FC Barcelona were fortunate to escape from the Mestalla with a point as they drew 2-2 with Valencia. Twice were the Blaugrana behind, as goals from Eric Abidal (own goal of course) and Pablo Hernandez gave Los Che the lead on two separate occasions, but Pedro and Cesc Fabregas each got a goal off a Lionel Messi assist to give Barcelona a share of the spoils and move one point clear of Real Madrid.
Whether I am psychic remains to be seen, but as predicted, Pep Guardiola opted for the 3-4-3 at the Mestalla, though would it prove as effective as the Osasuna match?
Of course, no-one expected another 8-0 victory, though to test such an unproven formation at such a difficult time was a huge risk on Guardiola’s part. As you would expect from the home team, Valencia started the strongest, and pressing high up the field one thing became obvious; they were here to give Barcelona a game.
Early pressure, Barcelona failing to settle, and a lack of concentration once again. The left hand side of Valencia’s attack was clearly the fulcrum for Los Che, and Mathieu sent in a cross on 11 minutes that should have been mopped up with consummate ease. Until a lack of communication, between Victor Valdes and Eric Abidal ended up in an own goal.
Had Abidal left it, Valdes would have simply picked up the ball and launched an attack, but the Frenchman slid in and inadvertently touched it beyond Valdes and into the empty net.
The Mestalla crowd erupted, though they couldn’t enjoy it; Valencia were ahead for just over a minute.
Great build-up between Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas ended with the aforementioned Argentine feeding a delightful pass to Pedro, who smashed it in near post at the first time of asking. FC Barcelona had drawn level. Was normality restored or was it just a false sense of security?
Adil Rami was booked for kneeing Cesc Fabregas in the face, but one could argue that the Valencia new-boy was fortunate to stay on the pitch after bringing Messi down in the area shortly after. The referee did not act, but replays suggest he most certainly should have.
As it turns out, the 3-4-3 is good against Osasuna and co, but Valencia are a whole different beast. Mathieu and Jordi Alba were interchanging brilliantly on the left-hand side, and Barcelona could not deal with it. Mathieu played in another fizzing cross, and Abidal could not defend, and Pablo Hernandez smashed it home for the lead.
The three man defense was failing, and it needed to be addressed, and when Soldado missed an open goal from three yards, the signs are that the footballing Gods are giving Barcelona a way back into this game.
Could Guardiola address the problems?
The half-time break gave Guardiola the opportunity to change back to 4-3-3, and he did, shifting Alves back into defense. In truth, the second half was a non-event up until the 75th minute, so I’m gonna skip there!
Just 10 minutes after Javier Mascherano hit the bar with a long-range effort, Barcelona appeared to be down and out. Lionel Messi was played through on goal, but a challenge from Adil Rama sent him off balance, and he could not finish. It was not a foul, but Messi felt a little frustrated.
Would this stop the little magician? Well, chipping a through pass to Cesc Fabregas, he set up the equalising goal as Cesc finished at the near post. It was his fourth successive game with a La Liga goal, and should he score against Atletico, then he will equal the record of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was an undeserved equaliser, though the mark of champions is to grind out results in games you play badly. This was a great example. It could have been a win had David Villa finished off the chance Messi created in the dying minutes, but the eye-of-the-needle pass by La Pulga went to waste as El Guaje sent his shot at Guaita. Adriano then sent a ball across the goaline, but it was cleared, and Valencia held on for the draw, despite dominating large spells of the match.
Oh, and Jordi Alba was sent off in added time for insulting the assistant referee.
Though when you consider that Madrid dropped points again, and the team was most definitely below par, then a 2-2 draw at the Mestalla is a very good result. It’s all about peaking at the right time, and I feel Valencia may be hitting their top gear a little too early. Seeing that Barcelona have room to improve is promising.
As for man of the match, Messi was below-par, Cesc was not that great, and no-one else stood out, so I will leave it to the poll.
Onto Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou!
Visca el Barca!
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