Barcelona ended its poor run of results with an uninspiring win over Valladolid ahead of its Champions League matchup with Lyon on Tuesday.

By Associated Press
February 16, 2019

BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi had a penalty saved after scoring from the spot as Barcelona struggled to end a run of poor results before it turns to the Champions League knockout rounds.

Messi's first penalty opportunity proved good enough in an uninspiring 1-0 victory over Valladolid at Camp Nou in the Spanish league on Saturday. But Barcelona's all-time leading scorer had a second spot kick stopped by goalie Jordi Masip.

Barcelona, which had drawn three games in a row across all competitions, visits Lyon on Tuesday in the opening leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie.

Messi and his teammates missed chances to put away Valladolid, and when they did arrive Masip was up to the challenge.

Messi beat Masip with a perfectly executed spot kick two minutes before halftime. But Masip, a former Barcelona backup, smothered his second strike that Messi sent to the same left side of the goalie.

Masip said he didn't learn any tricks to stopping Messi when they used to practice together.

''I don't know, I (never saved) many of his penalties,'' Masip said. ''He took the first one very well, but I was able to stop the second one. It is bittersweet. We had the chance to take a draw.''

Barcelona increased its league lead to seven points over Atletico, which moved past Real Madrid into second place before its crosstown rival plays on Sunday.

Atletico's 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano thanks to a late goal by Antoine Griezmann broke a run of consecutive losses before Atletico hosts Juventus on Wednesday in the Champions League.

UGLY WIN

Messi took his league-leading tally to 22 goals with his 30th in all competitions this season.

Otherwise, it was a night of missed chances and erred passes by Barcelona.

''We didn't play well. Getting back to winning is of course positive, but if we don't correct our mistakes we will pay for it on Tuesday,'' said Gerard Pique, who sustained Barcelona in defense and earned the penalty that Messi converted before halftime.

''If we don't play the ball quickly and have more possession (...) we become a weaker team. We know it and our opponents know it.''

Coach Ernesto Valverde gave Kevin-Prince Boateng his second start since joining Barcelona last month as Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho rested until midway through the second half.

Besides saving Messi's spot kick, Masip also made an excellent one-handed save to parry a Messi volley, and denied Suarez one-on-one.

''We had the chance with the second penalty to put it away, but Masip played superbly and we had to sweat it out until the end,'' Valverde said. ''We needed to pass the ball more quickly in the first half. But if we generate the scoring opportunities like we had in the second half they will eventually go in.''

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