Barcelona lost ground in the La Liga title race as they were held to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors started brightly and after Gerard Pique was denied by the crossbar in the opening stages, Luis Suarez soon gave Quique Setien’s side the lead after Lionel Messi outfoxed Celta’s attempt to stop the Argentine from scoring directly from a free-kick to find Suarez lurking at the back post.
Celta responded well to going a down, however, as Iago Aspas spurned a couple of promising openings in transition and Marc-Andre ter Stegen deflected Brais Mendez’s deft dink onto the post.
Barca were impressive going forward, though, and they should’ve doubled their lead before the break through Ansu Fati then Messi – who uncharacteristically missed the most typical Messi finish from just outside the area.
The hosts eventually exposed Barca’s unbalanced defensive line in transition shortly after the restart through Fedor Smolov to restore parity, before Suarez grabbed his second of the game after the hour mark following some tenacious work from Nelson Semedo to win the ball back.
Celta pegged back the Catalans for a second time late on though, as Aspas craftily rounded to wall from a free-kick to beat a stationary ter Stegen just two minutes from time. It could’ve got worse for Barcelona in the dying embers, but Nolito fluffed his lines when presented with a glorious chance.
The result means Real Madrid will take a two-point lead at the top if they overcome Espanyol on Sunday night.
Starting XI: Blanco (6); Vazquez (6), Aidoo (7), Saenz (6), Araujo (6), Gonzalez (5); Mendez (6), Okay (7), Suarez (6); Aspas (6), Smolov (6).
Subs: Nolito (5), Rafinha (8), Bradaric (6), Murillo (7), Santa Mina (5)
Key Talking Point
With Celta set-up in a deep 5-3-2, this one was – once again – about how well Barcelona could break down a low block. They had struggled past Athletic’s back five last time out and were stifled by a dogged Sevilla unit the game before that.
This time around, it was a game of two halves for Setien’s men.
With Ivan Rakitic serving as the metronome in front of the back four and the dynamic Riqui Puiq thrust into the starting XI following his game-changing performance off the bench last time out, Barca circulated possession at a much faster tempo in the opening period, while width was constantly being provided by both full-backs – challenging the hosts’ compactness.
While they struggled to create clear cut chances, they were able to work plenty of openings as a result of their improved build-up play and structure in attacks against a deep block.
The second period saw them revert to their slow tempo in attack, and a Rafinha-inspired Celta put the visitors firmly on the back foot following the Brazilian’s introduction. In the end, they were fortunate to escape with a point after Aspas levelled late on.
Setien still has much to work on despite signs of improvement in the first half. They were appalling in defensive transition today.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (7); Semedo (6), Pique (7), Umtiti (6), Alba (7); Vidal (6), Rakitic (8), Puig (7); Messi (7), Suarez (8*), Fati (7).
Subs: Braithwaite (5), Griezmann (5), Firpo (5), Arthur (5).
Was his overall influence on proceedings limited? Sure. But we saw more indication of Luis Suarez returning to his best on Saturday afternoon with a well-taken brace.
While he has the genius of Messi to thank for his first, his second was vintage Suarez.
After Semedo counter-pressed brilliantly in the Celta box to win back possession, the ball eventually fell to Messi who subtly slid a pass across to a marked Suarez. The Uruguayan, however, used his body expertly to create just a yard of space before toe-poking his left-footed effort into the far corner.
It’s a pity, however, that it didn’t prove to be the winner.
Barcelona host Atletico Madrid in a crunch encounter on Tuesday night before travelling to Villarreal next weekend for another tricky test.
Celta, meanwhile, visit Mallorca in the week – with a win in that one all but securing their status in La Liga for next season.