El Centrocampista

Alex on Song but Tito has a new midfield dilemma at Barca – Barcelona 1-0 Valencia: Tactical Analysis

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Barcelona continued their perfect start to the new league campaign by beating Valencia 1-0 at the Camp Nou, however, Manuel Pellegrino’s side proved a tough nut to crack for the Catalans. Valencia came into the game on the back of two successive draws and we conscious of last season’s 5-1 mauling they received at the hands of Barcelona last season. The game was a close encounter and a first half wonder strike from Adriano was the only separation between the two sides on Sunday night.

Barcelona Setup

Carles Puyol was still missing for Barcelona so in front of Victor Valdes, Villanova lined up a back four of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Adriano. The midfield three contained Alex Song, in his first league start, alongside Xavi and Cesc Fabregas. The front three was Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and Pedro.

Diego Alves started in goal for Valencia with Pellegrino opting for a back four of Joao Pereira, Adil Rami, Victor Ruiz, and Aly Cissokho, who was a recent addition from French side Lyon. The two holding midfielders were Tino Costa and David Albelda. Behind the central striker, Roberto Soldado, was an attacking three of Feghouli, Jonas and former Deportivo man, Andres Guardado.

The Run of Play

Typically, Barcelona started the match dominating the ball and pressuring Valencia to quickly recover the ball. However, Los Che nearly took the lead when Tino Costa found Soldado over the top with a long ball and he dispatched a shot around Pique that curled just wide of the post. Barca answered back with a cross from each side perfectly onto the head of Messi, but he missed the target once and was saved by Alves on the second attempt. A few minutes later, the Blaugrana opened the scoring from a corner kick.

The ball was played short from Xavi to Messi and he teed up Adriano who smashed the shot first time into the top corner. A minute later, Xavi chipped one past Cissokho to Pedro whose sliding attempt was easily saved. The new French left back looked inexperienced playing against Barcelona, getting caught high up the pitch and allowing space for Pedro to run past him. He looked uncomfortable defending for about the first half. Then, Fabregas shaved the post when Xavi stole a misplaced Valencia pass and slipped in Messi who found Cesc.

The midfielder’s dink over the goalkeeper failed to hit the target. With Fernando Gago out injured, the midfield duo of Tino Costa and David Albelda was vulnerable. The pair lacked the aggression to close down in central midfield and were helped out all night by Rami and Ruiz winning last ditch challenges inside the box. Messi was able to drop deep and find the space between the two which allowed him to collect the ball and get a running start towards the center backs. Going forward, Valencia could not take advantage of pushing numbers up field on a counter attack. The breaks were too slow and the passing was not accurate.

Soldado would often run out wide and open up space for Feghouli through the center, but Barcelona always dropped back quickly to prevent a shot on target. At halftime, Jordi Alba came on for Dani Alves, who was struggling with a leg problem in the first half. Alba played on the left and Adriano swapped over to the right. The summer signing from Valencia had a couple of energetic forays down the left touchline, but it will take a few weeks for him to fully integrate into the system. At times, it looked like Alba would make runs only for the ball to switch sides of the field or the player on the ball not to spot him.

With a half hour to go, Costa swung in a free kick to the back post and Ruiz guided it across goal into the net. However, the referee ruled the goal out, apparently for an offside, which Ruiz looked to be just behind Adriano when the ball was kicked. In the 90th minute, Ruiz had another chance, this time a header from a corner, but was unable to get on top of the ball and instead sent it over the bar.

The Messi and Fabregas Combination

The two form a great partnership as a false nine and an attacking playmaker. Their movement is synchronized and space is always maintained. Cesc is astute to recognize when Messi drops deep into midfield and will make runs in front of Messi to fill in space and open up lanes. Also, Cesc makes clever runs in the box to allow Messi to find him and set up a scoring chance. This is why he was so prolific in front of goal last season and on Sunday night he was found by Messi in the first half but was only able to hit the post. The only thing concerning for Cesc seems to be his attitude. After sitting the bench in the Super Cup second leg, Fabregas looked upset and even had a glum expression when he was replaced by Iniesta in the second half. Fabregas must realize after leaving Arsenal, where he was the captain and first name on the team sheet, that the midfield options at Barcelona are plentiful.

Differences Between Song and Busquets

The inclusion of Song in place of Busquets provided a few new wrinkles to the Barcelona system. He was impressive winning aerial long balls and also played a few first time balls over the top of the Valencia defense, looking for Pedro. When in possession, Song sat much deeper, just in front of the defensive line. It was almost as if Song was trying to stay out of the way. He was great at winning the ball back and holding off players who tried to dispossess him.

On the other hand, Busquets plays a little further forward and is keener to provide Xavi with an outlet option.But, Sergio lacks the physical presence in the air and the speed to cover larger areas of the pitch against the counter attack. The two holding midfielders actual featured together in the final five minutes. Busquets played further up the field, alongside Xavi, while Song maintained his position in front of the center backs. Maybe this is something we will see for a full match or maybe it will be a tactic to see out tight matches.

Los Che Style Against Real Madrid Contrasted to the Barcelona Match

The fixture list has been unkind to Valencia, playing at the Bernabeu and the Nou Camp in the first three weeks. Against Real Madrid, Valencia were dynamic on the counter attack and had just as many chances going forward as Los Blancos. The match was open for both sides going forward. However, Diego Alves was required to make more quality saves in the Bernabeu due to Valenica’s more aggressive approach.

The defensive line was not as deep and the midfield four had less defensive responsibilities. Sunday night, Valencia sat much deeper in the Nou Camp. The wide players were asked to defend and Soldado was isolated up top. Los Che were unable to transition the ball from defense to attack, mostly because of the suffocating Barcelona pressure. However, the defense allowed fewer quality chances on goal; Barcelona passed it around the area but interceptions were made at the right times. Overall, Valencia defended better against Barca, but were more lively going forward against Real Madrid.


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