After having had the week to mull over the loss against Deportivo, the Blaugrana returned to La Liga action as they squared off against Valencia. Would Barça continue to build pressure on Madrid, or would they save their energy for competitions with better odds?
Great attack from Barca in the opening minutes. A beautiful through ball finds Suarez who slips it between the defence towards the far post, but Gaya reaches the ball before Neymar.
Some early signs of urgency from the Catalans lead to dangerous moments which only fell short in the finish. Valencia on the other hand, seemed content to counter when they could–which wasn't saying much.
Despite ten minutes of play, and some exciting moments here and there, neither team had really impressed so far. Both teams were playing to their strengths but Barcelona had already pinned Valencia in their own half.
A great play between Suarez and Messi almost resulted in a goal at the 14th minute but Alves was calmer than ever in the box, as he held on to the ball, despite chaos.
Luis Suarez had looked exceptionally motivated in the first quarter hour of the game.
However, Valencia were not ones to sit behind quietly. After another fifteen minutes on the clock that involved erratic play, Eliaquim Mangala was the one to put the ball in the back of the net past Ter Stegen, after a wonderfully delivered cross. After plenty of chances, the Blaugrana would have been upset to have conceded.
0-1 at the Camp Nou.
Most of the chances for the Catalans had come from long balls over the defence of the Bats. However, with Centrebacks like Mangala and Garay, the home side were having trouble breaking down a well-drilled, strong defence.
Valencia began to open up in their shape after the opening half hour, where they had been compact, and would compress lines, to squeeze space out.
Moments later however, this very space would play into the hands of Barcelona as Luis Suarez used it to great effect, cutting in from the left, before burying his shot into the bottom corner from an acute angle.
A free kick right at the edge of the box made plenty of fans nervous, as Messi got brought down by Mangala in clutter. With both Messi and Neymar standing on the ball, expectations were running high. Messi’s strike however, was a touch too strong, and his curler sneaked past Alves, for a goal-kick.
With two minutes left in the first half, Mangala tugged at Luis Suarez’s shirt in the Valencia box–the referee did not hesitate to show the Frenchman a second yellow before sending him down the tunnel.
Lionel Messi was the man to step up against Diego Alves for the penalty. While Alves had an exceptional record of saving penalties, Messi did not intend to add another accolade in the Brazilian’s ledger. A powerful penalty through the middle gave Barça the lead. calm and composed from the best player in the world.
However, the final kick of the half, came from Munir el Haddadi as the Spanish international, and La Masia product showed brilliant composure to finish off a Gaya cross into the back of the net to equalise, before apologising to the Camp Nou in a show of respect.
2-2 at half time.
The half began with a change for Valencia as they brought on Abdennour on to the pitch, in order to defend with purpose, having gone down to ten men in the opening half of the match.
The Catalans were on the front-foot as expected.
A beautiful play between Iniesta and Suarez led to a good chance for Neymar, but the Brazilian’s strike was straight at Valencia’s defensive wall. The Blaugrana needed a goal, and Neymar almost came close for the second time, as he slipped past his marker with a wonderful touch, before failing to make contact with his attempted volley.
Within a minute of his previous two attempts, Neymar got another chance to score as the Brazilian found the ball at his feet in a one-on-one situation against Alves, after a miraculous Messi through-ball. Alves’ save however, was better than the Brazilian’s shot and kept the score-line intact.
Messi however, was probably unhappy about the situation, as the Argentine blasted his shot from the following play, straight past Alves into the back of the net, from a difficult angle towards the near-post to give the Catalans the lead.
3-2 for the Blaugrana. Inspired moment from Lionel Messi.
Munir el Haddadi would nearly score on the counter for the Batsw as the former Barça man found himself in acres of space. The young lad however, would fail to get past Gerard Pique, who somehow managed to use his frame against the nimble Munir. If Munir continues to display this kind of brilliance with consistency, then the forward definitely has a future at the Camp Nou.
After finally getting ahead, the Catalans began to hold Valencia hostage, as they continued to probe and tease the Bats, looking for openings in the visitor’s defence
At the hour mark, Rakitic got taken off for Sergi Roberto.
With twenty minutes on the clock the triumvirate of Neymar, Messi and Suarez nearly doubled Barça’s lead but Luis Suarez sent his strike wide. Moments later, Andre Gomes stepped onto the pitch for Rafinha, to face his former side.
The tie had settled into a steady rhythm, characterised by the home side controlling the ball, while the visitors struggled to maintain shape against Barça’s controlled play.
A free kick from Neymar nearly did the trick, as the Brazilian’s curler smashed into the goal-post for a goal-kick. The Brazilian has been earning himself quite the reputation from dead-balls this season.
Another good piece of attack, as the Brazilian directs play, setting up plenty of player’s for shots, before being the one to pull the trigger. Diego Alves however, had been brilliant all night against his country-man and this time was no different.
With two minutes of normal time left, Andre Gomes put his name on the score-sheet after a brilliant ball from Neymar. Calm finish from the Portuguese midfielder.
The Catalans did well to play out the final moments of the game without taking their foot off the gas, till the referee blew his three pips.
In an exciting game of football, with an imposing score-line unlike the reverse fixture, the Catalans beat Valencia in convincing fashion, to bounce back from a disappointing loss last week against Deportivo.
It’s not going to be easy for the Blaugrana to catch up with Real Madrid in the league, but if this performance is a measure for anything, it is the heart of the players, and their competitive spirit.
Plenty to do still, but the Catalans will be happy with a dominant win over a quality side.
Onward and upward.