League lead slips through Barca’s fingers


Barcelona’s winless streak in LaLiga now stands at four matches after a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday night at the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia.

Not 90 seconds had gone off the clock when Barcelona found themselves down 1-0 through Ezequiel Garay, only for Lionel Messi to strike back roughly 20 minutes later in what turn out to be the only two scores of the contest. For Barcelona, it was far from the sparkling performance served up in midweek in the Champions League against Tottenham. The Catalonians could not find the key to unlock Valencia’s strong defence, resulting in another bitterly frustrating outing that leaves Barcelona tied with Atletico Madrid for second place and one point behind leaders Sevilla.

After his very solid performance in London, Arthur was rewarded with another start in manager Ernesto Valverde’s midfield, while Thomas Vermaelen came in for Clement Lenglet at centre-back. Valencia could not have asked for a better start, as Garay stunned the visiting Catalonia’s and scored from a metre out to give Los Che a 1-0 lead before the home fans had even warmed their seats. A corner kick was swung in and it skimmed off the back of centre-back Gerard Pique and caromed right to Garay at the far post and the Argentine easily redirected it in for the goal.

Valencia wanted more and they could have easily nabbed a second goal through Michy Batshuayi and then Geoffrey Kondogbia, but their respective shots barely missed the target. Dominating Barcelona for entire half is a near possibility and soon enough Valverde’s men started imposing their will on the wall of white shirts protecting Valencia goalkeeper Neto. Of course, it had to be Messi to breach the home side’s goal, as the Argentine played a crafty one-two combination with Luis Suarez and finished it with a hard-struck, low-driven shot inside Neto’s left post and into goal.

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Barcelona’s dominance in possession stayed intact for the remainder of the half and into the second stanza, but they had to be wary of the occasional Valencia counter-attack. In addition, Valencia were not conceding any spaces in their own half, which greatly frustrated Barcelona, leading to some mis-played passes.

The Barcelona attack was too predictable. Every time the visitors reached the final third, the ball was funneled to Jordi Alba’s side on the left and the hosts dealt ably with every advance. Still, there were a few looks at goal and Messi came close to snagging a go-ahead goal with 10 minutes left on the clock but missed wide.

Valverde waited until the 84th minute to make his first switch, as Philippe Coutinho was replaced with Ousmane Dembele and then four minutes later Rafinha for Arthur. It all amounted to nothing, and all Barcelona could do was trudge off the field with the bitter feeling of dropping more points.

Match Sheet:

1- Valencia: Neto; Piccini, Garay, Paulista, Gaya; Soler, Parejo, Kondogbia (Coquelin, min. 79), Guedes (Cheryshev, min. 12); Batshuayi, Gameiro (Rodrigo, min. 67)

1- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Vermaelen, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Arthur (Rafinha, min. 88); Messi, Suarez, Coutinho (Dembele, min. 84)

Goals: 1-0, min. 2: Garay; 1-1, min. 23: Messi

Referee: Gonzalez Gonzalez (Castilla y Leon). Yellow Cards: Suarez (Min. 41) for Barcelona, Soler (Min. 43) for Valencia, Parejo (Min. 58) for Valencia, Coutinho (Min. 58) for Barcelona. Red cards: None

Stadium: Mestalla

Attendance: 46.249

If Arthur was impressive for Barcelona against Tottenham in the Champions League on Wednesday, he went one better against Valencia in LaLiga Santander on Sunday.The Brazilian is helping Ernesto Valverde by taking up a role which has been left vacant ever since Xavi Hernandez left the club.He still has much to learn and many steps to take along the path, without any doubt, but he has started well.The midfielder set a new record against Valencia with 142 passes, 135 of which found their target, a new high this season.What’s more, it is the most passes a player has made away from home in LaLiga Santander since 2012 when Barcelona faced Levante and Xavi registered 148 passes.His control and driving of play, understanding the movement of the ball and his team-mates has seen comparisons made to the Catalan now in the Middle East.It’s still too early to make any such demands, but the 22-year-old could be as close to a replacement as Barcelona will ever find for their former midfield leader.

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