Barcelona forward Robert Lewandowski scored the winner in the 93rd minute as they beat Valencia 1-0 on Saturday to move provisionally level on points with Real Madrid in La Liga.
With the game heading for what appeared to be a goalless draw, Barcin’s Raphinha cross into the box was acrobatically tapped home by the stretching Lewandowski for the Polish forward’s 13th league goal of the season.
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The result means Xavi Hernandez’s side, who were relegated from the Champions League in midweek, have 31 points from 12 games — the same as Real, who host second-placed Girona on Sunday.
“It was a really important win, especially considering how it came at the last second,” Xavi said. “We never stopped believing. We played with some trepidation, elimination from the Champions League hit us hard.
“We tried to separate ourselves, but it’s difficult. We didn’t make good decisions. When we had to pass, we shot. And when we had to shoot, we passed. It was all anxiety.”
Barcelona created plenty of chances in the first half, but Valencia’s backline held firm, with goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili denying Ansu Fati, while Lewandowski also saw a header wide of the post.
The hosts were dealt a major blow with 18 minutes on the clock when their top scorer Edinson Cavani, who has scored four goals for the club in their last three matches, went off with an ankle injury.
Valencia’s Samuel Lino thought he had opened the scoring four minutes into the second half and the Mestalla crowd erupted, but the referee overruled it after a VAR check as Marcos Andre got a hand to the cross.
Barca’s Ferran Torres had a glorious chance to score against his former club, but failed to make good contact with the ball from a few yards out. However, a goal from Lewandowski a few minutes later ensured Xavi’s side took all three points.
“The goal is quality,” said Xavi. “Robert’s there to make the difference. I thought it might be ruled out for offside with the run we’re in right now. But we’ve got to improve. We’ve got to make better decisions.
“It could have been a draw and there would have been drama. It shouldn’t be like that. We’ve made a lot of progress, we’re on the right track, but there’s more [to improve].”
The Catalan club had a scare when French defender Jules Kounde went off with an apparent injury in the 74th minute and was replaced by Gerard Pique, but Xavi said after the game that it was nothing serious.
“Kounde made a great effort to recover quickly from his injury, we needed him,” added Xavi. “He felt it, but I was told it wasn’t serious. We’ll see tomorrow.”
Valencia manager Gennaro Gattuso pointed to his side’s mistakes as an undoing, but said they were still on the right track.
“When you play against a team like Barcelona, you can’t make any mistakes,” Gattuso said. “You have to keep going until the 96th minute. The team was brave. We only had two players in midfield. I have to congratulate the team for their attitude and mentality.
“The team is alive. We have to keep working, not talk so much and work very hard.”