LIGA BBVA | BARCELONA 2-3 VALENCIA
Barça left exposed by Valencia
Goals from Parejo and Piatti saw Los Che overhaul Alexis' opener. Messi equalised from the penalty spot before Alcácer fired the winner. Alba saw red for Barça.
In the run-up to the match, Barcelona coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said this was no time for errors – and his side immediately responded by making a complete mess of things. At home. Against a Valencia side in the middle of reconstruction. Depending on what happens on Sunday at the Vicente Calderón and the new San Mamés, it may prove a disaster of colossal proportions. Barça have been left exposed, and the Emperor is standing naked in the street. It was the Valencia of Juan Antonio Pizzi and Rufete who were the first to shout to the world that the high and mighty is walking around town bearing his privates.
The 3-2 defeat at the Camp Nou, one in which Barça have seriously compromised their title chances in a tight race which turns a mere sneeze into a fully-fledged bout of the flu, is a clear sign that something is not working in this team. Maybe Saturday’s events are bad news for Barça, but it’s also great news for Spanish football that a team like Valencia can rearm in a weekend and frighten one of the best teams in the world on their own patch. Perhaps if everyone did the same as Valencia, the Liga BBVA would be more fun.
The match offered a glaring exposé of Barça’s problems when they have an off-day: the defence was a joke, Sergio Busquets cannot plug the holes left by colleagues who won’t stick their foot in even unintentionally, Alexis is the personification of hot and cold and Leo Messi alone is not enough. The Argentine was his team’s best player by a distance, until he ran out of steam and began to gift possession back to the Valencia backline. For the previous 55 minutes, he had laid balls on to attacking team-mates unable to take advantage. When he had the chance to score, luck was not on his side either. He is in the middle of a bad run in front of goal. He’ll get over it, because he’s the best player in the world. But all the indications are that the best in the world no longer plays in the best team in the world, as he had done until recently. The signs are ominous for Barcelona.
When Messi ran out of gas, Valencia roared into top gear. Barça had been excellent for the first 25 minutes; a period of play which in different times would have seen them establish a 4-0 lead. But this Barça side’s bark is worse than its bite. Alexis’ opening goal – which would have gone down in history had it been scored by Maradona, but (probably unfairly) will only be remembered as a fluke – did not end the match as a contest, as would previously have been the case. At 1-0, a conceited Barça became so engrossed in admiring their own reflection that they failed to kill Los Che off. Such was their self-satisfaction that Valencia were permitted to flourish from a position of despair, growing in strength and moving from hopelessness to believing in salvation. Pizzi, a specialist in comebacks, gave Tata a torrid time.
Valencia’s belief vanquished a side lacking in ideas. Barça grew weaker in inverse proportion to the growth of the visitors, who cut through the Blaugrana defence to equalise through Dani Parejo. They then came out for the second half with the bit between their teeth. They smelled blood, and went for the jugular. The match could be summed up as a tale of courage versus cowardice. Valencia were brave, because it requires courage to seek to come out on top from a position of inferiority. Barça, meanwhile, were plain chicken. From superiority they lapsed into mediocrity.
Barça’s lack of bite saw them bullied by Valencia, who proceeded to take the lead through Pablo Piatti. Within five minutes, Messi drew the hosts level with a more than dubious penalty awarded for handball by Ricardo Costa. The spot-kick was as debatable as Messi’s strike was perfect. That’s the only way to convert from 12 yards against the world’s best penalty-stopper.
Psychologically, the expectation was that the equaliser would play in Barça’s favour. However, Martino’s defence again made life easy for Valencia as they reestablished their advantage through Paco Alcácer. From then on, every step the Emperor took left him more and more exposed, left Messi more ungainly, left Andrés Iniesta unable to make his mark, Xavi lacking in substance, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis anonymous…while Valencia, growing in stature with an imperious Sofiane Feghouli to the fore, steadily laid the Emperor bare.