Valencia 0 Barcelona 3: Eto'o returns in style but Messi misses Real test

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The Independent Football

As one door opens for Barcelona, another slams shut. Samuel Eto'o returned to full fitness and top form, but the architect of his two goals against Valencia, Lionel Messi, limped out of action and will miss next week's clasico against Real Madrid.

"It's very hard on us to lose our best player" said Eto'o of the hamstring strain that will keep the Argentine out for a month. Messi carved out opening after opening for Eto'o in a devastating first half-hour as Barcelona strolled through Valencia's defence at will.

The Cameroon striker scored his first on 12 minutes after receiving a pass from Messi and taking the ball past both Valencia central defenders, before lashing it into Santiago Canizares' top right-hand corner.

His second was drilled low and hard past the static 'keeper 14 minutes later. It finished a spellbinding move involving Eidur Gudjohnsen, Xavi and Messi and it also finished off Valencia.

It is often said of Barcelona that at their best they play a different game to everyone else so do Valencia at the moment, although theirs is not the sort that wins titles. They have now gone 580 minutes without scoring a goal and look devoid of all confidence under their new coach Ronald Koeman.

At the heart of much of Barcelona's good football was Gudjohnsen, who was preferred in midfield to Deco. The Barcelona manager, Frank Rijkaard, said afterwards: "He had a very good game. He supported the strikers, kept us calm with his passing and then crowned a great display with the third goal which was nothing more than he deserved."

That strike came on the hour a tap-in from a Giovani Dos Santos pass and the former Chelsea man, who is starting to win over the fans as a midfielder, having never convinced them as a striker, celebrated by running to the touchline and planting a kiss on Ronaldinho.

That was the only time the Brazilian left his seat in the dug-out. "It wasn't the game for him", said Rijkaard, having dropped him for the second successive away match. He is now being seen as a luxury Barcelona cannot afford on their travels.

In the Nou Camp next Sunday against Real Madrid, he is a more likely starter both he and Thierry Henry, who is still recovering from a back problem, will be needed in Messi's absence against the league leaders.

Valencia (4-3-3): Canizares; Miguel, Helguera, Marchena, Moretti (Lomban, 71); Montoro, Albelda, Joaquin (Mata, 65); Arizmendi, Morientes (Vicente, 42), Silva.

Barcelona (4-3-3):Valdes; Puyol, Marquez, Milito, Abidal; Xavi, Tour (Deco, 65), Gudjohnsen; Messi (Giovanni, 44), Iniesta, Eto'o (Bojan, 67).

Referee: E I Gonzalez.