La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-1 Real Valladolid: Match Review

David Ramos

A recap of Barcelona's 4-1 La Liga victory over Real Valladolid on Saturday at the Camp Nou

FC Barcelona came from behind to dominate lowly Real Valladolid on Saturday evening, scoring three second-half goals to win 4-1 at the Camp Nou. The win ensures that Barcelona will finish the weekend on top spot in La Liga and that Barça’s 100% record stretches on for at least another matchday. Javi Guerra’s early header handed the visitors a shock lead, but goals from Alexis Sánchez (2), Xavi and Neymar secured the three points in what was a good performance from the Blaugrana.

Barcelona

Real Valladolid

Possession

73%

27%

Total Shots

21

7

Shots on Target

8

1

Pass Accuracy

92%

74%

Fouls

7

15

Offsides

2

3

Yellow Cards

0

3

Red Cards

0

0

Gerardo Martino continued his popular rotation policy, leaving the likes of Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta and Pedro on the bench, allowing Brazilian summer signing Neymar to start as the side’s "false nine". As a result, Cesc Fàbregas started alongside Xavi and Alex Song in midfield, while Cristian Tello started on the left-wing looking to recover the form that singled him out as one of the club’s better forwards throughout last season.

Barcelona started the match strongly, pushing the ball around a slick surface at the Camp Nou in an attempt to engineer an early goal against a tight Real Valladolid defense. Working the ball from the left-hand side of midfield, Barça nearly created themselves an early chance as Alexis Sánchez again looked to feed Cesc Fàbregas, today electing for a low cross which was well cleared by former Barça youth-teamer, Marc Valiente. Valiente scored an own-goal the last time these two sides met in an eventual 2-1 win for the Blaugrana, but the early indications was that he was going to make up for that performance tonight.

Despite his impressive start to the match, Barcelona continued to chip away at the Valladolid defense, again heavily favouring that right-hand side, which was relying heavily on the creativity of Chilean forward, Alexis Sánchez. While Sánchez does leave a lot to be desired in front of goal, he is an incredibly selfless player who combines to excellent effect with Fàbregas. Picking out the Catalan midfielder with a simple cut-back, Sánchez also created the game’s second chance – a chance that Cesc wastefully ballooned over the crossbar.

Barcelona may have failed to capitalise on a couple of chances, but surely it wouldn’t matter? Their quality was on display and eventually Valladolid would falter, right?

Wrong, Valladolid held firm at the back and on the rare occasion that they ventured forward, they caused the Blaugrana some problems. Marc Bartra was forced to concede a corner on nine minutes and a minute later the visitors took the lead; Patrick Ebert’s delivery was sublime and Javi Guerra predictably beat Adriano to head the ball into the far corner of Victor Valdés net. Against all the odds, Valladolid were ahead at the Camp Nou.

Their delight however was to be short-lived, Barcelona weren’t shocked by the goal – far from it – they were incensed. Marc Bartra of all people was leading the charge, testing Diego Marino’s resolve with a venomous long-range effort on the 12 minute mark, earning Barça a corner kick for his troubles. Barcelona moved quickly and efficiently to take a short corner, working the ball from the left-hand side of the field to Cristian Tello in the centre who in turn supplied Alexis Sánchez on the right.

What would Sánchez do with the ball? As mentioned earlier, Alexis is a selfless player, but maybe that’s where he has been going wrong – this time the Chilean chose the selfish option and reaped the rewards, blasting a shot into the roof of Marino’s net. He was helpless, Alexis was joyous and Barcelona were level.

Moments later, the hosts could have completed the comeback; Neymar’s quick turn left a defender for dead and enabled the Brazilian to supply Cristian Tello with a superb through ball – but Tello hesitated at the vital moment, allowing Marino enough time to rush from goal and close down the angle. With little to aim at, Tello side-footed his shot right at Marino’s torso, wasting a great chance to put his name on the scoresheet.

At the opposite end, Patrick Ebert was also guilty of over-elaborating when presented with a decent chance, opting for a spectacular overhead kick, which naturally flew well wide of the target. Zakarya Bergdich, a summer signing from RC Lens was also wreaking havoc, only to lose his composure at the final moments, either wasting a chance, or allowing Marc Bartra to recover and make a timely intervention. Certainly Valladolid were creating chances, but they just couldn’t capitalise.

