Lionel Messi missed a slew of chances before squeezing home a late strike to give Barcelona a 1-0 win at third-placed Valencia in La Liga on Wednesday and stretch the champions lead over Real Madrid to 10 points.
With Barca looking like they might drop points for only the fourth time this season, the Argentina forward struck a low shot in the 77th minute at the Mestalla that spun just inside the post off the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.
Messi’s league leading 27th goal lifted Barca to 71 points from 26 matches. They have now won 12 of 13 away games, drawing last month at Sporting Gijon in their only slip-up on the road. They are also unbeaten in their last 20 away matches, beating a La Liga record set by Basque club Real Sociedad at the end of the 1970s.
Valencia defence holds off Messi
Messi should have put Barca ahead in the ninth minute at a noisy Mestalla in Valencia when he was denied three times in quick succession by some desperate defence.
He had another great chance when he was clean through in the 31st but his chipped effort landed on the roof of net and he also skewed a shot just wide of goal early in the second half.
Valencia, who had hassled and harried the Barca players throughout the match, had several good opportunities of their own but Pablo Hernandez and substitute Roberto Soldado were unable to convert.
Atletico were held to a 1-1 draw at city rivals Getafe and Bilbao squandered the lead to lose 2-1 at Real Zaragoza.
Guardiola in hospital for back pain
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was admitted to hospital overnight for treatment on acute lower back pain, the La Liga club said on Thursday.
Guardiola had to cancel a news conference on Tuesday because of the complaint and looked in pain during the match against Valencia.
His back problem comes at a crucial time for Barca. They have away matches at Sevilla and Villarreal in coming weeks and will attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Arsenal in their Champions League last-16, second leg at the Nou Camp on Tuesday.