Barcelona slump to fourth defeat in five, Atletico joint top of La Liga


Barcelona boss Luis Enrique claimed his side are capable of winning their final five La Liga games to claim the title despite slipping to a fourth defeat in five games as they were beaten 2-1 by Valencia on Sunday.
The Catalans hadn’t tasted defeat in 39 games until losing to Real Madrid earlier this month, but have since thrown away a nine-point lead at the top of La Liga and been dumped out the Champions League by Atletico Madrid.
Barca still lead La Liga thanks to their superior head-to-head record with Atletico with Real a point behind in third, but now need to win all five remaining games against Deportivo la Coruna, Sporting Gijon, Real Betis, Espanyol and Granada to keep matters in their own hands.
Moreover, they have now lost three consecutive La Liga games for the first time in 13 years.
“If there is a team capable of doing it and much more given what they have done, it is this Barca,” said Enrique.
“Perhaps it is more difficult than normal when the team loses, for me, unjustly some of the games we have lost. We lost two games in the first 30 and now three in a row, it is not normal.
“This sport generates a lot of surprises, I think we have criticised ourselves when it has been necessary, but today is not a day to criticise my players, it is a day to congratulate them.”
Barca dominated from start to finish against a Valencia side that had been dispatched 7-0 on their last visit to the Camp Nou just two months ago under the tutelage of Gary Neville.
However, they enjoyed better luck in Pako Ayestaran’s third game in charge as Ivan Rakitic’s own goal and Santi Mina’s fine finish put them 2-0 up at half-time despite having just one shot on target.
Lionel Messi’s 500th career goal gave Barca hope after the break, but an inspired goalkeeping display from Diego Alves and a shocking miss two minutes from time by Gerard Pique consigned the hosts to defeat.
“Feeling sorry for ourselves we won’t win anything,” added Enrique.
“The players have given a lesson in the second-half of how to face a situation like this. Until the 93rd minute they were trying to equalise and that is something to highlight.”
However, Enrique was elusive on whether he would consider stepping down at the end of the campaign if Barca’s incredible collapse costs them the title.
“I am only interested in football. There is nothing more important for Barca fans than turning around this situation and we know the difficulty of the challenge, so I’m not interested in anything else.”

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