Valencia and Barcelona shared the points at Mestalla, but it could’ve have gone either way. Valencia were looking to hunt down Rayo Vallecano for the 6th and final European football league spot, whereas Barcelona were attempting to add to difference between them and Atletico Madrid. Valencia started brightly, and a fine finish from Ever Banega (who turned up late and drunk for training in midweek) but was cancelled out just 6 minutes later via a Lionel Messi penalty, after Pereira brought down Pedro just inside the box. A draw may have been a fair result, but in reality, either team could’ve snatched the 3 points but it wasn’t to be.
Line-upsA 4-2-3-1 formation was deployed by Ernesto Valverde, sporting 5 changes from the away win at Deportivo. Young Bernat was given a rare starting position whilst Guardado was moved from left-back to the left wing position. Ruiz and Costa continued as the pivot players. Soldado would spearhead the attack, with Banega slotting in behind him. Ricardo Costa and Rami continued there centre-half partnership whilst Guaita replaced Alves in goal.
The usual 4-3-3 ‘false 9’ was used by Barcelona, with assistant coach Jordi Roura taking charge whilst Tito Vilanova receives treatment in New York. Just 2 changes from the midweek Cop del Rey showdown with Real Madrid, as Victor Valdes returned in place of Pint. Puyol was dropped to the bench, and Masherano partnered Pique. Cesc Fabregas attempted to get possible where and when possible whilst Iniesta and Messi dropped centrally to recieve the ball.
The game started in a positive fashion. Both teams pressed high and kept the ball well. Valencia were particularly impressive as they used a high line and pressured as a unit which put Barcelona under great pressure. The pressurisation from Soldado, Banega, Bernat and Guardado pushed Barcelona deep and also allowed Tino Costa and Ruiz to push up further. As a team, they pressured well and took the game to Barcelona, without giving them time to play their famous tiki-taka style of play.
Above, 7 Valencia players have made their way into Barcelona’s, which mentioned previously forced Barcelona backwards and the likes of Xavi, Busquets and Pique were unable to take their time. Bernat pressurizes Alba early, whilst an on rushing Ruiz puts pressure on Xavi who is about to recieve the ball. Banega is already ready to pounce on Busquets had he received a pass and Soldado was likewise but to Mascherano. The early pressure put Valencia on the front foot, and created chances for them which they failed to take.
Only 5 minutes later, there is a very similar situation. This time there is more Valencia players in the opposition half (8), which sees Cissokho join the high pressure. Tino Costa has pushed further on to attempt an interception from Busquets to Xavi. Bernat is still keeping tabs on Alba, Banega on Busquets too and finally Guardado on Alves. From there, they’ve got a solid foundation, which sees Ruiz and Tino Costa marking Xavi and Cesc Fabregas. Cissokho and Pereira mark Pedro and Iniesta respectively which leaves Rami and Ricardo Costa to deal with Messi; a foundation which maintained through the game, until they later tired in the final stages. The high pressure is shown well by their interceptions.They made a total of 8 interceptions within the first 20 minutes, 5 of which were in the middle third. The bottom 3 interceptions were made by Victor Ruiz, who was originally the deeper pivot player, with 2 interceptions in the middle third.
Banega’s Goal (33′)
Ever Banega capitalized on the high pressure by Valencia, and their rewards were given in the 33rd minute. It came moments after a free-kick, but Valencia’s determination to get players forward and create opportunities for themselves in an attempt to score.
Even after the free kick was initially cleared, Guardado pumped the ball back into the box. At this point, there are still 6 players in and around Barcelona’s 18 yard box. Cissokho, the left back, is the 2nd furthest Valencia player forward, and was still there once the sequence had been finished off by Banega’s (far left) opening goal. It just shows Valencia’s sheer determination to get players forward and threaten Barcelona.
Valencia Prioritise Crossing
Valencia looked to utilize Soldado’s heading ability, especially against Mascherano who isn’t the best aerially. Crosses were floated in from left, right and centre, but Barcelona dealt with them well. Los Che delivered a total of 23, 11 more than Barcelona. 6 were corners, but the other 17 were dead ball deliveries.Only 6 were successful, but 5 of those 6 were key passes. Andres Guardado and Aly Cissokho both attempted 4 crosses, as they were both successful in getting behind an attacking minded Dani Alves, who made it all too easy for the left sided duo of Valencia to get those crosses in. Though, the success rate of both were fairly poor, with only 1 of those crosses actually being met by a team-mate. Oddly though, due to Guardado and Cissokho’s success in getting behind Dani Alves, Valencia predominantly attacked down the right hand side, with the confident young Bernat against ex-Valencia player Jordi Alba. Bernat only managed one cross, but it was a successful one which was met by Roberto Soldado – just what Los Che were attempting – who put his overhead kick attempt embarrassingly wide. The infographic above suggests that Valencia’s play was mainly down the flanks, which is unsurprising considering the amount of crosses they attempted. Also it is understandable because of Busquets, who is arguably the best holding player in the world, who normally wins his battles against the opposition attacking midfielder. Due to the attacking mentality of Alves and Alba, it made it an easier choice to attack the flanks, especially as both Guardado and Cissokho (down the right) and Bernat and Pereira (down the left) found success more often than not.
Success Through The Middle For Barca
As Iniesta was deployed as the left winger, it was only natural for him to drift centrally, where he is normally positioned. He dropped slightly, and moved centrally in order to gain slight control of the game and make a difference, similar to Lionel Messi. This meant there wasn’t a wide option, other that Alba, on the left hand side, but Alba was always outnumbered in a 2-on-1 situation, so therefore Barcelona had to make most of their attacks down the middle.Above, we can see how close Messi (#10), Iniesta (#8), Fabregas (#4), Xavi (#6) and Busquets (#16) are. We all know that Barcelona’s central core is their main strength, and they utilized this against Valencia. Xavi, Busquets and Fabregas excelled in the passing area and saw more of the ball than any other players, hence why Iniesta kept drifting in centrally. This meant that Ruiz and Tino Costa had more on their plate to deal with, whilst Alba and Alves found little success out wide. It also reflected on their shot attempts. Due to Barcelona’s success down the middle, it meant that would be were most of their shots would come from. 70% of their 10 shots (or 7/10) were attempted centrally, with only 3 coming from the flanks. Effectively, Barcelona’s focus down the middle allowed Valencia full-backs Cissokho and Pereira to push on without concern of any attacks by Barcelona down the wing. This effected Alves’ and Alba’s attacking contribution, as they were both out numbered due to Pedro and Iniesta consistently drifting centrally to recieve the ball.
A tight game, which both sides had very similar styles of play; press high, create chances and keep possession, which Barcelona won the possession department as per. Valencia stuck it out well, defended exceptionally well with Rami and Ruiz the stand out performers in a defensive view. Had Barcelona set up to play wide, Cissokho and Pereira’s attacking chances would’ve been limited and Barcelona would’ve been better. Either side could’ve won, but the points were shared it what seems a sensible and fair result. The point saw Los Che overtake Rayo Vallecano into the last Europa League spot, but for Barcelona the point allows Atletico Madrid a slim chance of catching up. Valencia face Celta de Vigo next, and Barcelona host Getafe in match day 23.