Lionel Messi reached another personal scoring milestone in Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Messi’s 643rd career goal for Barcelona since his 2004 debut matched Pele’s tally for Santos accumulated from 1957-74. Messi is Barcelona’s and the Spanish league’s all-time leading scorer.
The latest setback by Barcelona left Ronald Koeman’s team in fifth place and eight points adrift of league leader Atletico Madrid, which got two goals by Luis Suarez to beat Elche 3-1.
Messi canceled out Mouctar Diakhaby’s opener for Valencia when he scored in first half injury time moments after Jaume Domenech saved his penalty shot. Jordi Alba recovered the rebound of Domenech’s save and crossed it to the far post where Messi headed it in.
Central defender Ronald Araujo scored his first career goal for Barcelona with an acrobatic kick to put the hosts ahead at Camp Nou in the 53rd.
But Jose Gaya set up Maxi Gomez to hit back for Valencia in the 69th and split the points.
Koeman attributed the slip to the youth of his team, which he is trying to build around the veteran core of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Koeman gave consecutive starts to Araujo and Oscar Mingueza, both 21, and entrusted playmaking duties to 18-year-old Pedro “Pedri” Gonzalez. Sergino Dest, at 20, has become his undisputed starter at right back with Sergio Roberto injured.
“The age of some players can explain why there is a certain inconsistency because consistency comes from playing together for a long time,” Koeman said. “We lacked control and lost too many balls in defense sometimes. I saw my team have doubts.”
A botched marking scheme made it easier for Diakhaby to head in Valencia’s opener in the 29th when Antoine Griezmann — who is significantly shorter than the center back — lost his mark of him during a corner kick.
“We don’t have many tall players to defend their tallest ones . but we cannot leave anyone wide open,” Koeman said. “We have to at least be there, be engaged.”
Suarez’s goals were his first since he returned to action recently following his coronavirus infection. His double ensured Atletico bounced back from losing to Real Madrid 2-0, its first defeat in the competition since February.
Suarez isn’t the dominant scorer he was at Barcelona before changing clubs this summer, but he is still a world-class finisher when his teammates get him the ball in scoring position.
He showed subtle touch to roll a long pass by Kieran Trippier past on-rushing goalkeeper Edgar Badia before halftime, and in the 58th he slid to sweep home a low ball sent to the far post by Yannick Carrasco.
Lucas Boye headed one back for Elche in the 64th.
But substitute Diego Costa, who replaced Joao Felix after he took a hard knock, put the result beyond doubt when he earned and converted a penalty with 10 minutes remaining. It was Costa’s first appearance after missing seven games due to injury.
The league leaders moved three points clear of Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, which lost at Levante 2-1.
Levante overcame an opening goal by Sociedad to get a win that pulled it out of the relegation zone. Levante outplayed Sociedad in the second half and Jorge de Frutos blasted in the winner with three minutes remaining.
Sociedad has lost two in a row as it struggles without injured top scorer Mikel Oyarzabal and midfielder David Silva.
Sociedad hosts Atletico on Tuesday in an important match for the Basque team’s bid as an outsider title contender.
MORENO TOP SCORER
Spain striker Gerard Moreno scored his league-leading seventh and eighth goals to lead Villarreal’s 3-1 victory at 10-man Osasuna.
Osasuna lost Aridane Hernandez to a straight red card for pulling down Fernando Nino on a clear scoring occasion.
Fourth-placed Villarreal closed to within one point of Sociedad and Real Madrid, which visits Eibar on Sunday.
Sevilla faced Valladolid later Saturday.