Barça and Valencia drew 1-1 tonight in Mestalla to go all square into next Wednesday’s second leg at Camp Nou. In the first half Valencia gave us plenty of problems and deservedly took the lead after 27 minutes through Jonas Gonçalves. As at the Santiago Bernabeu two weeks ago Carlos Puyol ghosted in at the far post to head home from a corner to level the scores. Barça could easily have won it in the second half but Leo Messi had a penalty saved by Diego Alves, and Dani Alves was denied a goal by the far post.
The game was played at a very high pace from the beginning with both teams pressing up and causing the other defence difficulties on the ball. In the 6th minute Cuenca chased back to win the ball for Messi who was then fouled on the edge of the area. Messi tried to curl the ball inside the post with his free kick but didn’t quite get enough curl. At the other end Busquets was robbed leading to the first danger in our area and both Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol, playing at right back in place of the benched Dani Alves, had some early nervous moments. However, Valencia again showed similar problems at the back allowing Messi to rob the ball but after getting to the edge of the area his shot hit a defender.
With no Xavi or Iniesta, the midfield of Thiago and Cesc failed to take control of things. Valencia looked for the early ball behind our defence and in the 18th minute Miguel sent a through ball for Soldado to chase with Piqué. Pinto who wore the name “Colorado” on his shirt in homage to his grandfather who died recently, came running out of his goal and managed to get his hand to the ball, but replays showed he was marginally outside the area when he touched the ball and he could have had no complaints if the referee had shown him a red card. Fortunately the moment was very fast and it was certainly not easy for either the linesman or the ref to see it.
Soldado hooked a volley over from a corner as we looked more and more on the back foot. Despite Puyol playting at right back we still struggled to control Jordi Alba and Mathieu. In the 27th minute three quick passes opened spàce for Mathieu on the left as Puyol was caught out of position. Piqué had to leave Jonas to come across to cover, Puyol then failed to cut out Mathieu’s centre and Jonas was on his own to shoot high past Pinto into the roof of the net.
Barça tried to react but Messi pulled his shot five yards wide. Then in the 34th minute Cuenca made a brilliant Messiesque run before slipping a great ball into Alexis who might have done better but Diego Alves saved. From the resulting corner Fabregas swung the ball to the far post, Diego Alves came for the ball and got stuck in no man’s land, Victor Ruiz failed to spot Puyol who rose majestically to head into an empty net. It was a gift but it seemed to take the wind out of Valencia’s sail and we hardly suffered at all after the equalizer.
Alexis had the ball in the net at the start of the second half but he was correctly called just offside. Valencia’s pressing was not the same now and we began to find spaces though unfortunately it was not Messi’s best game and he lost the ball several times trying to make his characteristic runs. We needed another moment of magic from Cuenca, sending a glorious pass to Thiago who was then brought down by Miguel. The ref had no choice but to point to the penalty spot, though Messi’s penalty to Diego Alves’s left lacked conviction and the Valencia keeper made a relatively easy penalty save.
Guardiola brought on Dani Alves on the right wing as Barça began to push for the winner. Abidal got forward to force another save, and then Piqué headed over from close range afdter Messi headed back Cesc’s corner. Valencia were limited to some less intense counter attacks but Piqué was alert to cut out a couple of centres while Mascherano had an excellent match getting in front of the Valencia forwards time and again. Alves did not offer a great deal on the right but in the 74th minute he played a not-great ball inside to Messi who had to stretch to get a touch but managed to send the ball back in for Alves who was now just faced with his namesake in the Valencia goal. The angle wasn’t great but Dani should have done better, his shot bouncing out off the far post, Thiago following up had his shot blocked.
It was the last real chance as the game dropped somewhat near the end. Valencia had nothing more to offer while I think Barça were probably quite happy with the result. It was another game where we failed to control things as we like to, but perhaps compared to other games at Mestalla we didn’t suffer so much. Messi is going through another quiet spell but we know that he won’t take long to bounce back. I also feel I should again stress that I think we get a lñot more out of Alves playing from right back. The most positive thing for me was the performance of Javier Mascherano back in defence, I really think he should be a starter whatever that may mean for the Puyol-Piqué partnership.
Finally, I cannot finish without sending out my heartfelt condolenses to all those affected by the terrible tragedy after the Al Ahly-Masry game. I have no idea what was behind the problems but the scenes I saw briefly on TV were awful. What a terrible shame.
Valencia: Diego Alves; Miguel, Rami, Víctor Ruiz, Mathieu; Albelda, Banega; Piatti, Jonas, Jordi Alba; Soldado.
Barça: Pinto 6.5; Puyol 6.5, Piqué 6, Mascherano 8, Abidal 6, Busquets 6, Thiago 6 (Dos Santos m79), Fabregas 7, Cuenca 7 (Tello m87), Messi 6, Alexis 6 (Alves m63, 5.5).
Goals: m27 Jonas 1-0, m35 Puyol 1-1
Yellow cards: m34 Banega, m41 Mascherano, m46 Albelda, m53 V.Ruiz, m74 Alba, m80 Pinto, m87 Mathieu