What a cracking game we just saw with so much to talk about. A tactical war between the managers, a clear penalty not given, Soldado acting like a prat, a late red card, the ref not playing out the full 4 minutes of extra time (?!), fantastic individual performances on both sides, but mostly very entertaining and tense football.
We came out with a 2-2 draw, and even though it would be incorrect to say it’s 2 pts dropped, most of us will be feeling that way. At the end of the first half it would have been fair to be 4-2 down but in that second half we really could have won it late on if not for an unacceptable miss from David Villa.
I guess the line up wasn’t as easy as a thought, with Pep throwing in his favorite “niñita” of all Keita. The TV put it as the standard 4-3-3 with Puyol, Busquets, Masch, and Abi at the back, with Xavi, Keita, Cesc in the mid, and Alves upfront with Messi and Pedro. But within the first minute of the game it was clear the actual tactic was 3-4-3 with Masch, Puyol, Abi ; Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Keita ; Cesc, Messi, Pedro. Valencia defender Mathieu made a late fitness test and started, which concerned me cause he’s a solid footballer and always a threat.
We started the game slightly better, but you could say it was rather equal. Valencia, well not really, made it 1-0 in the 12th min after Abidal showed some nerves in the box by poking it into his own net. Masch was burnt on the right by my friend Mathieu, something that was a pattern throughout the half, crossed it in and for whatever reason Abi tried to clear and control it but scored. It was a real shame cause Valdes was there to cover it quickly.
Pedro, our player of the half, scored just 1 min 49 seconds later finishing off a slick move he started. Passing it into Cesc, Pedro immediately began running into space, our new star in number 4 did a lovely blind flick into Messi’s path, and the little maestro spotted Pedro and played him in past the defense. 1-1.
3 minutes later the referee showed why those of his ilk are always under such criticism when he made the most cowardly of decisions by not giving us the most glaringly obvious penalty you will come across. Messi drew in the shaky Rami on the left, showed him the ball, the Frenchman took the bait and put in a ridiculously clumsy tackle that clearly took Messi down. Sending Rami off, as he would have been forced to do, and give a penalty in a very hostile stadium was too much for Señor Carballo. I will however add he had a super game otherwise, letting it flow, letting fair physical play happen, giving good advantage, and not falling for a lot of the simulation.
Valencia retook the lead in the 22nd minute again with a devastating attack down the left where Masch was having a torrid time. Still, how can we blame him? He’s outdone all our expectations at centerback but why slot him on the right against a very tricky Alba and Mathieu. (When he returned to the middle in the second half he showed us why we rate him so highly.) Pep should have brought Alves back. Matheiu again crossed it, Abidal missed the clearance, and Hernandez had the goal at his mercy and took no prisoners. 2-1.
Credit to Valencia, they earned that half time lead and if not for Keita and Soldado it could have been worse. On both occasions attacks on the left flank left Mascherano for dead and once in the 25th minute Keita got back to break it up and then in the 41st Soldado missed such an easy goal.
We only really had one more chance in the dying minute when Alves was put through and should have just crossed it into a crowded area with Cesc and Pedro, but tried to be cute and we lost the momentum.
Pep went back to the 4-3-3 immediately after the break after Emery’s very crafty use of both Alba and Mathieu as interchanging defenders/midfielders. Whether Emery predicted the 3-4-3 from Pep or adjusted to it very quickly, well done sir, because that just killed us. Pep had to go to 4 at the back, and in my mind should have done so after the 2nd or 3rd time Masch was left for dead. That left side was so dangerous that Alves did not dare go forward in the 2nd half, but then credit to Pep for utilizing Adriano to fill that role, and despite a few poor passes, Adriano did his job creating space and danger.
In the 57th minute Pep made 2 changes, one I think everyone saw needed to happen as with a 4-3-3 Keita became redundant and we wanted an extra attacker on. Keita did go out for Adriano, and Villa also came in for Pedro, though I have no idea why and it proved costly.
Guardiola then went for the win with a ballsy move of brining in Thiago, who had another very controlled game, for Puyol in the 63rd minute.
Soldado had a good chance earlier on that Alves blocked, and then Masch banged the crossbar after wondering stealing it off an opponent, running 20 meters, and letting rip. That was the 67th minute.
Now Messi was not having his best day by any means. His dribbles weren’t coming off, his final ball lacked that purpose and zip we are spoilt to have so regularly, and he blew the chance to take tie it up in the 75th minute after Xavi played him clear on goal. Rami did well to get back and make enough physical contact to put Messi off, but on a sharp day that was 2-2 every time.
Up until this point, truthfully, I felt we had an equalizer coming. But when he missed I lost some conviction, thankfully, just 1 minute later Messi atoned for his error by connecting again with Cesc who scores his 4th in 4 games, the first ever Barça player to do so in his first 4 appearances. Messi came deep again, watched Cesc peel off the defense, lifted it over, and then Fab was really cool in taking it down and placing it around Guaita. 2-2.
We really came on after that, Cesc in particular. He was darting into space, hustling our opponents, making tackles, just really top effort stuff. We pressed their goal hard and I really thought an opening would happen.
And it did, but the very unimpressive Villa missed the most golden of chances. Now, previous to this I was ripping my hair out with Villa. Not only are his touches poor this season, but his tactic play is nonsensical. He simply refuses to leave that left touch line, as if the sky would fall down if he did. Too many times Messi drops deep, we are pushing forward and then no one is in the box but Villa is standing on the left not creating any danger. He needs to start taking a chance and moving in the middle and if the attack fails, fine, return to the left. But this obsessive hugging of the wing isn’t intelligent and he’s better than that.
In this specific miss, I find it unacceptable. We bought him because his caliber means he finishes those chances 10/10 times. Messi held the ball in the box, had 4 defenders swarm around him, but genius saw the space for Villa, put a perfectly weighted ball into an area barely 5 meters from goal, and then David did everything right except the finish. Yes the save was good, but a striker of his status does not lift the ball in that scenario, you keep it low and across the keeper, giving him no chance whatsoever of a save. Not impressive stuff.
A minute later Adriano got down the right, played it right across goal, but no one was there to touch it that 50 centimeters it needed to get home.
Barça pushed on but time just ran out, though not sure by only 3:30 of 4 minutes was played, especially since Alba was given a red card and wasted a good 60 seconds complaining.
So another 2-2, but our best 2-2. Yes we could have won in that second half, and with Madrid’s pathetic 0-0 earlier it would have been such a bonus, but in the first the experimental 3-4-3 got ripped apart. Pep may get some people blaming him, but let’s not, he’s earned it. He at least corrected it 2nd half, yes should have done so during the 1st, and the rest of his subs showed astute thinking. Well done to Emery and his team for a great performance, without parking the bus or being overly physical, that showed an ability to keep the ball, dictate play, counter attack brilliantly, and defend well. The sooner we get Pique back the better cause we have looked shaky, but all things considered 2-2 in our 3rd hardest league game of the season against a really good Valencia isn’t a failure.