El Centrocampista

WHAT A GAME! – Barça and Valencia lock horns in Mestalla classic.

In my previous piece, I built up Tuesday night’s clash between Barça and Valencia, and much to the delight of myself and every spectator glued to their screen, it didn’t disappoint.

Valencia went for the jugular from the start, and it must be said that Unai Emery, Valencia’s tinker man extraordinaire, got his tactics spot on.

Pep Guardiola finally opted for the 3-4-3 away from home, and it seems that Emery had already been thinking about how to counter it. Valencia’s full backs – particularly Mathieu, who was fantastic throughout – pushed high up the pitch and forced the three man Barça defence to spread themselves thin and wide.

It was perhaps a little too easy however – with such a narrow defensive line, Alves and Keita (playing on the right and left of midfield, respectively) should have been more aware of their opposing fullbacks, and tracking back effectively would have certainly helped in damage limitation.

Too often, as was exemplified by Valencia’s second goal, the two players were posted missing, leaving their defence hopelessly exposed. Javier Mascherano then visibly struggled to cover their ground as a result.

Busquets and Banega battle it out in a classic game at the Mestalla.

By being forced to move into the wide right position to track Mathieu’s runs, the Argentine was given a torrid time by his much quicker and incredibly focused French opponent.

This also left Roberto Soldado one on one with Carles Puyol, and in turn, gave Pablo Hernandez and Sergio Canales the opportunity to terrorize Eric Abidal, which they did to great effect.

I have been at pains to stress that flexibility is key to the Barça system this year, and in the second half Guardiola put flexibility into action. After some minor changes, Barça adopted a back four in the second 45 that helped to shackle Valencia’s marauding fullbacks.

The game didn’t necessarily shift straight to Barça’s favour with this change however. A special mention must go to the Valencia midfield (and Ever Banega in particular, who worked both tirelessly in his pressure and intuitively in his passing throughout) who constantly tried to choke Barça’s migcampistes with intense pressure, and it paid off for large spells.

With Barça backed into a corner and looking especially irked, it became increasingly likely that they would equalise. Guardiola proved that this current Barça squad has the most strength in depth of any he has been able to call upon in his tenure as manager, and it showed in the way that Adriano and Thiago changed the game upon their introduction.

Adriano performed remarkably well at the right of the front three (adding yet another position to his repertoire) and, much to my surprise, rifled off some great passes and crosses from his weaker right foot.

At the same time, Thiago used his natural ability to find space under pressure to great effect, and was exactly what Barça needed in the intense pressure they were being put under. It also helped that a certain Lionel Messi became more involved in the game as the second half progressed.

His partnership with Fabregas continues to redevelop, and their play together for the equalizer was sublime yet again.

This was a phenomenal game, and one of the best I recall in La Liga over the last half a decade or perhaps longer. Valencia are showing great guile and bullishness this year, and seem intent on trying to prove that they really can compete with the “big two”.

Based on last night’s performance, few people will doubt them.

Unai Emery may have a somewhat warranted reputation for being an eccentric tactical obsessive, but last night he was clearly vindicated. Guardiola, on the other hand, may feel that he got his lineup wrong considering the opposition.

It must be stressed however that the Catalan made the right changes in the second half, and these alterations evened the playing field, away from Valencia’s first half dominance.

A draw was probably a fair result in the end, though one question has to be asked from the man of the moment, Roberto Soldado:

How did he miss that? Fernando Torres, eat your heart out.


  1. austinlong1974

    22 September, 2011 at 13:23

    totally agree. great game. FCB was run ragged and with alves being crap, did not help the back three at all. adriano really played well and i was totally surprised at his performance. messi made two awesome passes and dozens poor ones, which was disappointing. not sure that los che can keep this up for an entire season but for one night, it was amazing.

  2. Jafar

    22 September, 2011 at 20:43

    If we can keep this up we will certainly close the gap significantly but that won’t be easy at all but I do believe that we have the required depth to do so I mean Parejo and Feghouli(did more than great in pre season) have a very hard time getting into the squad.

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