Barça would be buoyed by their scintillating comeback against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey as they hosted seventh-placed Valencia in La Liga. This is the beginning of a tough fixture list in February, where Barça face Real Madrid in the Copa home and away, Lyon away in the Champions League, Sevilla away in League and Bilbao away in the League. This could be the make or break month for Barça.
Meanwhile, Valencia have had a mini-turnaround as they have won 4 and lost only once across all competitions. Valencia have always performed better against the top sides in La Liga, so it didn’t look to be an easy fixture for Barça. This also reflected in the fact that Barça had dropped points against Valencia at Mestalla earlier in the season.
In their last 5 fixtures against Valencia, Barça have won 3 and drawn 2.
Formation and Lineups
Barça made some changes from their Copa Del Rey game with Vermaelen starting with Piqué and Sergi Roberto starting at Left-back. Aleñágot a rare start in midfield along with Rakitic and Vidal with the front three unchanged.
Valencia started with their usual 4-4-2 formation with the dangerous Rodrigo partnering Gamiero upfront.
Barça started shakily losing possession in their own half with Dani Parejo testing Ter Stegen, who made a simple save. A few moments later, it was Parejo again as he found space and stuck it sweetly. However, Ter Stegen with very little reaction time made a fine save, but the ball fell to Cheryshev, who blasted a shot hitting the outside post. Barça had a lot of possession but looked very shaky in the Valencia counter attacks.
Barça slowly started getting into the game as Alena with some neat footwork won a free-kick just outside the box. Messi’s free-kick was on target but lacked power as Neto made an easy save. Sergi Roberto, playing out of position was clearly struggling as all Valencia’s early attacks came from the left-wing.
Barça continued to attack and looked dangerous as they tested Neto’s goal time and again. Coutinho, with his trademark cutting in from the wing, curled towards the bottom corner forcing Neto making a fine save to deny the opening goal.
The deadlock was broken in the 24thminute in one of the Valencia counters. Parejo won a ball outside the box dispossessing Messi and caught out the Barça defence finding Rodrigo outside the box, who played a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Gameiro who hit his first-time shot past Ter Stegen for the opening goal.
Barça almost equalized minutes later as Coutinho’s cross into the box was almost deflected by Garay only for Neto to make a fine reflex save to tip it over the crossbar. Pique and Gameiro clashed heads challenging for a ball in the box cutting open Pique in the head. With a fair bit of blood coming out, he was taken off the field for treatment leaving Barça with 10 men. This exposed Barça’s backline as Sergi Roberto brought down Wass in the box earning Valencia a penalty. Parejo made no mistake as he sent a perfect penalty to the top right-corner of Ter Stegen.
Barça continued to see plenty of the ball and finally found the opening in the 39thminute as Semedo was brought down in the box by Lato earning them the penalty. Messi took the penalty as he sent Neto the wrong way pulling one back for Barça.
Barça almost found the equalizer minutes before the half-time as the short corner found Roberto who hit a powerful shot but a touch from Neto helps it onto the post denying Barça the equalizer. Moments later, Messi was sent. Clear by a beautiful dink over the defence by Rakitic, but he could only send it over the crossbar with only Neto to beat. The teams headed into the half-time with Valencia leading 2-1.
Alba replaced Semedo at the start of the half and the change was visible in Barça ‘s linkup play as they almost found the equalizer in the opening minutes. Alena won back possession high up the field and teed up Messi, whose curling shot into the bottom corner was saved by Neto’s brilliant reflexes.
Barça continued to have a lot of possession and attack the Valencia goal, but every time they lost the ball they looked vulnerable on the counter-attack and that almost costed them in the 63rd min as Cheryshev found Rodrigo with a delightful cross only for Rodrigo to lift it over the crossbar.
Not many times you can say Messi was having a poor match and it almost looked like it could be that day. But it all changed in the 64th minute as he hit a brilliant curler out of nowhere to equalize.
Camp Nou held their breaths for a few minutes as Messi was on the sidelines receiving treatment for his thigh after his clash but to the relief of Camp Nou, he was back on the pitch after a few minutes.
Barça controlled the last quarter of the match but couldn’t create any substantial chances as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
The result put Barça 6 points clear of Atléticowith Atléticohaving a game in hand.
- Alba-less Barça
It’s a no-brainer that Messi is the most important player for Barça. But if there is another player as important as Messi this season, it has been Jordi Alba. He’s having a brilliant last 18 months and his absence was clearly missed today in the first half. The worrying sign for Barça is there is no replacement for Alba right now. Every time Alba is not on the pitch, the left-flank gets exposed and the linkup play with Messi goes missing. As Barça approach the business end of the season, they hope Alba remains fit and firing.
- Messi’s Ridiculous Stats
Messi became the first player in Europe’s top leagues to reach 20 goals this season. He has now achieved this feat 11 seasons in a row.
He scored his 50thPenalty in La Liga now only behind Hugo Sanchez (56) and Cristiano Ronaldo (61).
He has scored in each of his last 9 games for Barça in all competitions (11 goals), his best goalscoring run since January 2013.
- Sergi Roberto’s Poor Game
Sergi Roberto was played out of position as Valverde wanted to rest Alba for the Madrid clash. It was a challenging position for him to play considering how well Alba has been doing and his telepathic understanding with Messi. Valverde was still hoping that he would put in a decent game, but the Catalan had a game to forget. He was often out of position and most of Valencia’s attacks came from his side. He was also guilty for the Penalty which resulted in Valencia’s goal.
Ter Stegen- 7/10
- A couple of brilliant saves from Parejo and Rodrigo.
Piqué – 6/10
- He lacked the pace to deal with Valencia’s attack.
- He was easily beaten many times. He must have done better in Valencia’s first goal.
- Probably the best player in the first half. He won the crucial Penalty which brought Barça back into the match.
- Played out of position but had a poor game. He gave away a penalty too.
- A lot of energy in the midfield but lacks creativity.
Rakitic – 7/10
- Filled in for Busquets admirably. His dink over the top to Messi was delightful.
- The youngster showed a lot of character asking for the ball and also linking up with Messi. He will get only better with more minutes.
Suárez – 5/10
- He worked hard but couldn’t break through Valencia’s defence.
Messi – 7/10
- Not his best performance but still managed 2 decisive goals.
Coutinho – 5/10
- He was patchy as he showed glimpses of his quality. Still nowhere near his best.
- The game seemed to change after his arrival. The left-flank was alive and his linkups with Messi continues.
- Brought control to the midfield as Barça bossed the possession in the last 20 minutes.
- Was brought on in the last 10 minutes for his extra pace, however, didn’t offer much in attack.