In what was a hugely entertaining 1-0 victory for Barcelona, their opponents Valencia will feel much hard done by as it took until the very last kick of the game for midfielder Sergio Busquets to score the winner.
The victory puts Barcelona back to just two points behind leaders Real Madrid who comfortably beat Malaga 2-0 on Saturday. The result is also a knock to Valencia’s Champions League aspirations as they drop to 5th.
Both sides lineups provided small shocks for supporters as the home side decided to leave striker Paco Alcacer on the bench, having just returned from a short injury spell, allowing former Man City striker Alvaro Negredo to start upfront. Barcelona, typically known for having just one defensive midfielder playing in a midfield three, decided to go with both Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets leaving Xavi as the support behind the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Valencia: Diego Alves (GK), Barragan, Mustafi, Otamendi, Gaya, Andre Gomes, Fuego, Parejo (c) (83′), Rodrigo (72′), Feghouli, Negredo (81′)
Subs: Yoel (GK), Piatti, Paco (81′), Orban, Filipe (83′), De Paul (72′), Cancelo
Barcelona: Bravo (GK), Dani Alves, Pique, Mathieu (67′), Alba, Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi (c)(79′), Neymar, Messi, Suarez (79′)
Subs: Ter Stegen (GK), Barta, Adriano, Rakitic (67′), Rafinha (79′), Pedro (79′), Munir
The game started out slow with Barcelona beginning with their patient possession game, but it didn’t take long before Valencia’s pressing earned them an early opportunity as Xavi lost possession far too easily inside the center circle leaving defender Jeremy Mathieu to resort to bringing down Negredo poorly and being shown an early yellow card.
It didn’t take too long after for yet another warning as to what Valencia could do on the break as the ex-Benfica player Rodrigo turned past Busquets with ease on the edge of the area and fired a shot towards goal that Bravo could only parry leaving defender Gerard Pique to clear the danger.
Then the first of many clear goalscoring opportunities for Luis Suarez arrived. With a very unlikely Barcelona move, a long ball was played up to Neymar who failed miserably in controlling the ball, however it fell perfectly for Suarez but he could only fire straight at Diego Alves from 7 yards. The Brazilian keeper’s brilliant quick reflexes were the only thing stopping Suarez from a first La Liga goal.
The next event led to be a catalyst for many first half incidents as Lionel Messi played a smart pass into Neymar to put him in on goal, but was stopped in his tracks by defender Nicolas Otamendi who made a quality last ditch tackle. What shortly followed was quite frankly – pathetic. After watching many replays what appeared to happen next was that Otamendi decided to lean over Neymar and probably taunt him, having failed with his chance, the Brazilian then brushed his face against the defenders which then led to Otamendi deciding that he should roll around the floor as if he’d just taken a right hook. Ridiculous. All players were then involved in a argument that led to the referee booking both Barcelona’s Pique and Valencia’s Antonio Barragan.
It took a while for the game to get back into it’s flow as Valencia’s Mustafi and Barcelona’s Alba were both given yellow cards for poor late fouls on opposition players. Only half chances for both sides were created up until the end of the half, with Neymar and Dani Alves unable to take theirs. Andre Gomes went close with a low bending effort around Pique that went just wide of Bravo’s right side of the goal.
The biggest opportunity for Valencia came right on half time as they broke from a poor piece of play from their opponents. It eventually lead to Andre Gomes going around goalkeeper Bravo, but the angle was too closed off for him to finish the move with a goal . His shot hit the side-netting but it got a huge reaction though from the Valencia fans that reverberated around the Mestalla as the half time whistle blew.
Valencia began the second half how they had ended the first, with their speedy breaks as more near chances came for both Rodrigo and Negredo. Now for the second of Suarez’ huge missed chances and this one was massive. The Uruguayan impressively beat goalkeeper Diego Alves to the ball after Otamendi had failed a poorly headed clearance. With the goal at his mercy, Suarez turned with speed and took his chance far too quickly as he hit the near side netting somehow. He too knew he had missed a glorious opportunity as he collapsed in dismay.
Shortly after, the game became much more open as each side continued to go through chance after chance. Rodrigo almost got lucky as a corner missed every man inside the heart of the penalty area and fell to him but he effort was cleared off the line by Pique. Neymar fired wide from 20 yards as he found some space in the Valencia half just before Suarez finally got his best chance to score, and that he did, however the Uruguayan will feel hard done by as the goal was wrongly ruled out for offside.
Neymar had had another long range effort deflect into the air and it fell right into the path of right-back Dani Alves, the Brazilian then fired a volley towards goal that Suarez instinctively poked past Diego Alves. However, unfortunately for Suarez the linesman flagged for offside but replays showed he clearly was not. There was yet another excellent opportunity for Valencia to take the lead but winger Feghouli’s effort was just not good enough as he fired straight at Bravo.
The game began to wind down as both sets of players began to tire, but it was Barcelona who looked the more likeliest as the game approached injury time. Having sustained continued pressure from the away side, Valencia finally broke in the final seconds of the game. A corner spilled out to Alves who calmly played a pass to Lionel Messi, the little magician then put in a brilliantly measured ball towards the back post where Neymar was waiting. The Brazilian blew his big chance, heading straight at Diego Alves, but the most unlikeliest of players reacted the fastest in the form of Sergio Busquets and the Spaniard blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
There was brilliant scenes of celebration from the players as they knew very well how big a scare Valencia had proven to be. The one downside to what was a brilliant game of football is one stupid fans actions. One Valencia fan who had obviously been angered by Barcelona’s late winner decided to throw a bottle in the direction of the celebrating Barcelona players, and had hit Lionel Messi. Actions I am sure will be taken later on by the Spanish FA, but let this not overshadow what was a quality game of football.