Barça suffered a 3-2 loss to Valencia C.F on Saturday at the Camp Nou, handing Atlético Madrid a golden opportunity to go clear at the top of La Liga table.
Valencia were quick to capitalise on a lethargic Barcelona on home soil at the Camp Nou and the Catalan club’s decision not to sign a defender in the January transfer window may come back to haunt them after this.
The Catalans took the lead after just eight minutes via Alexis Sánchez but Valencia found a way back into the game just before half time courtesy of Dani Parejo.
After the break Valencia found the net with a Pablo Piatti header to make the score 1-2. 6 minutes after, Leo Messi made it 2 goals apiece with a penalty kick, his first league goal since last September.
Then on 58 minutes, Paco Alcacer slotted home the winner after a suspect Barcelona defence let Sofiane Feghouli find a way into the Catalan giant’s area.
To make matters worse, Jordi Alba was shown a second yellow card in the 78th minute, which put his team on the rack with little chance of levelling the scores again. Martino seemed worried about Barcelona’s apparent drop in play just after half an hour at the Camp Nou.
“I’m always worried after every one of our losses,” Martino said. “Despite us having played well for a while against Valencia, I’m very worried, much like the players are.”
Argentine Javier Mascherano refused to blame off field distractions that have surrounded the club these past two weeks.
“Their goal hurt us, and in the second half the team failed to respond,” said defender Javier Mascherano. “Today it wasn’t the distractions that beat us, but Valencia. The margin of error to be champions is zero.”
Recently recovered fellow countryman Leo Messi netted his 10th league goal in the 54th minute and first since last September.
Barcelona’s defence was caught sleeping five minutes later as Feghouli moved around three players to the goal line before laying the ball off for Alcacer, who shot past Valdes for the winner.
Leo Messi had a golden opportunity to draw the match and snatch a point in the second minute of extra time, but he shot wide after combining with Brazilian Dani Alves and Andres Iniesta to break free into the penalty area.