Barcelona 1 Real Valladolid 0: Hit and miss as Messi gets job done

Ex-Barcelona goalkeeper Jordi Masip saved a penalty from Lionel Messi but an earlier successful conversion sunk Valladolid at Camp Nou.

Messi's goal against Valladolid made him the first player from the top five European leagues to reach 30 goals this season in all competitions.   -  Getty Images

Lionel Messi netted his 30th goal of the season before missing his second penalty of the game as leader Barcelona returned to winning ways in La Liga with a 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid.

Gerard Pique won the 43rd-minute spot kick that proved the difference between the sides but, following back-to-back draws against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao in the top flight, Ernesto Valverde's men were again short of their fluent best.

Those previous results and Atletico Madrid's win over third-bottom Rayo Vallecano earlier on Saturday meant Barca went into the game with its now-restored lead at the top trimmed to four points.

Former Blaugrana goalkeeper Jordi Masip impressed in goal for Valladolid, not least after substitute Philippe Coutinho won a second penalty and he plunged to his left to deny Messi.

Referee Juan Martinez Munuera rejected earlier penalty claims from Kevin-Prince Boateng on his first La Liga start but was persuaded by Pique's slightly theatrical fall under Michel's clumsy challenge.

Masip guessed correctly to his left but was beaten for power and accuracy by Messi, before Pique made himself useful in his own box – getting a vital touch with Enes Unal poised to convert Nacho's cross.

READ | Stability and thriving Messi - Why Barca is keeping Valverde

Sergi Guardiola dragged a shot wide as Valladolid continued to acquit itself well in the second half, although it was indebted to a stunning reaction save from Masip as he denied Messi on the half-volley.

The visiting keeper scrambled from his line effectively to snuff out danger after Boateng sprung a flimsy offside trap in the 55th minute.

Luis Suarez replaced the ex-AC Milan attacker with an hour played and he was soon thwarted by Masip in a one-on-one.

Messi's frustrations approached boiling point as he was booked for protests following a robust challenge from Anuar Mohamed.

He would prove the match-winner, even if Masip did his mood no favours five minutes from time, calmly pouching his headed follow-up from the penalty save.

What does it mean? Barcelona doing enough but nothing more

This was certainly not the performance Valverde will have wanted in the week he signed a surprise contract renewal at Camp Nou. Victory guaranteed Barcelona will return to European action next week holding at least a six-point advantage at La Liga's summit, with Real Madrid in action against Girona on Sunday.

But the coming months look likely to arrive with some uncomfortable questions. Again Valverde rested key players and the supporting cast failed to convince, while recent displays have more in common with the humbling Champions League exits to Juventus and Roma in the past two seasons than more glorious campaigns.

Masip enjoys Camp Nou return

Never more than a peripheral figure at Barcelona – Saturday's appearance doubled his amount of La Liga appearances at Camp Nou – La Masia graduate Masip was superb on his return. The early second-half save from Messi was the game's outstanding moment until he denied the great man again from 12 yards. A remarkable stop from Suarez in stoppage time completed a fabulous body of work.

Alena fails to grab opportunity

The academy that reared Masip is more famous for producing playmaking midfielders, although the well has run dry in that regard of late. Carles Alena is the outstanding talent of the most recent crop, a tidy and elegant central operator. But his radar was askew here, with several passes misplaced in clanging fashion. Alena's start came as Ivan Rakitic was rested, but Valverde tellingly summoned the Croatia star in his place 14 minutes from time.

Key Opta facts

- Lionel Messi attempted 12 shots against Valladolid, the most by a player in a game in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

- Masip is the goalkeeper with the most penalties saved in the top five European leagues this season (three - level with Cardiff City’s Neil Etheridge).

- Messi is the first player from the top five European leagues to reach 30 goals this season in all competitions.

- Valverde has managed his 410th La Liga game, becoming 15th in the list of managers with the most games in the competition.

- Barcelona has collected 54 points in 24 games in La Liga this season, the lowest total by a top side at this stage since 2006-07 (also Barcelona with 49 points).

- Pique has become the third defender in La Liga history to reach 300 appearances for Barcelona, after Carles Puyol (392) and Migueli (391).

What's next

Barcelona travels to Lyon in the last-16 of the Champions League on Tuesday before a tough away assignment in La Liga next weekend at Sevilla, whose city rival Real Betis is Valladolid’s visitor.

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