Thierry Henry had a good hour's rest ahead of tomorrow night's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea – but then it was time to come off the bench and rescue a point for Barcelona as Valencia came within five minutes of beating the La Liga leaders.
Barcelona have of late been cruising through their marathon season of three competitions – all of which they could yet win – but they hit the wall at the Mestalla with goals from Pablo Hernandez and Hedwiges Maduro cancelling out Lionel Messi's first-half strike and taking them to the brink of a fourth league defeat of the season.
But Henry, introduced after an hour, hooked a looping shot just under the bar from the edge of the six-yard box to earn a valuable point ahead of what coach Pep Guardiola is calling the most important week of the year for the club.
Henry took heart from a Barcelona victory that for once owed as much to substance as it did to style. "We showed what courage we have as a side," he said. "That was the type of performance that wins you trophies. We lost our concentration twice and they made us pay, but we are a brave team and we came back. Now all our attention turns to Chelsea, Real Madrid, Chelsea again and then Villarreal."
Barcelona's first goal was another picture-book effort with Messi and Andres Iniesta playing two one-twos inside Valencia's penalty area. Iniesta looked poised to finish the move but waited as every available defender rushed towards him and then rolled the ball to the freed-up Messi who dispatched his 21st league goal in just 25 starts this season.
But the lead belied Valencia's superiority and they were unlucky when Carles Puyol pushed David Villa only for the referee to ignore claims for a penalty. Their two goals came just before half-time. Maduro beat Victor Valdes, with the Barcelona goalkeeper comically appealing for a foul unaware it had been his own team-mate, Puyol, who had clattered into him as he came more in hope than expectation to claim a corner.
Pablo then burst through to make it two just before the interval and, with Valencia looking far the stronger team in the second half, it was left to Henry to salvage a point.
Valencia goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez parried a cross into the striker's path and he lofted it back over the grounded ex-Tottenham player for his 17th league goal of the season.
"We are playing for the league and for the Champions League," said Guardiola of Barcelona's next two games against Chelsea and Real Madrid. "Now we have to rest and see as many Chelsea games as possible."
The Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita confirmed that the players had been given a crash course on tomorrow night's opponents. He said: "Chelsea is a rival that we have studied. We have watched them in Premier League and Champions League action. We know how physically strong they are and that they have players who can score goals from nothing."
*Kaka converted two penalties to lead Milan to a 3-0 win over Palermo, while Juventus were held to a 2-2 draw by last-place Reggina in Serie A yesterday. The Brazilian scored from the spot in both halves and veteran Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi maintained his good form with his 12th goal of the season.Reuse content