Barça stay top of La Liga tonight after Adriano Correia’s 23rd minute strike earned a narrow 1-0 victory over Valencia at Camp Nou. The victory should have been more comfortable but Barça missed chances which led to a nervous finish with Valencia twice going close in the closing minutes.
Before the game Andres Iniesta came out to show the crowd his Uefa best player award but the surprise was that he started on the bench. Tito Vilanova gave a first start to Alex Song in place of Sergio Busquets, joining Xavi and his ex-Arsenal team-mate Cesc Fabregas in midfield, while Dani Alves returned at right back with Adriano again being preferred over Jordi Alba at left back. It should also be noted that Vilanova had to watch the match from the stands after his sending off last week which meant his number two Jordi Roura was on the touchline to direct the team.
In the very first minute of the game Dani Alves received a knock that had him looking uncomfortable early on and he would eventually be substituted at half time. He didn’t seem too affected and Barça generally started in fine flowing style with Song fitting in very well, showing good positioning, distribution and anticipation. The first goal attempt came in the 8th minute when Fabregas and Alexis worked the ball to Pedro on the right and the Canaraian cut inside before shooting low straight at Diego Alves in the Valencia goal.
It must be said that Valencia never sat back to defend, with coach Mauricio Pelligrini instructing his defence to push up when they could. In the 11th minute a long ball found Soldado, Piqué allowed him a yard of space and the Valencia forward curled a wicked shot just wide of Valdés’s far post.
Soon after Piqué was booked for putting up an arm and catching Jonas as he jumped for the ball, but Barça were generally controlling things. in the 16th minute Messi headed well over from Adriano’s cross, and a minute later Messi got a better header, this time from Dani Alves’s cross but Diego Alves got down well to save.
Barça continued to push Valencia back with typical slick patient build-ups. In the 22nd minute Messi found room to shoot but his shot was deflected for a corner on the left. Xavi took it short to Messi who played the ball inside to Adriano who, from just outside the corner of the penalty box, struck a beautiful curling shot high past Alves into the top corner.
Two minutes after the goal Xavi sent a brilliant pass through to Pedro who, stretching, forced another save from Alves. Barça were really buzzing now and a couple of minutes later Xavi and Messi combined to set up Fabregas with a golden opportunity, ten yards out, but he pulled his clipped shot a bit too far as Alves came out and the ball nicked the outside of the far post and went out.
There was one worrying moment for Barça in the 33rd minute as Piqué left his arm up going for another header against Soldado but this time the ref preferred not to see what looked like a clearer foul than the one in the 13th minute. Near the end of the first half, which was dominated by Barça, Valencia managed to worry our defence a little, though in the most dangerous incursion Feghouli was greedy before shooting wildly wide. The half ended with a Barça free kick and then a corner as the ref allowed injury time to run on but Messi’s final effort at the end of the half was blocked.
Jordi Alba came on at half time for Alves, meaning Adriano switched to right back and Valencia began the second half looking more dangerous, winning three corners in the first five minutes. Then Adriano tried his luck from the attacking right back position but he couldn’t repeat his earlier effort from the left, sending his shot well wide.
Barça were back to dominating but the second goal wouldn’t come. Alexis, who had a pretty quiet game, mainly on the left, switched to the right and in one moment of brilliance he turned past Ruiz before pulling the ball back to give Fabregas another great chance but this time he leant back too much and sent his shot well over from about twelve yards out.
Adriano had yet another effort, this time straight at the goalkeeper after a good one-two with Fabregas but with the score still at 1-0 the lack of a second goal began to be worrying. Ruiz had the ball in Barça’s net but was flagged for being offside from Tino Costa’s free kick and not long after Barça brought on Iniesta for Fabregas with the intention of maintaining control.
Xavi, along with Song, hardly put a foot wrong in midfield, in one moment of brilliance Xavi dragged the ball back before slipping the ball through Guardado’s legs and now with Iniesta on the pitch our possession game looked very solid. However, we sometimes seemed almost too worried about losing the ball that our attacks often seemed to turn themselves back rather than go for the goal.
Messi went on a couple of typical runs with no success and with the minutes running out Valencia made a final push forward for an equalizer. With Busquets coming on for Alexis for the last five minutes it was clear Barça were holding on to the lead. Valdés missed one corner that Adriano headed out, then in injury time Tino Costa sent in a corner from the left which found Ruiz jumping to head just a foot over Victor Valdés’s crossbar, and with fingernails being chewed all round Camp Nou Jonas sent a looping volley that dipped just too late, landing on the top of the net as it came down.
The final whistle came as a big relief today but in general terms we dominated enough tonight to deserve the victory. It should be remembered that Valencia already got a draw at the Bernabeu which should demonstrate the importance of the win. Apart from the Xavi masterclass in midfield I was especially impressed again with Alex Song who is looking as though he grew up in La Masia and if he continues in such form he will give Busquets a much needed challenge for the defensive midfield role. Adriano also deserves credit despite his golazo, as he performed well both at left back and right back, and it is certainly not going to be easy for Jordi Alba to win a regular first team place.
Barça: Valdés 6; Dani Alves 6.5 (Alba m45, 7), Piqué 7, Mascherano 7, Adriano 8; Xavi 9, Song 8, Fabregas 6.5 (Iniesta m63, 7); Pedro 7, Messi 7, Alexis 6 (Busquets m87, –).
Valencia: Diego Alves; Pereira, Ruiz, Rami, Cissoko; Albelda (Gago m77), Tino Costa; Feghouli (Nelson Valdez m82), Jonas, Guardado (Viera m77); Soldado.
Goal: m23 Adriano 1-0.
Yellow cards: m13 Piqué, m28 Guardado, m88 Rami