FC Barcelona hammered Valencia 5-1 tonight at Camp Nou with four goals from the magical Leo Messi. As has happened too many times in recent weeks we found ourselves a goal down within the first ten minutes when Piatti converted Feghouli’s cross. However, Messi scored twice in quick succession to put Barça in front. Barça’s dominance was not reflected in the scoreline until the last 15 minutes when Messi added a couple more and Xavi Hernandez joined the fiesta, coming on as a late substitute to score the fifth.
The suspensions for Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano meant a first liga start for Martin Montoya at right back. Valencia were without the injured Ever Banega while Jordi Alba surprisingly started on the bench, but Roberto Soldado was back in attack supported by Feghouli, Jonas and the dangerous Piatti, while Tino Costa played alonside Albelda in front of the Valencia back four. In recent games we have often been put under pressure in the early exchanges but today things looked better as we started with some crisp passes and a moment of skill from Gerard Piqué which suggests he is not suffering from any lack of confidence. Albelda picked up a very early booking and Messi showed tremendous juggling skills to penetrate the Valencia area.
We had had no particular wobbles at the back but then in the ninth minute Feghouli got the ball out on the Valencia right. There didn’t appear to be that much danger as Busquets and Abidal allowed Feghouli to send in a long outswinging cross. There should have been no problem but Montoya failed to stay with the nippy Piatti, Piqué was nearby but failed to react while Valdés misjudged the flight of the ball running out of his goal while Piatti sneaked in front of him to score into the empty net.
It was another poorly defended goal to concede but at least it came out of the blue in an otherwise excellent first half. With Alves out we tended to attack more down the left side, in the 11th minute Alexissent a great ball through to Pedro but Diego Alves made the first of many saves. We continued to look dangerous without getting the final shot until the22nd minute when Fabregas sent the ball out to Pedro on the left, Pedro attacked right back Miguel and sent in a low cross, it wasn’t a great cross but Rami made a hash of his clearance and Messi pounced, with the subtlest of pauses to pick his spot past Alves.
The Valencia forwards tried to push up and pressurize our defence in possession but in the 26th minute we found an almost perfect antidote with the direct route Valdés-Busquets-Messi which led to a sizzling run from Messi which was only just denied by the defence at the last moment. Messi wasn’t worried. A minute later Iniesta threaded the ball through to Abidal on the left and Messi met his low cross at the far post, Alves stopped the first shot on the line but failed to hold the ball and Messi followed up to score from close in.
The remainder of the first half was a recital from Barça as we searched for a third goal. Messi had a great double exchange with Iniesta before shooting onto the side netting, the excellent Fabregas sent Alexis through only to be denied by Alves’s outstretched leg, and Fabregas also had a dangerous run into the area and shot saved by Alves. The most spectacular attempt came shortly before half time when Iniesta sent in a chip to Fabregas who had to turn and twist to hook in a shot while falling backwards which beat Alves but came out off the underside of the bar.
It was scintillating stuff but we still only led by the one goal. Alves again came to Valencia’s rescue early in the second half, first he stopped Alexis’s low drive and then he did magnificently to get his fingertips to deflect Cesc’s right-foot curler past the far post. Pedro had the ball in the net but was called offside even though the replay suggested that the last defender’s back foot was playing him on though it was normal that the linesman got this call wrong. What was more difficult to understand was how the referee could miss a clear push on Puyol in the area when the push occurred right in front of him.
Montoya began to get forward a bit more in the second half and in the 60th minute he sent over a great cross for what should have been Messi’s hat-trick though Alves made another great save to send Messi’s header onto the bar. Next Montoya was shooting himself and again Alves saved, Fabregas blazing an awful shot over from the rebound. The game was so one-sided but there was a growing tension as we failed to find the third goal. Valencia had hardly had a sniff since their early goal but in the 67th minute Piqué’s headed clearance went straight to Feghouli who fired in a wicked volley that Valdés had to react to brilliantly to get down low for a one-handed save. Valencia keeper Diego Alves may have made many more saves than Valdés during the game but none was better than this one from VV.
In the effort to score a third we even saw a bullet like low drive from Busquets that Alves did well to save. Tello entered for Pedro with just over 20 minutes to go and once again he made the difference soon after coming on. Messi found Tello on the left, he took on his man before shooting low, Alves was again in the way but the rebound fell kindly to Messi who fired back to complete his hat-trick. The third goal put an end to Valencia’s efforts and we scored two late goals to give a fairer scoreline on the merits of play. First Busquets sent another fine vertical pass through the middle for Messi to race onto and finish with his trademark dink over the keeper. Then Xavi put the icing on the cake after more dreadful defending from Valencia failed to deal with Messi’s pass, Xavi coolly dropping the ball over Alvesand in for our fifth.
Tonight was a joy to watch the team again. Probably the five days, rather than three or four, since the last game helped to make us a bit fresher. Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta both had delightful games in midfield while Alexis also gave Valencia some headaches. However, Leo Messi had one of those night that will be remembered for a long long time. Perhaps only Messi’s fourth goal was a real work of art but he was everywhere today and could easily have scored a couple more (or even more if the ref had given us two pretty clear penalties – there was the clumsy challenge on Cesc as well in the24th minute). We now have a whole week off without a game until next Sunday. I am confident that we will now enter into one of our better spells of games. The team always looks better as we move into March and the signs tonight are that it will be no different this season, so hopefully we can look forward to some vintage Barça over the coming weeks.
Barça: Valdés 6.5; Montoya 6, Piqué 6, Puyol 7, Abidal 7; Busquets 7, Iniesta 8 (Xavi m86, 7), Fabregas 8 (Thiago m77, 7); Alexis 7.5, Messi 10, Pedro 6.5 (Tello m68, 7).
Valencia: Alves; Miguel (Ricardo Costa m24), Rami, V. Ruiz, Mathieu; Albelda, Tino Costa; Feghouli, Jonas, Piatti (Alba m66); Soldado
Goals: m9 Piatti 0-1, m22 Messi 1-1, m27 Messi 2-1, m76 Messi 3-1, m85 Messi 4-1, m91 Xavi 5-1.
Yellow cards: m4 Albelda, m34 T.Costa, m65 Soldado