In their defense, Barcelona were just as wasteful, although at least Barça could point to Diego Marino, the Valladolid keeper, who had to be in top-form to deny Neymar in a one-on-one. The Brazilian had raced clear of the Valladolid back-line after a superb pass from Cesc Fàbregas and must be wondering what he needs to do to score goals – technically speaking there was absolutely nothing wrong with his shot, but Marino was still equal to the effort.

Perhaps more frustratingly though, Neymar’s previous reputation (whether he earned it or not at Santos) was also counting against him; twice he was taken out in the penalty area and twice the referee looked the other end. On the latter occasion, the contact was obvious for all to see – yet the referee was unmoved, signalling for play to continue.

It’s difficult to imagine that the referee would have made a similar "no-call" if it was Lionel Messi being brought down in the area, but clearly it’s asking too much for the officials to be impartial and objective...

Without any luck in front of goal or with the decisions of the officials, Barcelona entered the half-time break level with their lowly opponents – could they turn it around in the second-half, or would their 100% start really end at the hands of Real Valladolid?

Neither manager opted to make a change at the interval; Valladolid were obviously content with the scoreline while Martino deemed it to be too early to make a switch – there was still plenty of time for Barcelona to improve after all. On the other hand, could he afford to gamble? Dropping points to Valladolid would be seen as nothing short of abject failure by every section of the media; why not try to avert a possible "crisis" by introducing the likes of Sergio Busquets to the action?

Maybe that’s just my insecurity, Martino kept the faith and was duly rewarded – Neymar’s trickery and close control in the dribble created space for Cristian Tello who squared a delightful cross to the feet of Xavi. The captain made no mistake, gently guiding the pass into the bottom corner of Diego Marino’s goal, handing Barcelona a deserved lead at the Camp Nou.

Tello’s assist was not only crucial in this match, but it also served as a reminder of his talents, particularly on the left-hand side of attack – a point that he hammered home a few minutes afterwards, rattling the crossbar with a speculative, yet sublime long-range effort. Curling the shot in trademark fashion, Tello can count himself desperately unlucky not to have found the back of the net.

Similarly, Neymar’s influence was also difficult to miss. It was his trickery that ultimately contributed to the second goal and his creativity had been on display all evening. Much like Alexis, Neymar can be a selfless player – but his decision-making is perhaps a little better than the Chilean’s, allowing him to have a more decisive impact on the match. Curiously enough, it was Neymar’s decisiveness in the final third that created Alexis’ second goal of the evening – collecting Xavi’s pass, Neymar drew in the defender and played the ball on to Alexis, who tidily slotted his shot past Marino to secure the three points.

Now Martino could focus on his substitutions – Cesc Fàbregas was the first to make way and he was replaced by Andrés Iniesta. The match wasn’t on the line, but it must be nice to have that calibre of replacement readily available so as to enable the team to continue performing at a high level.

And that’s just what they did; Alexis Sánchez turned provider, repaying Neymar for his earlier assist with a truly selfless cut-back. Sánchez could have easily shot himself – and his pass wasn’t great or at least caught Neymar off-guard, but the Brazilian elegantly worked the ball out from underneath his feet and into the bottom corner with a well-placed shot. It was Neymar’s second La Liga goal, and third for the club, but even if his statistics aren’t particularly impressive, his performances have been nothing short of sensational since his summer move to Catalunya.

With a three-goal lead, Pedro was given a chance to stretch his legs, replacing Cristian Tello for the final twenty minutes – give or take. Pedro’s introduction was followed by another penalty appeal as Neymar was once again felled in the area, but the referee unsurprisingly didn’t make the call, much to the derision of Xavi and the Camp Nou crowd.

Sergio Busquets was also brought on for the final stage of the game, replacing Gerard Piqué in the centre of defense as Barcelona applied the finishing touches to another good display.

An international break will occupy the next weekend, but in a fortnight’s time, Barcelona return to La Liga action against Osasuna, so until then Visca el Barça!

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