After a great start to the game that saw Alexis Sanchez lead Barcelona to a quick advantage, Barcelona were left frustrated by an incredibly efficient Valencia side that scored on three of their four shots on goal. Dani Parejo, Pablo Piatti and Paco Alcácer scored for the visitors, while Barcelona were only able to reply through a converted penalty by Lionel Messi.
Shots on Target
The rotation policy appeared to be in full swing as once again only two players that started the previous game started this one. Slightly surprisingly those two players were once again Cesc Fabregas and Alexis. But unlike against Levante Cesc this time around started in midfield, making space at the false nine position for Messi. Andres Iniesta started on the bench as he continues to make his return from injury.
Before kickoff there was a minute of silence for former FC Barcelona and Spain manager Luis Aragonés who passed away earlier today. It was an emotional beginning especially for Xavi who was the fulcrum for the influential manager's Spanish side that won the 2008 European Championship.
Barça translated the built up emotion and passion into early pressure. In quick succession Barcelona were able to create a couple half-chances that signaled danger for Valencia, who decided not to defend with every player on the pitch. And Valencia quickly paid for playing an open game as just seven minutes in Alexis scored his 15th goal of the season. Lionel Messi nicely found Alexis in space near the right post where for a bad angle Alexis slightly mishit the ball that lobbed Diego Alves for the opener.
Barcelona continued with brilliant play after the goal, creating chance after chance, the only thing that was missing though was a goal or two. Messi was especially hungry and creative, making numerous runs through the Valencia defense, but all his shots seemed to end up blocked, no matter from how good a position the shot came.
But Pedro and Alexis had no intentions of getting outshone by the brilliant Argentine as both Barcelona wingers made several good looking plays. With a little bit of luck the duo would've combined for a goal in the 21st minute when Pedro sent a perfect cross to Alexis who dove to head the ball on goal. However, there was Alves to make a brilliant save. If only Alexis mishit it a little bit like on the first goal...
Barcelona were also threatening from distance, not only from up close as is usually the case. Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves both came within a couple feet of doubling Barcelona's lead midway through the second half.
After the half hour mark Barça stepped of the gas pedal which Valencia tried to immediately to take advantage of. In quick succession they won a couple corner kicks, and from one, in the 38th minute, they really should've tied the game. Victor Valdes left the line for a cross that flew over him by about 5 feet and fell straight on the head of Ricardo Costa, who had a free header. Luckily for Barcelona Costa's aim was poor and he missed the wide open net.
A minute before halftime Valencia finally made Barcelona pay for their missed chances in attack and the sloppiness in defense. A bad turnover in midfield left Barcelona's defense outnumbered which Parejo and Sofiane Feghouli took advantage of. Parejo led the counter attack and nicely found the onrushing Feghouli on the right side. The Algerian was able to pass the ball back to Parejo who eluded Gerard Pique's block in the middle for the easy tap in.
That proved to be the last chance either team would create in the first half that ended in a one-all tie. At this point Barcelona surely felt slightly disappointed as their brilliant play in the opening 30 minutes only yielded a single goal that didn't even hold up until the halftime whistle. Valencia, on the other hand, proved that a couple good counter attacks against Barcelona is all a team needs if they're able to convert their chances.
The second half couldn't have started worse for Barcelona as just three minutes after the restart Valencia took the lead. A high ball came in the Barcelona penalty box that Valdes once again charged but was left stranded in no man's land. The next problem came when the 5ft 4in tall Piatti easily out-jumped Alves and lobbed the stranded Valdes for Valencia's first lead of the game.
Five minutes later a controversial penalty was given in Barcelona's favor for a handball by Costa. The ball hit Costa in the upper arm/shoulder area and if no penalty was given nobody could've faulted the referee one bit. Messi stepped up to take the kick and powered it into the top corner where Alves had no chance to save it.
That could've been the spark Barcelona needed to finally overcome Valencia, but Valencia wasn't going to go quietly into the night. An innocent looking play saw Feghouli receive the ball between four Barcelona players, but with one move he eluded all of them and found Alcácer who was able to put Valencia back in front. How and why Alcácer was inexplicably left all alone by Pique is a mystery.
Frustration slowly started to creep in at this point and with limited options on the bench there was little Tata Martino could do to lift the team. The Barcelona manager made the only decision he had in the 65th minute when he brought Iniesta on the pitch and pulled Xavi to the bench.
But Iniesta's introduction didn't bring Barcelona much as at this point Valencia pulled everybody back inside their 30-yard line. There was just no space for Barcelona to create anything through the middle, with Messi being the covered at all times by at least three players.
In the 77th minute Tata Martino made his second substitution, one that appeared to suck all the life from the team as he replaced Cesc with Cristian Tello. With the lack of creativity in midfield Valencia found it much easier to defend, and when a minute later Jordi Alba was harshly shown a second yellow card chances looked grim for Barcelona to salvage anything from the game.
And that was indeed the case as Valencia with relative easy brought the game to a frustrating for Barcelona and its fans, though Messi had a brilliant chance in added time that went begging. A combination of poor execution and terrible defending by mainly Valdes and Pique cost Barcelona what appeared after the opening 30 minutes to be an easy win for the Catalans.
Barcelona will look to turn their fortunes around on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey Semi-Final against Real Sociedad. La Real is a notoriously tough opponent for Barça, but with the game being played at the Camp Nou chances favor Barcelona.
|Roll Call Info|
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