Barcelona left it as late as they possibly could but managed to go level on points with La Liga leaders Real Madrid for at least a few hours thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win against Valencia at Mestalla on Saturday night. Barça were the better side and created some huge chances, but they were very wasteful in front of goal and were on course to drop two points before Robert Lewandowski scored a very late winner for give the Catalans three massive points.
Barça had a strong first half performance, establishing themselves as the dominant force early on and forcing Valencia to defend deep inside their half. The Blaugrana were as direct as we’ve seen them recently and weren’t afraid to play long balls through the ground and the air to find runners in behind, and there was plenty of variety in attack which led to some really good moments for the visitors.
The problem was the lack of precision in the final third, with players missing the final pass or making poor decisions in front of goal to bail out a Valencia defense that was all over the place at times.
Barça did manage to create two major chances, however: the first came from a glorious pass by Pedri to find Ansu Fati but Valencia keeper Mamardashvili rushed out of his goal well and saved Fati’s attempted chip; the second came right before halftime when Jordi Alba played a beautiful cross to find the head of Robert Lewandowski but the Pole hit the foot of the post and couldn’t find the back of the net.
At halftime, a strong Barça performance deserved at least one goal but the Catalans failed to finish the job, leaving plenty of work to be done in the second half.
Valencia played much better to start the final period, pressing higher up the pitch and sending more bodies forward. They even took the lead five minutes in through Samuel Lino, but VAR ruled out the goal for a Marcos André handball in the buildup.
The home team made things pretty even, but Xavi Hernández made a triple change with Gavi, Ferran Torres and Raphinha coming off the bench looking to reestablish control, and the plan worked as the three substitutes brought more energy and intensity into the team and the Blaugrana once again found themselves on top.
But their problems up front continued, and the poor decision-making in the final third ruined some really promising attacks as the midfield provided some beautiful passes that the forwards wasted time and time again.
Barça allowed Valencia to stay in the game and the home team sensed they had a real chance to win it in the final 10 minutes. They began sending more and more bodies into attack, which left a lot of space in behind for Barça to counter-attack.
And it was with a counter that Barça created their best chance of the game: in the 84th minute, Raphinha found Pedri inside the box with a ball over the top and Pedri squared it to Ferran who was all alone in the six-yard box for the easiest of tap-ins, but the Spaniard somehow missed the ball completely and couldn’t convert against an open net.
It seemed as though that had been the last chance of the game for Barça, but the Catalans didn’t give up and continued to attack looking for one more opportunity, and it came: in the 93rd minute Raphinha put in a beautiful cross into the box and Robert Lewandowski stretched as far as he could to make contact and redirect the ball into the back of the net to finally break the deadlock.
The final moments were very, very tense as Valencia got too physical trying to get a late equalizer, but Barça survived the dying seconds and the final whistle came to give Barça three giant points. They should have won this a lot easier and missed every chance but the last one, and they’ll need to better in front of goal if they want to win the league.
But they deserved the three points in the end, and this could prove to be a crucial victory in the title race.
Valencia: Mamardashvili; Correia (Vázquez 80’), Gabriel, Cömert, Gayà; Guillamón; Foulquier, Kluivert (Castillejo 72’), Almeida (Lato 72’); Cavani (M. André 18’), Lino
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Balde, Kounde (Piqué 74’), Eric (Alonso 42’), Alba; Pedri, Busquets (Gavi 56’), De Jong; Dembélé (Ferran 56’), Lewandowski, Fati (Raphinha 57’)
Goal: Lewandowski (90+3’)