Ten-man Valencia CF pulled off a stunning 4-2 win at FC Barcelona on Saturday while a narrow victory kept Real Sociedad at the top of the table.
In a battle of two UEFA Champions League challengers at the Camp Nou, Louis Van Gaal's side fell to a morale-sapping defeat against the reigning Spanish champions despite having a man advantage for more than half of the game.
Valencia had made a superb start to the match with Pablo Aimar opening the scorng after just 12 minutes before striker John Carew deepened the misery for the home team, beating Roberto Bonano with a header from a corner after 26 minutes.
The home supporters saw a glimmer of hope as Thiago Motta scored a superb individual goal, and the tide seemed to have turned Barcelona's way two minutes later when Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares was dismissed for a challenge on Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert outside the penalty area.
Substitute goalkeeper Andrés Palop came on to replace midfield player Ruben Baraja as Valencia took their narrow lead into the half-time interval, but few would have expected the champions to maintain that lead in the second half, let alone extend it.
However, as Kluivert failed to beat Palop with a chance seven minutes after the interval, Valencia's backs-to-the-wall defending began to pay dividends. With Roberto Ayala standing tall at the heart of the Valencia defence, there was no way through for Barcelona.
Seven minutes from time, Valencia horrified their hosts by scoring a third goal as Carew tackled Carles Puyol and laid the ball off for Fabio Aurelio to score with a low shot. Four minutes later, excellent play from David Albeda saw Francisco Rufete make it 4-1.
Kluivert pulled a goal back for the hosts a minute from time, finishing off a move with a shot from inside the area, but despite four minutes of added time, the Catalan side could not reduce the arrears.
Pressure on Van Gaal
Barcelona now lie just five points clear of the relegation zone and despite excellent performances in the Champions League, their poor domestic form means pressure is building on Van Gaal.
Valencia, meanwhile, remain eight points off the top of the table in third place after league leaders Real Sociedad secured a 1-0 win against RC Celta de Vigo.
Raynald Denouiex's side remain unbeaten in the league this season thanks to Francisco de Pedro's strike 20 minutes into the second half, but the Basque side had goalkeeper Sander Westerveld to thank for the three points.
The Dutch goalkeeper saved a penalty ten minutes from time as Celta threatened a late revival. The win leaves Real four points clear of Real Madrid CF at the top of the table, although Madrid can cut the gap to one point with a win in the derby game against Club Atlético de Madrid on Sunday.
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