Barcelona rally to draw 2-2 at Valencia

Cesc Fabregas scored for the fourth straight game to salvage a 2-2 draw for Barcelona at Valencia as the defending champions avoided defeat on a night when top rival Real Madrid was held 0-0 at Racing Santander.

Updated: September 22, 2011 09:59 IST
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Valencia: Cesc Fabregas scored for the fourth straight game to salvage a 2-2 draw for Barcelona at Valencia as the defending champions avoided defeat on a night when top rival Real Madrid was held 0-0 at Racing Santander.

Lionel Messi continued his prolific partnership with the former Arsenal player by setting him up for the 77th-minute equalizer as the Catalans twice rallied from deficits.

While Barcelona salvaged a point, Madrid staggered to a lackluster result on the Cantabrian coast, marking the first time the Spanish powerhouse has played consecutive league games without a win since the arrival of coach Jose Mourinho.

Madrid showed little improvement from its 1-0 loss to Levante on Sunday despite a revamped lineup, and failed to create a single clear scoring chance before halftime.

"At the end, the points are all that matters and we have let five points slip away from home. It is worrying, yes," Mourinho said. "In the first half we didn't play much. In the second half we did reach the opponents' territory, but we didn't have many chances to score."

It was Barcelona's third 2-2 draw in the last two weeks, but this time it came away with relief rather than disappointment at having a lead slip away.

"They had a great first part, we were better in the second, but we just lacked scoring that third goal," Fabregas said. "I just want to help the team, that is the important thing. The truth is that right now we are not interested in Madrid."

Valencia remained the overnight leader with 10 points, one better than Real Betis and Malaga, which beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 thanks to Santi Cazorla's exquisite second-half free kick. Bilbao has now lost three straight under new coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Barcelona has eight points while Madrid is left with seven. Atletico Madrid also has seven after Radamel Falcao continued his impressive start in Spain by scoring a brace to lead the club to a 4-0 victory over winless Sporting Gijon.

Real Betis can go top with 12 points with a fourth straight win to start the season Thursday when Zaragoza visits the newly promoted club.

With center back Gerard Pique missing, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola again started in a 3-4-3 formation, and the team again lacked stability in defense. Fullback Daniel Alves moved up to play as a winger in place of David Villa, as the former Valencia striker started on the bench in his return to the Mestalla stadium.

Valencia broke through in the 12th when Roberto Soldado pressured Eric Abidal to deflect Jeremy Mathieu's cross into goal, leaving goalkeeper Victor Valdes with no chance.

Messi's wizardry cued Barcelona's response as the Argentina forward dribbled along the edge of area, drawing several Valencia players before sliding through to Pedro Hernandez to draw the visitors even for the first time.

But the lack of bodies in Barcelona's backfield allowed Valencia to spring forward from the flanks and Abidal was caught flat-footed by another Mathieu pass, with the ball getting through to Pablo Hernandez alone inside the area to slot home for 2-1.

With Mathieu and Soldado threatening, Guardiola dropped Alves back to his normal role and reverted to a 4-4-2 after the restart. Soldado still had a couple of chances in front of goal but misfired both times.

Valencia's physical play kept Messi and Fabregas in check, although Mascherano hit the crossbar with a long-range shot in the 69th.

But Messi finally broke free to set up Fabregas with his seventh assist of the season, and then nearly set up Villa - who had come on as a substitute - for the winner, but Guaita made the save.

Valencia finished with 10 men after Jordi Alba was sent off in the dying minutes.

In the Spanish capital, Atletico completely outplayed last-place Sporting with Falcao scoring twice in a nine-minute span following an own-goal by Alberto Lora a header from Alvaro Dominguez. The former FC Porto striker has five goals in two games to join Messi and Soldado as joint-leader. Cazorla and Ronaldo are next with four each.

"Without a doubt, we have signed a great striker that is going to be on the level of the great scorers in Spain like Messi and Ronaldo," Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano said.

Elsewhere, Levante got its second straight with a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano.

On Tuesday, Villarreal beat Mallorca 2-0 for its first win of the season. Sevilla drew 0-0 at Osasuna, and Real Sociedad edged Granada 1-0.

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