Lionel Messi, Barcelona Settle for Draw vs. Celta Vigo Without Luis Suarez

Rory Marsden@@roomarsdenFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2018

PONTEVEDRA, SPAIN - APRIL 17: (L-R) Jozabed Sanchez of Celta de Vigo, Paulinho of FC Barcelona  during the La Liga Santander  match between Celta de Vigo v FC Barcelona at the Estadio de Balaidos on April 17, 2018 in Pontevedra Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ernesto Valverde rung the changes for Barcelona's trip to Celta Vigo in La Liga on Tuesday and a 10-man Blaugrana had to cling on for a 2-2 draw at Balaidos to stretch their unbeaten record in the Spanish top flight to 40 successive matches.

It was a constant struggle for the champions-elect, and Celta looked more likely than most to end Barca's unbeaten run, especially as the visitors started without Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.

A first league goal in a Barca shirt from Ousmane Dembele put the Catalans ahead nine minutes from the break, but Jonny Otto equalised on the stroke of half-time. 

Paco Alcacer then netted Barca's second minutes after Messi came off the bench on the hour only for substitute Sergi Roberto to be given his marching orders for felling Iago Aspas 18 minutes from full-time.

Aspas bundled home Celta's second equaliser with eight minutes to go, and Barca just held on to earn a point.


Valverde Gamble Just Pays Off

Philippe Coutinho and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen were the only first-team regulars included in the starting XI by Valverde, per Goal:

Goal @goal

No Messi, no Suarez in a much-changed Barca team! https://t.co/wbu0xUvArq

The Barca manager clearly had his eye on Saturday's Copa del Rey final against Sevilla,  and it could easily have backfired.

When Aspas netted to make it 2-2 in the 82nd minute, Barca were at sixes and sevens. Sergi had been correctly dismissed just minutes after coming on with Messi, and it looked as though the Blaugrana's incredible run was more likely than not to come to an end.

However, somehow they clung on for a point and a record unbeaten run:

Sid Lowe @sidlowe

Barça still unbeaten. Somehow.

Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto

With their draw at Celta, Barcelona have set a new La Liga record for the longest unbeaten run from the start of the season – 33 games (W25 D8) The previous record of 32 games was held by Real Sociedad in 1979-80 (34-match season) #LaLiga https://t.co/QsiRgjGn0k

David Cartlidge @davidjaca

Fully expect Barcelona to go unbeaten now. Celta always one of their major tests every season and they’ve passed it…just. Ter Stegen vital in them doing so.


Barca Indebted to Ter Stegen

Ter Stegen has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in Europe this season and had to be at his best to keep his side in the contest on Tuesday. 

He showed brilliant reflexes and awareness to save a point-blank effort from Maxi Gomez in the 10th minute and was at full stretch when keeping out Brais Mendez's shot just before Dembele's opener. 

In the final throes of a thrilling and ramshackle contest, he then did just enough to put off Lucas Boye, who should have netted the winner after being played in behind the defence.

Per Spanish football writer Rafael Hernandez, few have been more important to Barca's current run than the German stopper:

Rafael Hernández @RafaelH117

Ter Stegen, half of this unbeaten run is on him. Holy shit.


Jonny in the Box 

Celta had the better of the first half but looked set to be heading into the break behind after a brilliant Dembele left-footed half-volley, per Sky Sports LaLiga:

Sky Sports LaLiga @SkyRevista

WATCH: It's Ousmane Dembele's first La Liga goal and it's a superb strike! 🚀 Will Barcelona need to bring on the big guns to keep their undefeated record going? 💪 Watch the second-half live on Sky Sports Football! https://t.co/1oXvGyLiLl

However, defender Jonny produced a poacher's finish just two yards from goal to turn home a fizzed Maxi Gomez ball from the right on the stroke of half-time.

It was the least the hosts deserved and they continued to look superior in the second half.

The introduction of Messi did have an effect, though. The Argentinian's very presence caused Celta to sit a little deeper, and it soon led to Barca's second as Alcacer touched home at the near post following Paulinho's initial effort. 


What's Next?

Barca travel to Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano to face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday as they aim to win the tournament for a fourth time in succession.

Meanwhile, Celta are back in La Liga action on Saturday when they host Valencia.