Barcelona maintain seven-point gap with away win at Valencia

Barcelona’s 1-0 win at Valencia saw them maintain the seven-point gap at the top of La Liga. Rivals Real Madrid cut the gap on Thursday evening after watching Barca temporarily extend the lead to ten-points. The Catalans finally overcame their Mestalla hoo-doo under Guardiola courtesy of Lionel Messi’s 43rd goal of the season 13 minutes from time.

With Guardiola’s record at the Mestalla combined with Valencia’s recent run of good form that had seen them go unbeaten in the league since losing to Real at the Santiago Bernabeu in early December, Wednesday’s game may have disappointed neutrals (and Real) particularly as the home side did not pose the kind of challenge to Barcelona that many would have expected.

Central defender Gerard Pique reflected on the significance of the three points: “It was very important to win there and strike a blow”, he said. “We are in a very good position in the league.”

Midfield dynamo Xavi Hernandez echoed the thoughts of his team-mate: “This was a very good win. Points like these are what could win us the title”, he said.

The win was Barca’s 1400th victory in the league since its formation way back in 1928 and, astonishingly, the 20th league game unbeaten away from the Camp Nou. La Blaugrana have remained unbeaten since Valentine’s Day of 2010 when they lost 2-1 at Atletico Madrid, breaking the La Liga record set by Real Sociedad between 1979 and 1980.

The month of March presents a mixed set of challenges for the Catalans. Home games against Zaragoza and Getafe could be seen as nailed-on wins for Guardiola’s men. However, putting the visit of Arsenal in the Champions League to one side, Barca’s trip to Sevilla stands out from the fixture-list as the proverbial banana skin.

Xavi also highlighted the importance of maintaining a winning mentality: “There are still some difficult games to play. There’s a lot at stake. But we’re optimistic”, he said. “We are pleased with the team dynamic, the way we’re playing and the attitude.”

Off the field, the club have also announced that manager Pep Guardiola has been diagnosed with a herniated disk in his lower back. Despite feeling well enough to attend the fixture at Valencia, his presence on the touchline on Saturday will depend on his reaction to a series of treatments. Meanwhile, assistant coach Tito Vilanova will remain in charge of first-team affairs.

On a brighter note for the Catalans, supporters will be cheered by the sight of captain Carles Puyol returning to first-team training after a knee injury had kept him out for the last month.

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