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Pique rescues 10-man Barcelona to draw 

BARCELONA, September 24

Barcelona’s 100 percent winning start to the season came to a halt on Sunday when they were held to a 2-2 La Liga draw by Girona, having been reduced to 10 men for the final 55 minutes.

The result meant Barca lost their two-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of the table, with both teams on 13 points after five games.

Sevilla compensated for last week’s surprise home defeat to Getafe by resoundingly thrashing Levante 6-2 away, Real Betis battled back to draw 2-2 at home to Athletic Bilbao and Valencia are still without a win after being held to a goalless draw at Villarreal. 

Lionel Messi gave the champions the lead in the 19th minute with a first-time shot after a layoff from Chile international Arturo Vidal and came close to doubling the lead after dancing through a maze of defenders but saw his shot saved.

Barca’s strong start was derailed when defender Clement Lenglet was sent off 35 minutes into his first league start for the club after elbowing Pere Pons, a decision made after referee Jesus Gil Manzano consulted the video assistant referee (VAR) and which enraged Barca’s players and supporters.

Girona took advantage of the situation right before the interval when Cristhian Stuani freed himself from Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets with an impressive piece of control and fired past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Uruguayan striker Stuani scored again on the rebound in the 51st to give Girona, playing only their second season in Spain’s top flight, an unlikely lead. The Catalans continued to dominate proceedings despite their numerical disadvantage and they almost equalised when Messi sent a free kick crashing against the crossbar.

Pique headed in the leveller in the 63rd minute by climbing above two defenders to meet a scrappy, deflected cross from Luis Suarez after coach Ernesto Valverde had put on Ivan Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho for the underperforming Vidal and Arthur. “The sending-off conditioned the game a lot and we had the bad luck to concede right at the end of the first half, it affected us a lot and we couldn’t turn it around,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde. “It’s the first sending-off where I’ve seen the player who received the foul apologised.” 

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