Heroic comeback (2-1)
Barça were once again lacking some of their spark following a hectic international week. Valencia was always going to be a tough opponent, and the impeccable new Camp Nou turf was the venue for an intense tactical battle between Pep Guardiola and Unai Emery. Xavi and Villa started in a lively, focussed FCB eleven, but were well matched early on by an efficient Valencia side that edged into the lead thanks to Pablo (min 37). But there was plenty more excitement in store in what proved to be a memorable encounter.
Barça saved the best for the second half, when they enjoyed almost all the chances, with Iniesta and Puyol getting the goals in what proved to be an epic comeback from the defending champions.
Battling for the ball
Both sides clearly wanted to play the possession game, and Valencia showed from early on just how well they can imitate what has come to be considered the Barcelona style. The visitors were well organised, moved their lines forward and created constant pressure. And that is precisely the kind of opponent that Barça find the most uncomfortable to play against.
But Guardiola’s players are made of stern stuff, and they weathered that storm well, meaning that the first half hour or so was something of a deadlock in midfield, with very few clear-cut opportunities for either side.
The first of those came from a Barça corner in the 19th minute, but Villa really should have done better against his former team. That was the moment the game started coming to life. Barça’s highly mobile forwards began to combine the way we love, although it was Xavi, with a long range effort in the 22nd minute who came the closest to breaking the deadlock. Gradually Barça gained possession for longer and longer periods, and as they did so, they seemed far more settled on the field.
Valencia silence the Camp Nou
But just as things seemed to be sorting themselves out in favour of the Catalans, Valencia struck. It was their first real opportunity of the game, yet Pablo Hernández made no mistake as Valdés was caught out by an unfortunate deflection. Moments later, the FCB stopper was one on one with the same man, Pablo, but this time produced a point-blank save to prevent his side from going two down. Barça responded with two attempts from Messi in the six-yard box that inexplicably failed to find the net. Just as the game was producing the most thrilling football of the night, the half-time whistle blew.
Barça needed to start the second half strongly, and couldn’t have wished for better. Barely a minute had passed before Iniesta beat the offside trap with a sensational one-two with Xavi and his class finish brought the match back all square. Almost as importantly, it also boosted Barcelona’s confidence, and from then on, there was no question which the better side was. Messi was playing with renewed conviction, and if it hadn’t been for a remarkable save from César, Villa would have scored with a close-range header in the 69th minute. But the Valencia keeper was powerless moments later to deal with another header, this time from Puyol, on the end of a Xavi assist, and that finally put Barça in command at 2-1.
The Camp Nou was roaring by now. Messi went another of his trademark slaloming runs, and Villa was brilliantly thwarted by Cesar after breaking through into a one-on-one situation. Xavi was withdrawn as a precautionary measure, and that took some of the bite out of the FCB midfield. With just one goal in it, there was concern that Valencia might just snatch a late equaliser, but they had lost a lot of their composure and found effort after effort frustrated by some sturdy Barça defending. And there was a lot to thank Mascherano for, with several of the Argentinian’s interventions proving providential. The last ten minutes were a tense affair, but there was to be no further scoring, meaning FC Barcelona have a further three points to add to their collection on a wonderful night of footballing action at the Camp Nou.
Preview Goals galoreGoals are often assured in games between the two clubs and Barça have often chalked up some high scores with Ronaldo (1997), Rivaldo (2001), Thierry Henry (2009) and Lionel Messi (2010) all scoring hat-tricks against Valencia.
Villa and Barça welcome league leadersJordi Clos
FC Barcelona entertain Valencia on Saturday evening (20:00, R@dio Barça) in a game that pits the league champions against the current league leaders in Camp Nou and sees David Villa face his former club for the first time.
Pep Guardiola heaped praise on Los Che in the build-up to the game after the club have made a tremendous start to the new campaign despitem any beliving that they would feel the loss off several star names in the summer. Despite seeing Villa and David Silva, among others, leave coach Unai Emery has bought shrewdly and Valencia have defied the odds to go top of the table and make themselves a team considered to be seriously considered as having a shot at the title.
Barça’s main aim this weekend will be put an end to the run of uncertain home results having been held to a 1-1 draw by Real Mallorca soon after being beaten by Hércules. The team are adamant that they will continue to play the attractive and exciting football that has won them so many admirers around the world, but will want all three points to go with it in such a high profile encounter. Víctor Valdés will be pleased that Villa will be on his side for the first time after seeing the striker score a number of times against him for Valencia in recent seasons.
Villa has stated that he will not celebrate if he scores against Valencia this weekend as a mark of respect for everyone at the club, but will be looking to increase his impressive records against his former sides. When representing Los Che the Spain international netted no less than six goals in ten games against Sporting de Gijón and Real Zaragoza.
In their six league matches so far this term Valencia have dropped just two points, when they were held at home by Atlético de Madrid. There away wins, at Sporting, Hércules and Málaga and home victories over Athletic Club and Racing Club have meant that Emery’s team have 16 points out of a possible 18. They have also impressed in the Champions League by winning 0-4 at Bursaspor before being beaten 0-1 at home by Manchester United. Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado have settled in quickly with four goals between them, while Joaquín and Vicente have been revitalised this term.
Barça have been boosted by the news that Villa has recovered from a knee injury sustained on international duty, Xavi is training again after suffering an ankle knock and Pedro could be available after picking up a blow in the game against Real Mallorca. For the visitors Joaquín, Hedwiges Maduro and Miguel are all injured and Chori Domínguez has been left out of the squad.