks. ''We are not in our best form, and we have to rediscover it within 15 days. We are worried because the league title is being decided right now.''
Before the ''clasico'' match, however, Martino will have to regroup his team against City on Wednesday. Barcelona will be looking to protect its 2-0 lead in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Valladolid started the round in the drop zone, but the big win- only its fifth in 27 league games this season- provisionally pulled it out of danger.
''It's an incredible result,'' said Rossi, who is playing at Valladolid on loan from Juventus. ''All together we can save this team.''
After losing 3-1 at Real Sociedad in its last league away match, Martino aligned his best 11 available without Andres Iniesta, who didn't travel with the team for undisclosed personal reasons.
Even so, Barcelona lacked its regular cool composure from the start and failed to dominate possession until it was trailing in the score. Holding midfielder Sergio Busquets, usually so sure with the ball, had erred on three passes before the 25-minute mark.
By that time Valladolid had threatened Barcelona's area and taken the lead when Rossi finished off a rebound after both his first attempt and Javi Guerra's follow-up had hit defenders.
Messi's solo effort saved by goalkeeper Diego Marino in the 10th was all the visitors could muster in the first half hour. Barcelona then improved and Messi and Cesc Fabregas forced Marino to make three more saves before halftime.
Messi, who showed no signs of his apparent vomiting from Argentina's 0-0 draw against Romania this week, used a burst of speed to break free in the 48th, only to be denied again by Marino.
An otherwise quiet Neymar sailed his only scoring chance over the bar from close range before Martino sent on a fourth forward in Alexis Sanchez to replace Fabregas.
Neymar was later substituted by Cristian Tello, but, after another Messi free kick that safely sailed into Marino's arms, Valladolid substitute Oscar Gonzalez almost scored on a counterattack.
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