Valencia CF and FC Barcelona met this Sunday at Mestalla Stadium in an authentic clash of titans in LaLiga. Los Blaugranas held a four-point advantage at the top of the table and were considered favourites on paper, but the margin was slim. Valencia have been one of the most surprising teams in Europe this season, and have been playing quite above the expectations so if any team could stop Barca, it was Los Che.
And that’s exactly what happened, at least during the first 70 minutes. Thanks to an excellent performance on both ends of the pitch, Valencia came minutes away from securing a huge win at home, but Barca reacted just in time. A late second-half goal from Jordi Alba saved Los Cules, and maintained Barca’s four-point lead at the top of the Liga standings for, at least, one more week.
FC Barcelona dominated during the first half … and the referee harmed them unintentionally?
The match saw Barcelona establishing territorial supremacy right from the start. Jordi Alba was a constant threat on the left side, and usually found spaces to cross the ball into the box even if his final touch was slightly inaccurate. Dani Parejo and Goncalo Guedes looked active on Valencia’s end, but neither managed to pose much of a threat for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
Lionel Messi didn’t appear in the first few minutes, but the Argentinian star did not waste time to become a difference maker for Barcelona. Messi moved all over the attacking third and generally found spaces in the final third. However, his teammates were unable to feed him properly and as such, the Liga top scorer decided to create things on his own. He came close to score in the 30th minute, but the referee did not validate what should have been a clear goal for Barca.
Messi received a pass on the edge of the box, and blasted a first-time shot straight towards Neto. But the former Juventus goalkeeper could not control the ball and it went past the goal line before he could have reacted. Neto ended clearing the ball away and everybody thought this would have been a goal, but the referee thought otherwise and the score remained 0-0. Without a doubt, this was a play everyone will talk about during the coming days.
Things could have been far more complicated because Simone Zaza came close to open the score in the very next minute, but his effort went a bit wide off the right post. The first half ended 0-0, but Barcelona’s supremacy was absolutely clear. They finished the first half with a 76-26 edge on possession, tallied seven shots on target against Valencia’s two, and completed 400 passes against Valencia’s 99. By all accounts, it was a dominant performance from Los Cules.
Valencia score first, but Barcelona equalised in the final minutes
One would have thought Barcelona was going to score sooner than later. And at the very least, they didn’t slow things down and kept playing with the same intensity. But against all odds, it would Valencia the team that would broke the deadlock. A swifty play on the left flank found Jose Gaya, and the left-back crossed the ball towards the six-yard box looking for anyone who could have deflected it home. Rodrigo did exactly that, and the talented forward sneaked the ball past Ter Stegen to put Los Che on top.
Barca’s manager Ernesto Valverde did not want to end their undefeated streak, and he sent Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu to the pitch in place of Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic. Valverde wanted to add pace into the attacking third, and apparently the changes paid off. A beautiful assist from Lionel Messi found Jordi Alba, who blasted a huge volley past Neto to put Barcelona 1-1.
The final minutes were quite intense, as Valencia realised they had enough in them to score another goal but reacted way too late. Barcelona kept pushing the lines forward, although they displayed an alarming lack of ideas just like it happened during most of the game. Barca had a clear edge in terms of possession and scoring chances, but Barca wasn’t exactly accurate. They need to improve on that department if they want to maintain at the top of the standings for the foreseeable future.
Zaza had the final chance on stoppage time, but he missed it. The Italian international sent a ball over the bar when he could’ve done far better. As a result, the game ended with a 1-1 draw that won’t leave either team satisfied. But Barcelona deserved better luck, mostly due to the chances but also due to the fact they had a clear goal disallowed in the first half.
Valencia fans should be quite happy about this result. After all, the team proved they can compete against one of the top teams in Europe at the moment. And if anything, this was a good sign of progress for the squad going forward.
As for Barcelona, they shouldn’t be happy. Based on the amount of chances they created, they should have escaped with a better result. And the referee clearly harmed them. That’s a play every football fan will talk about during the coming days.
Valencia CF: Neto (6); Montoya (6), Garay (6) (Ruben Vezo (-), 86′), Gabriel (7), Gaya (7); Soler (5) (Santi Mina (-), 89′), Kondogbia (5), Dani Parejo (6), Guedes (7); Zaza (5), Rodrigo (7) (Andreas Pereira (-), 82′)
FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen (5); Semedo (5) (Aleix Vidal (-), 80′), Umtiti (7), Vermaelen (6), Jordi Alba (7); Rakitic (6) (Deulofeu (5), 68′), Sergio Busquets (7), Paulinho (6), Iniesta (5) (Denis Suarez (6), 72′); Messi (8), Luis Suarez (5)
Goals: Rodrigo (1-0, 60′), Jordi Alba (1-1, 82′)
Referee: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva
Yellow Cards: Kondogbia, Gabriel, Rodrigo, Andreas Pereira (VAL)
Red Cards: None
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