Another fantastic evening for Valencia CF and Pako Ayesteran as they beat Barcelona in what was a very entertaining match. Sure Barcelona were on a poor run of form and missed a lot of chances but even and off-form Barca is pretty formidable. And at this point of the season, do we really care if Barca is in form or not? Probably not, we take what we can. Last time I said beating Sevilla was huge because it was one of our tougher fixtures remaining, well no doubt this one was another huge victory for us, getting maximum points from two really tough fixtures against teams who usually give us a terrible time. We have now put a big gap between us and the relegation zone, certainly a comfortable distance away and with our next fixture being against Eibar, we can overtake them with a win and climb to the top half of the table.
I've got to say Ayesteran is doing better than I expected. When I first saw the lineup without Alcacer or Negredo, I was a bit worried but more so intrigued. Barcelona had the majority of the chances in the first minutes of the game with multiple shots fired at Diego Alves's goal only for him to respond each time with a brillant save. Most memorable were the ones against Messi from close range and then against Neymar's lob after a quick free kick. Diego Alves would keep us in the game and then Valencia would hit on the counter. First it was Rodrigo who came close to scoring on Valencia's first chance but his shot fizzed past the post. Soon after Gomes found the overlapping run of Siquera on the left edge of the box and Siquera's shot was deflected into the net by Rakitic in attempt to stop the ball. I thought at first glance that Siquera was aiming for goal but I'm not sure, the camera angle never showed the shot/cross properly. Barcelona would keep hitting hard but every time thwarted by either Diego Alves or Mustafi who were both brilliant. It's good to see Alves recover to this level of goalkeeping again, we really needed it especially today. And Mustafi is back to being a rock in defense after a few poor games. Of course Abdennour had some good tackles and interceptions too but I felt Mustafi really pulled more than his own weight tonight. Approaching the end of the first half Valencia would pass the ball around near the edge of Barcelona's box in attempt to retain possession till the whistle blows. However, after an impressive set of quick passes that were very resemblant of Barcelona's own style, space opened up in their defense and Dani Parejo found the run of Santi Mina on the left who slotted the ball perfectly past Bravo. The Nou Camp was silenced at that point, nobody expected this result.
The second half started more of the same with Barcelona getting most of the possesion and Valencia striking on the counter. Santi Mina would be replaced by Alcacer who had quite a few runs that could've resulted in chances but Mascherano was having a good night and stopped every attempt from Rodrigo and Alcacer before they got to the box. Barcelona's chances would soon pay off as Jordi Alba would cross the ball in from the left for an unmarked Messi to easily slide it past Alves. The game would still continue in its same pattern and Valencia was unlucky not to have had some one-on-one chances as they were called offside when perhaps they should not have been. Regardless, Valencia would be troubled one more time as Pique would miss a shot on goal after having been left in so much space in the penalty box. Valencia would take the victory and you can see the expression on the player's faces how much that win means for their confidence and morale.
0 - 1 (o.g.) Ivan Rakitic, 26'
0 - 2 Santi Mina, 45'
1 - 2 Lionel Messi, 63'
FC Barcelona (1) - Bravo, Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Sergi Roberto, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi, Suarez
Valencia CF (2) - Diego Alves, Barragan, Abdennour, Mustafi, Siquera, Fuego, Perez (Cancelo, 74'), Parejo, Andre Gomes, Rodrigo (Gaya, 88'), Santi Mina (Alcacer, 60').
Diego Alves (9.5 - MOTM) - simply amazing tonight, stopped all but one of Barcelona's attempts and he could do nothing about that one.
Barragan (7) - another good performance from the right back, quiet going forward but good defending.
Mustafi (9) - was helping the defense everywhere, kept Suarez quiet for the night and neutralized Messi and Neymar on many occassions.
Abennour (7) - his partnership with Mustafi today was great, they both knew what to do and covered for each other well.
Siquera (7.5) - was more adventerous in offense and it paid off resulting in the first goal. Did leave a lot space for Neymar at times but was quick to track back.
Fuego (6.5) - his interceptions were on point today but lost possession too many times because he was trying to make passes that he couldn't do.
Parejo (7.5) - very cool and composed performance. Had the vision and the skill to pick out Mina for the second goal and kept possession very well when we did get the ball. Ayesteran somehow managed to get him some of his confidence back. Hopefully he stays this way.
Andre Gomes (7) - started out on the right wing but drifted to the center and the left at times which helped build up the first goal for us. Was unlucky not to have been in a one-on-one chance that was incorrectly ruled offside.
Enzo Perez (6.5) - didn't see too much of him but he did start some counterattacks for us when he runs the ball out from the back.
Rodrigo (6) - very active upfront but it really doesn't seem to be working for him at Valencia. Had one good chance in the first half but he rushed it and slowly disappeared from the game. Saw more of him in the second half when he would start the counterattacks when Barca commited too many players forwards but nothing resulted in a good chance. Hopefully coach will motivate him to do better.
Santi Mina (8) - Brilliant yet again. Great work ethic, superb finishing, really wants to prove himself at Valencia.
Ayesteran (8.5) - really managed to give us some hope and what our team can do. More than tactics, he's managed to inspire some of our players who were low on confidence. His style seems to be reminescent of the Valencia of the old. Soak up all the pressure and strike decisively on the counter. We had a lot fewer chances that Barcelona but we captialized on them and made them count.