MSN magic masks Barcelona’s deficient defending
History happens here. So read a huge poster put up outside Camp
Nou with an iconic image of Lionel Messi from the recent
comeback against Paris Saint-Germain. This was Barcelona’s
first match at home since then – but there will be
more concern than optimism after a somewhat unconvincing
performance this time.
Valencia are an inconsistent team and have been struggling at
the wrong end of the table again this season. Nevertheless, the
Mestalla-based side always seem to raise their game against
Barcelona and Real Madrid – and they had won two of their
previous three visits to Camp Nou in La Liga.
That is probably why Luis Enrique decided to opt against
rotation, picking the same side that secured that historic 6-1
win against PSG here earlier this month: 3-4-3, with Samuel
Umtiti back in defence and Neymar restored in attack after
missing the 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna last Sunday.
Failure to win this match would have meant all but bidding
farewell to La Liga. Leaders Real Madrid had beaten Athletic
Club 2-1 in a hard-fought fixture at San Mames on Saturday and
moved provisionally five points clear. Barca could simply not
afford to slip up.
Nevertheless, poor defending from a corner allowed Eliaquim
Mangala to head home from a corner and give Valencia a shock
lead. And as so often before, it took some inspiration from the
forwards for Barca to turn things around.
Quick thinking from a throw-in by Neymar gave Luis Suarez space
to run clear and he beat Diego Alves with a precise finish to
make it 1-1. Then Mangala pulled back the Uruguayan in the box
and was shown the red card. Valencia were down to 10 men and
Lionel Messi hit the resulting penalty down the middle to give
the home side the lead.
A goal up and a man up, that looked like that. But before the
half-time whistle, Valencia hit back almost immediately as
Barca were caught cold in defence and Munir El Haddadi made it
It was the second time in two games since the comeback win that
Barca had conceded twice and PSG must be kicking themselves.
Another goal here for the French side and the famous victory
would probably never have happened.
That was a different match, of course, and Barca’s back line
was much more concentrated – as was the entire team – and Luis
Enrique must hope his side can hit those levels once again when
it matters most.
Barca went on to win this match comfortably in the second half
as Messi netted another special strike with a super run and a
low, angled drive before Neymar set up Andre Gomes for the
fourth right at the end. And it could have been more as the
Brazilian, in particular, was guilty of missing chances in
search of his 100th Barca goal – and also came close with a
fantastic free-kick similar to the one he had scored against
This team still boasts a perfect record with Umtiti in
defence in La Liga, but even he was caught out at times,
along with Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique as Valencia
caused problems on the counter attack.
It was not too important in the end because Barca won the game
to stay in the title race thanks to their three fantastic
forwards, but with a Clasico clash at the Bernabeu ahead
in April and a tough tie versus Juventus in the Champions
League also in wait, such defensive deficiencies could prove
much more costly.