The La Liga defending champions Barcelona were held to a 2-2 draw by Espanyol on Saturday as China striker Wu Lei came off the bench to seal the deal with a late equaliser in a highly contested derby.
The current La Liga leaders suffered a major set back as Frenkie de Jong was sent off against the team which is languishing at the bottom of the table. David Lopez opened the scoring for Espanyol in the match as he headed one past Neto.
The slender lead was cancelled out early in the second half as Luis Suarez found the back of the net. After Arturo Vidal scored the second goal for the Catalan club it looked like they have secured a victory but Wu Lei had some other plans in mind. The 28-year-old winger scored the equaliser with two minutes left on the clock and secured a point for the hosts.
Barca still top the standings on goal difference after 19 games but they are level on points with second-placed Real Madrid, who beat Getafe 3-0 earlier on Saturday.
"We did the hardest thing which is to come from behind away from home and take the lead so it feels like two points dropped," Suarez said.
"It's always tougher with one player less, as the opponent starts to grow in confidence but it's not an excuse. We are the champions and we are obliged to win every game so we need to come up with some solutions."
Valverde said the sending-off had been crucial.
"De Jong's red card did us a lot of damage, we had three chances to finish them off then with one chance they equalised," the coach said.
"Everything was in our favour then we were knocked out of shape. We feel bad because we wanted all three points."
Valverde's side went into their first match of the new year top of the table while Espanyol were bottom but hoping for a new lease of life in their first game under Abelardo Fernandez, their third coach of the season.
Espanyol had not beaten their more glamorous neighbours in the league since 2009 but they made an excellent start and deservedly went ahead in the 23rd minute when defender Lopez escaped his marker to nod home Marc Roca's free kick.
Barca did not create their first clear chance until Lionel Messi headed a cross into the arms of Espanyol keeper Diego Lopez towards the end of the first half, while Suarez smacked a post moments later.
Valverde took decisive action at the start of the second half by hooking Ivan Rakitic for Vidal, who last month filed a complaint to Spain's players' union over an unpaid bonus.
Barca soon levelled when Suarez prodded Jordi Alba's cross into the near bottom corner.
The Uruguayan then turned provider, finding Vidal's head with a stylish cross with the outside of his boot.
Barca looked intent on killing their opponents off but a mistake from De Jong made him panic and commit a foul which led to his second booking and the champions were suddenly on the back foot.
Espanyol's Wu came close to equalising when his header was saved by Barca's stand-in goalkeeper Neto, but the Chinese forward soon got the better of the Brazilian to give his coach Abelardo a memorable debut against his former side.
(With inputs from agency)