LAS PALMAS, Spain – La Liga leaders FC Barcelona stumbled on Thursday against UD Las Palmas and had to settle for a 1-1 draw that leaves them with a margin of just five points over second-place Atletico Madrid.
Barça were under pressure after Atleti demolished Leganes 4-0 to pull within four points of the Catalan club.
Coach Ernesto Valverde was true to his promise to treat the match with Las Palmas with the same seriousness as Sunday’s showdown with the Colchoneros at Camp Nou.
While Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic started the game on the bench, top scorer Luis Suarez – just one yellow card away from a suspension – was in the starting 11 along with Lionel Messi.
Las Palmas, sitting in 18th place with 20 points, took a high line, exposing themselves at the back and forcing their defenders to commit desperation fouls.
Messi gave the visitors a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute on a direct free kick, his first-ever goal in Gran Canaria Stadium, to put Barça in full control of the match.
But as the first half was drawing to a close, referee Mateu Lahoz emerged as a protagonist, declining to penalize Las Palmas keeper Chichizola when he touched the ball with his hand outside the 18-yard box.
Ruling that the hand ball was not deliberate, Lahoz kept his cards in his pocket.
Early in the second half, he awarded a penalty to Las Palmas after a confusing sequence in front of the Barcelona goal. Without making clear what the infraction was, Lahoz pointed to the spot and Jonathan Calleri converted to bring the hosts level.
As the minutes passed without a response, Valverde turned to his bench, sending in Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho and, in the final minutes, Ousmane Dembele, in hopes of going home with all three points.
But Las Palmas hung on to secure a draw that both players and fans celebrated as if it were a victory.