Barcelona 5-1 Valencia: Valencia do their Nou Camp usual – start well, then tire in second half

February 19, 2012

The starting line-ups

Lionel Messi hit four goals as 2nd-placed Barcelona thrashed 3rd-placed Valencia.

Pep Guardiola was without the suspended Daniel Alves, so Martin Montoya played at right-back. Xavi Hernandez was only fit enough for the bench. At the back, Gerard Pique returned after being left out in the 3-1 Champions League win over Leverkusen in the week.

Unai Emery was without Jordi Alba from the start, so played Jeremy Mathieu at left-back, rather than in the left wing position he’s thrived in against Barcelona in the past. Ever Banega’s strange injury ruled him out.

Valencia press

In the previous two seasons in this fixture, Valencia started very well before tiring and eventually getting beaten:

In 2009/10 they kept Barcelona scoreless before the break, then Barcelona switched to 4-2-4 and Messi got a hattrick.

In 2010/11 they were 1-0 up at half time, but Barcelona played much quicker in the second half and turned it around.

Valencia again started very well here, and pressing Barca was a key part of their approach. Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli moved forward and made Valencia 4-2-4 without the ball, pushing high up on Barcelona’s back four. The home side looked nervous at the back, and looked long much more frequently than usual, attempting to get out of the press.

Valencia had problems in deeper positions, though, because the pressing meant Tino Costa and David Albelda were moving high up on Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta, and although the defence pushed up too, they left a lot of space between the lines. This played into the hands of Lionel Messi, who spent the first half playing as both a number ten and a number nine – collecting the ball deep, but also poaching in the six-yard box.


Messi started off by moving to the right-of-centre to receive the ball, similar to what he did in this game two years ago. Valencia tried to counter this by pushing Victor Ruiz forward onto him, with Adil Rami covering the space in behind.

But Messi often skipped past the first challenge, while Valencia also had a big problem in that Albelda picked up a booking after just four minutes, meaning their deepest midfielder was now scared to tackle between the lines. There was also the question of whether Jonas was good enough defensively against Sergio Busquets – the more responsible Banega probably would have started there.


But Valencia opened the scoring, and although it was from the only shot they managed in the first half, there was some tactical logic to it. Piatti played very narrow, disregarding the attacking threat of Martin Montoya, who was clearly not as dangerous as Alves would be. That contributed to Piatti being in an attacking position to meet Feghouli’s cross.

In fact, the most interesting feature of the first half was that the sides effectively switched which sides they attacked down. Valencia had used the Mathieu – Alba combination to great effect against Barcelona previously, with the right-sided midfielder tucking in and becoming a goal threat. With Mathieu pinned back, they did the opposite – Feghouli ran with the ball and the right-back (Ricardo Costa, having replaced Miguel early on) overlapped – Piatti got into the middle.

Barcelona, meanwhile, were without the Alves threat which leads to them playing down the right frequently. Usually, 37% of their attacking play is on the right (30% in the centre, 33% on the left) but that figure seemed to be more biased towards the left in this game. Pedro set up Messi’s first (via a defensive error) and Iniesta laid on the second. Both did so from the left, and the injury problems in Valencia’s right-back zone (plus the fact the right-back was very attacking) certainly contributed.

Second half

The tactical battle didn’t significantly change in the second half. Barcelona were utterly dominant for long periods, and could have scored many more.

Montoya became more of an influence after half time, as if Guardiola had told him to take advantage of the space ahead of him, with Piatti coming inside. Montoya overlapped well, though he was pinned back midway through the second half when Alba replaced Piatti, meaning Mathieu moved forward to the left wing.

Closing stages

At 2-1, Valencia had a promising spell where they chipped the ball over the top for runners in behind the Barcelona defence, in particular Pique. His form has dipped recently, and he seems to struggle when forced to turn and run quickly. Barcelona’s pressing also dropped, however, allowing Valencia’s midfielders time on the ball to play the pass..

Still, Barcelona had extra attacking options, with Cristian Tello on for Pedro down the left. He dropped deep away from Costa, who looked tired, and ran with the ball to good effect – his end product was inconsistent, but Messi’s third came after his good work. Again, it was in Valencia’s right-back zone that the danger came from.

At 3-1 it was game over, and Messi took charge.


Nothing new learnt here – Valencia’s performance was what we expected, and Messi being brilliant is hardly a revelation. Guardiola didn’t seem happy with a couple of players (Tello and Fabregas) in the second half, possibly for their lack of pressing, but this was classic Barcelona – and in the classic Barcelona 4-3-3 shape, with wide forwards on either side.

Emery was brave and tried to press, and when sides are brave enough to do that – Villarreal, Arsenal, Espanyol, Real Madrid on occasion – it generally creates a brilliant game, though it generally ends in a Barcelona win too.

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