Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde went back to his days as Athletic Bilbao manager as the La Liga champions escaped with a narrow 1-0 win away to Real Valladolid on Saturday night. Barça played awful football for most of the match, but scored a goal in their period of dominance and needed help from the Video Assistant Referee to avoid conceding a last-second equalizer. Yay.
Valladolid set up in a very narrow, compact formation designed to shut down Barça’s midfield and force them to play on the wing. It took a while for the Blaugrana to figure out how to counter that strategy, so they were quite lethargic with their passing early on and looked a little bit lost. But as soon as Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé got on the ball, the pace picked up and Barça became more dangerous.
The hosts had one real chance early on when Enes Ünal forced Ter Stegen to make a strong save, but that was it from Valladolid. For the final 25 minutes of the half they had to defend against a Barça team creating good chance after good chance, with Dembélé, Coutinho and Luis Suárez all coming very close to scoring. But former Barça goalkeeper Jordi Masip was alert and made some fantastic stops to keep his team in the game.
At halftime, Barça should have been up already, but they looked in strong position to score and win going into the second half.
The final period started with Valladolid bringing some threat on set pieces, but nothing that truly scared the Barça defense. The Blaugrana had a bit of a slow start offensively, but they found an opening goal thanks to a cross from Suárez, a perfect assist from Sergi Roberto and a great volley from Dembélé.
Instead of looking to cement their dominance and find a second goal, Barça suddenly became very defensive and were trying to hold on to a 1-0 lead away from home against a newly promoted team. Valladolid took the invitation to go forward and created a lot of dangerous opportunities. Barça defenders had to make last-ditch tackles, Ter Stegen needed to make big saves and Valverde had to make defensive substitutions.
Despite needing VAR to rule out a Valladolid goal in the last play of the game, Baçra managed to hold on to their narrow led and get a second win in two games. But this was a lot worse than last week. The pitch didn’t help, but the performance was really disappointing. We just have to improve. Have to. This isn’t enough.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Coutinho (Malcom); Messi, Suárez (Munir), Dembélé (Vidal)
Goal: Dembélé (57’)
Valladolid: Masip; Moyano, Olivas, Calero, Nacho; Anuar, Borja (Keko), Alcaraz; Villa (Verde); Ünal (Cop), Plano