it was just two months ago that Luis Enrique gleefully admitted his pre-match team-talk amounted to saying ‘Abracadabra’ to his brilliant players and then watching the magic flow.
Now with just five games left the season looks like more like a vanishing trick with first the treble, and now the domestic double, disappearing before his eyes.
Barcelona can still win La Liga if they win all of their remaining games but they are running on empty. As coach Luis Enrique watched them try to comeback from an Ivan Rakitic own-goal and a Santi Mina strike he sent none of his substitutes to warm-up – a clear message to his board perhaps that they should have signed players in January.
It was a far better performance than the one that saw them going out of the Champions League. And when Pique desperately dragged a last minute shot wide he and several of his Barcelona team-mates dropped to the ground in disbelief – they had missed so many second half chances to win the game. But the only statistic that counts is the scoreline and it leaves them level on points with Atletico Madrid and only one ahead of Real Madrid.
Valencia took the lead on 26 minutes and the goal was the perfect illustration of how Barcelona have stepped off the gas pedal at the worst possible time of the season.
Andre Gomes had time and space to pick out attacking left-back Guilherme Siqueira, Sergio Roberto gave him the time and space to cross and when Rakitic deflected the centre it beat Claudio Bravo at his near post to put Valencia ahead.
The next goal also came down the Barcelona right. Again there was space in front of the home team’s back four. Dani Parejo made the most of it sliding Santi Mina through and he shot past Claudio Bravo for 2-0.
So much for dropping Dani Alves to tighten things up. Sergi Roberto’s inclusion ahead of him at right back had been the only outfield change after the Brazilian had donned wig and recorded himself on Instagram giving a ‘don’t worry darling, it’s only football,’ message to camera after the midweek Champions League exit. Not everyone had found it funny.
Frivoulous off the pitch Alves is one of those whose level had not dropped on the field but he watched the first 45 minutes from the sidelines as Barcelona dominated but missed chance after chance and after conceding two sloppy goals found themselves behind at the break. The shots count was 13 to three to Barcelona but only those efforts from Valencia had found the back of the net.
‘We will win again’ the huge banner draped behind one goal had read. It should have been against a Valancia side who shipped seven against Barça last time they played them here under Gary Neville.
Paco Ayesteran is the fourth manager to take charge of a Valencia side against Barcelona this season and his team should have been 1-0 behind after just six minutes when Suarez turned inside Javi Fuego and picked out Lionel Messi at the far post. He should have scored but instead hit his shot straight at Diego Alves.
Messi and Rakitic then swapped passes and this time it was Suarez whose finish was wayward. Neymar was the third of Barça’s front three to miss a chance trying to lob Alves in the the Valencia goal only for the Brazilian keeper to punch the effort clear.
Barça went route one for their next chance with keeper Bravo’s perfect punt forward releasing Messi who fed Neymar but Alves saved brilliantly again and then came the sucker-punch double at the other end.
Barça were back to missing chances again no sooner had the second period began. Messi sent Suarez to the byline and he screwed the ball back for Rakitic but somehow the Croatian completely missed the target.
Jordi Alba was even further from the target when he shot wide instead of crossing from the left.
He made amends moments later with the perfect pass for Messi to put Barça back in the game from the edge of the six-yard box.
The Argentine scored his first goal in five games and the Nou Camp believed again but there was to be no equaliser.
Man of the match Mascherano played the pass of night through to Rakitic with 15 minutes left but Diego Alves made his best save of the night to deny him.
He went down holding his side after the save and Luis Enrique was furious that more time was wasted. Suddently sitting back and enjoying the fantasy football has been replaced by nothing but frustration.
Frustration and fear that the major trophies are not going to be won by them this season.