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La Liga: Valencia CF 1-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A review of Barcelona's disappointing 1-1 draw at the Mestalla against Ernesto Valverde's Valencia

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

A lacklustre Barcelona escaped the Mestalla with a point against in-form Valencia on Sunday night, as Lionel Messi’ 37th minute penalty cancelled out Ever Banega’s 33rd minute opener. The result puts the Blaugrana sixteen points ahead of their arch-rivals Real Madrid, although their lead at the top of La Liga could be cut to nine points – if Atletico defeat Real Betis at the Vicente Calderon.






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Surprisingly, Jordi Roura made just two changes to the team that started against Real Madrid on Wednesday, as Victor Valdés replaced Jose Manuel Pinto in goal, while Javier Mascherano slotted into the centre of defense, meaning that Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol had to settle for a place on the bench. Could Barça take advantage of Real Madrid’s surprise defeat and move eighteen points clear of their eternal rivals, or would Valencia be able to continue their resurgence under new coach Ernesto Valverde?

Barcelona started well at the Mestalla, immediately settling into possession against their in-form hosts. However, while Barcelona were keeping the ball well, they were struggling to create chances against a well-disciplined Valencia defense. Xavi came close to pouncing on a mistake from Vicente Guaita who took far too long on the ball, but fortunately for Valverde – who started Guaita ahead of usual first-choice keeper Diego Alves – Xavi couldn’t quite close Guaita down quick enough.

At the other end of the pitch, Javier Mascherano picked up a yellow card after a poor challenge on Valencia captain Roberto Soldado, who was bearing down on goal courtesy of fortuitous bounce following a header from Gerard Piqué. With cover fast arriving in the form of Jordi Alba, Mascherano should have just tried to slow Soldado’s advance, but he launched himself into an ill-advised challenge and picked up a well-deserved yellow card for his troubles.

As Barcelona continued to struggle for chances, Valencia grew in confidence and started to extert pressure on the Blaugrana defense. Following another foul by Mascherano, Valencia had a good opportunity to test Victor Valdés with a well-executed set-piece, but Barcelona cleared their lines; albeit only as far as Andrés Guardado. The Mexican duly pumped the ball back into the area, although again, Barcelona temporarily averted the danger. This time the ball fell to Tino Costa, and the Argentine displayed great awareness to pick out Roberto Soldado, who again launched the ball into the Barcelona area. While his cross was headed clear, the rebound fell kindly to Ever Banega who struck the ball low and hard into the bottom corner of Valdés’ net. It was a good strike, and somewhat against the run of play, Los Che were ahead.

33 minutes had been played at the Mestalla, and to tell the truth, Barcelona were looking poor. They were not creating anything of note, and defensively, it was the same old story. Would the goal spur the Blaugrana into action?

Thankfully, Banega’s goal did prompt a response of sorts from the visitors; working their way through the gears, Barcelona finally worked their way into the Valencia area and to Pedro who was brought down by Joao Pereira. It was a clumsy challenge from the Portuguese full-back, but equally it was smart play from Pedro to skip past the out-stretched leg. Up stepped Lionel Messi, who emphatically dispatched the penalty to tie the score at 1-1.

Andrés Guardado had the final shot of the first-half, stinging Valdés’ gloves with a well-struck effort from the best part of 25 yards, but it was never really going to threaten the score, and the two teams went in level at the break.

Neither manager made a change at the interval despite an uneventful first-half, and as a result, the second-half followed a similar pattern to the first. Both sides struggled to create chances, and tended to waste the few opportunities they did create. That being said, Valencia did force Victor Valdés into action on a couple of occasions in the second-half, and the Catalan had to be at his best to keep Barça on level terms. First he sprung to his left to deny Tino Costa and later on, he kept out Sergio Canales’ goal-bound strike with another spectacular save.

Jordi Roura made a couple of changes in a bid to change the game; as Carles Puyol replaced Mascherano on 55 minutes and David Villa saw some action too, taking Cesc Fàbregas’ place in attack. However, El Guaje wasn’t at his best and he squandered Barcelona’s best chance at a winner with a little less than 15 minutes left to play; firing wide following a cross from Dani Alves. Valencia responded by creating a decent chance of their own, but again Valdés came to the rescue, denying Roberto Soldado with another exceptional save.

On balance, Barcelona will probably be pleased with the point, but Tito Vilanova is unlikely to be pleased with the performance to go with it. Barça simply looked uninterested, and if Atletico Madrid win tonight, their lead at the top will be cut to single figures. Sure, they can afford to draw a game or two, but with just two wins from their last six matches, Barcelona are gonna need to find their feet again – and fast.

Next up, Barcelona host Getafe in Sunday’s early kick-off (midday CET kick-off to be precise), although the majority of the squad will be in action this midweek with their respective international sides. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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