David F. Sanchidrián
Barcelona head off for the international break with three wins out of three. Their victory over Valencia gives them a maximum nine points from nine. Their loss to fierce rival Madrid in the Supercopa will have stung, but the five point cushion they already have in the league will let them sleep peacefully during the two weeks of International matches. Their win against the leader of the "league for normal clubs", in addition to soothing the atmosphere after the shock of the Bernabéu, also serves to restore confidence to a defence that was weak in Pamplona and the Supercopa games. Against Valencia the Barcelona back line returned to its tenacious solidity of last season, and with it the ability to press as soon as the opposition try and attack. With that, and their standard passing game Barça smothered Valencia from Adriano's strike on 20 minutes.
Whilst Barcelona are placidly facing up to the league break, Valencia are facing it unnerved and one point off the relegation zone. It is true that Pellegrino's team have already visited the two worst grounds in the league, but even so they haven't yet shown enough to guarantee them a tranquil journey to the Champions League qualifying spots. Today they never gave the impression they knew how to get something against a team they haven't beaten in the Catalan capital since 2003.
The final dish on the menu of the league's third weekend brought together some heavyweight ingredients which looked like being a cracking football recipe, but in the end was somewhat tasteless. To the quality and history of both teams was added the return of Pellegrino to his first home in Spain, the return of Valdez to the scene of his crime (one of the few daring enough to burn the Nou Camp during the Guardiola era), the opportunity for Cesc to bang his drum and Song's debut in the starting line-up. Maybe the most exciting was Song. Barça can rest easy because the Cameroon player, at least, made it clear that he can stand in for Busquets. An unbreakable rock, who scorns adornments to his job, that is, getting the ball away.
The spotlights of the start of the Tito era have been to a large extent focused on their hesitant starts to their games. It happened against Real Sociedad, in Pamplona and on Wednesday against Real Madrid. These troubles didn't show tonight in the Nou Camp. There was more tension, and above all more pressure when their rivals tried to hit them on the break. That being Valencia's only method of attack. It was obvious from the start that Valencia were missing the ace that caused so many problems for Barça last year. Mathieu didn't get past the last tests and recently arrived Cissokho took his place. Barcelona sent a warning down the channel defended by the Frenchman when Messi struck, at his pleasure, a cross from Dani Alves, but Diego Alves stretched enough to save it.
The azulgrana were clearly dominating the game, in part because Valencia didn't seem bothered by soaking up pressure at the back until they got the ball back, and then praying Soldado's quality could do something. It took 10 minutes for the player from Valencia to get his first chance, after controlling the ball well in front of Pique, but his shot wasn't strong enough to surprise Valdés.
Adriano then fired a long distance missile into this war between control on one side and patience on the other. As if the Brazilian was fed up of his team's constant passing he got the ball at the corner of the box, swung his boot through it, and the ball found the top of the goal without slowing down or varying one iota in flight. Adriano's improvisation paid off, but Barça instantly went back to their touch and pass play to try and erase Valencia completely. The visitors were organised in defence but absent in attack. Barcelona could have taken advantage of the stranded Valencia, but Cesc failed to successfully resolve a one on one against the keeper after Messi put him in.
A spark of hope ran through Valencia after the re-start, with longer balls ordered by Pellegrino, but they weren't enough to start a fire. Valencia should probably be thankful because Barcelona lacked finishing. Cesc in particular sent a ball into the stands from near the penalty spot after receiving a killer pass from Alexis. This lack of precision from Barcelona could have caused them serious problems if Víctor Ruiz hadn't been offside when he put the ball in the back of the net from a foul delivered by Tino Costa.
Valencia's attempts didn't scare Barcelona, but Tito Vilanova tried to cut them off at the root putting Iniesta on for Cesc and then Busquets for Alexis. This containment barrier put an end to Valencia's fishing attempts for a point.