Messi equals Pelé’s 643 club goals, Barça held by Valencia

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi reached another personal scoring milestone in Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday.

Messi’s 643rd career goal for Barcelona since his 2004 debut matched Pelé’s tally for Santos from 1957-74. Messi is Barcelona’s and the Spanish league’s all-time leading scorer.

Pelé congratulated the Argentina forward on social media: “Like you, I know what it’s like to love wearing the same shirt every day. Like you, I know that there is nothing better than the place we feel at home.

“Congratulations on your historic record, Lionel,” Pelé said. “But above all, congratulations on your beautiful career at Barcelona. Stories like ours, of loving the same club for so long, unfortunately will be increasingly rare in football.”

The latest setback by Barcelona left Ronald Koeman’s team in fifth place and eight points adrift of league leader Atlético Madrid, which got two goals by Luis Suárez to beat Elche 3-1.

Messi canceled out Mouctar Diakhaby’s opener for Valencia when he scored in first half injury time moments after Jaume Domènech saved his penalty shot. Jordi Alba recovered the rebound of Domènech’s save and crossed it to the far post where Messi headed it in.

Central defender Ronald Araújo scored his first career goal for Barcelona with an acrobatic kick for 2-1 at Camp Nou in the 53rd.

But José Gayà set up Maxi Gómez to hit back for Valencia in the 69th and split the points.

GROWING PAINS

Koeman attributed the slip to the youth of his team, which he is trying to build around the veteran core of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Koeman gave consecutive starts to Araújo and Óscar Mingueza, both 21, and entrusted playmaking duties to 18-year-old Pedro “Pedri” González. Sergiño Dest, at 20, has become his undisputed starter at right back with Sergio Roberto injured.

“The age of some players can explain why there is a certain inconsistency because consistency comes from playing together for a long time,” Koeman said. “We lacked control and lost too many balls in defense sometimes. I saw my team have doubts.”

A botched marking scheme made it easier for Diakhaby to head in Valencia’s opener in the 29th when Antoine Griezmann — who is significantly shorter than the center back — lost his mark of him during a corner kick.

“We don’t have many tall players to defend their tallest ones … but we cannot leave anyone wide open,” Koeman said. “We have to at least be there, be engaged.”

SUÁREZ SCORES

Suárez’s goals were his first since he recovered from the coronavirus. His double ensured Atlético bounced back from losing to Real Madrid 2-0, its first defeat in the competition since February.

Suárez isn’t the dominant scorer he was at Barcelona before changing clubs this summer, but he is still a world-class finisher when his teammates get him the ball in scoring position.

He showed subtle touch to roll a long pass by Kieran Trippier past on-rushing goalkeeper Édgar Badía before halftime, and in the 58th he slid to sweep home a low ball sent to the far post by Yannick Carrasco.

Substitute Diego Costa, who replaced João Félix after he took a hard knock, put the result beyond doubt when he earned and converted a penalty with 10 minutes remaining in his first appearance after missing seven games due to injury.

The league leaders moved three points clear of Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, which lost at Levante 2-1.

SOCIEDAD UPSET

Levante overcame an opening goal by Sociedad to get a win that pulled it out of the relegation zone. Levante outplayed Sociedad in the second half and Jorge de Frutos blasted in the winner with three minutes remaining.

Sociedad has lost two in a row as it struggles without injured top scorer Mikel Oyarzabal and midfielder David Silva.

Sociedad hosts Atlético on Tuesday in an important match for the Basque team’s bid as an outsider title contender.

MORENO TOP SCORER

Spain striker Gerard Moreno scored his league-leading seventh and eighth goals to lead Villarreal’s 3-1 victory at 10-man Osasuna.

Osasuna lost Aridane Hernández to a straight red card for pulling down Fernando Niño on a clear scoring occasion.

Fourth-placed Villarreal closed to within one point of Sociedad and Real Madrid, which visits Eibar on Sunday.

Sevilla faced Valladolid later Saturday.

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