BARCELONA: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Cadiz CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona yesterday. – AFP

MADRID: Barcelona compounded their Champions League misery at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain by drawing yesterday at home to Cadiz, who scored an 89th-minute penalty to snatch a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi broke a Barcelona record by making his 506th La Liga appearance for the club and marked the milestone with a goal, his own spot-kick looking likely to secure a narrow win for his side.

But Barca failed to score a second despite a hatful of chances and Cadiz punished them with a late equalizer, Alex Fernandez converting from the spot after a wild swing from Clement Lenglet. The draw means Ronald Koeman’s side move only one point closer to Atletico Madrid in the table instead of three, after Atletico gave their rivals an opportunity by losing at home to Levante on Saturday.

Barcelona had won their previous seven games and another victory would have put them back within touching distance of Atletico, even if La Liga’s leaders have played one game fewer. Instead, Koeman is left to reflect on a hugely disappointing week for his team, that saw them hammered 4-1 by PSG on Tuesday and slip up at home to relegation-battling Cadiz.

Barca had 21 shots to Cadiz’s three but having failed to capitalize, they were always vulnerable to a lapse at the back, which the out-of-form Lenglet duly provided. Fernandez held his nerves to score the equalizer, an even more memorable goal for him perhaps as a Real Madrid fan and brother of Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez.

Messi’s goal was his 16th of the season, drawing him level with Atletico’s Luis Suarez at the top of the La Liga charts. The 33-year-old cooly rolled the ball into the corner after Pedri was stopped from breaking through, sandwiched between Salvi and Isaac Carcelen. Both Frenkie de Jong and Pedi had goals ruled out for offside while Messi almost teed up Antoine Griezmann early in the second half. Ousmane Dembele’s driving run lacked a finish too. Then Cadiz’s moment came, a long ball launched into the box and Lenglet failing to spot Ruben Sobrino arriving behind him. Lenglet swung a leg but Sobrino touched the ball away first, allowing Fernandez a special equalizer.

Real Madrid back
Real Madrid were back within touching distance of the top of La Liga after they punished another Atletico Madrid slip against Levante on Saturday by beating Real Valladolid 1-0. Atletico had the chance to stretch their lead to 11 points this week by winning back-to-back games against Levante but instead they followed a 1-1 draw on Wednesday with a surprise 2-0 loss, meaning a five-point advantage became only six.

Real Madrid cranked up the pressure again by edging to a win over struggling Real Valladolid, Casemiro’s second-half header cutting the gap to just three points, albeit with Atletico still owning a game in hand.

The swing in momentum comes at a bad time for Atletico, who face Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday, and it feels significant given it has coincided with a resurgence, in La Liga at least, for their chasing rivals. Real Madrid’s victory at the Jose Zorilla Stadium was their fourth in a row, three of those coming with clean sheets, which suggests a return to form for a defence that all but clinched them the title last season.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have done it without several key players too. Karim Benzema is the latest absentee through injury, joining the likes of Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal on the sidelines. Benzema is struggling to be fit in time for Real Madrid’s Champions League game away at Atalanta on Wednesday. It meant a rare start for Mariano Diaz up front against Valladolid, while Isco was the only senior player on the bench.

Atletico undone
Atleti’s defeat was only their second in the league this season and their first at the Wanda Metropolitano in any competition since Barca beat them there in December 2019. They have now gone seven league games without a clean sheet, their longest run since Simeone became coach in 2011, and their hopes of tightening up will not be helped by an injury to Jose Gimenez, who hobbled off and may not be fit to face Chelsea.

Due to rearranged fixtures, they were facing Levante for the second time in four days and Levante proved their draw in midweek was no fluke, even if they had to survive 28 Atletico shots before the final whistle blew. Luis Suarez went closest to finding an equalizer, his bending free-kick in the second half coming back off the post. Suarez has now gone three league games without scoring for the first time this season.

Jose Luis Morales had already put Levante in front with a deflected finish off Felipe and while Atletico huffed and puffed, they were unable to find a way past Levante’s inspired goalkeeper Dani Cardenas. Cardenas made 10 saves, the most from any La Liga keeper without conceding this term. Atletico’s goalkeeper Jan Oblak then went up for a corner in injury-time, leaving Jorge de Frutos to make it two from the halfway line by launching into an open net.

For an hour, it looked like Real Madrid might suffer similar frustration against a determined Valladolid, who would have led had it not been for a string of excellent saves by Thibaut Courtois. Courtois had to pull off a double stop to deny Fabian Orellana and Saidy Janko in the first half and then in the second blocked Orellana, who had been bizarrely set up by Ferland Mendy launching a ball across his own penalty area.

The Belgian kept Madrid in it and then Casemiro put them in front. Casemiro had been allowed two free headers already by Valladolid’s defense and he pounced at the third opportunity, nodding in Toni Kroos’ free-kick to give Real Madrid hope. – AFP