Yesterday's game was a classic example of the enigma that is Valencia. On the surface of it, conceding four goals for the fourth time this season doesn't sound good, but this wasn't like the screw-ups vs LasPalmas, Eibar or Celta in the cup. The scoreline actually hides what was one of the Valencia's better performances this season. Ultimately, we just ended up overpowered by a strong team, in part due to injuries affecting half of our front line and mainly due to playing most of the game with ten men. Yet again, though, it raises the question, why is it that we always play at a decent level against Barça and R.Madrid but then produce such dire displays as the ones we've seen in recent months against Gijon, Osasuna or Eibar?
I mentioned the injuries. Nani and Rodrigo are still out and a big shame was the absence of Mina, who scored in both games against Barça last year. Voro made only one change and it was a slightly surprising one. Zaza was dropped and, in his place, Enzo returned from suspension, with a bit of shuffling around following. Soler moved forward to where he's more effective and Munir took up the central striker role.
The first period started with a pattern that would continue for most of the game. Barcelona had most of the possession and created more chances, but Valencia did well to frustrate them and created a few chances of their own, with the best being a pullback from Cancelo which rebounded to Soler, who forced a good save from Stegen.
In the 29th minute and somewhat against the run of play, Valencia were ahead. I've criticised Alves' distribution before, but he hit a perfect punt to put Munir clear through, however, the latter scuffed his shot. Just as we were yelling at him, Mangala popped up with a great header from the resulting corner.
The lead lasted a bit over 6 minutes and the equaliser was a frustrating one. After a lot of good defence up to that point, Valencia simply switched off. The right half of the defence had been the weaker side throughout, with Montoya being tortured by an in-form Neymar and Garay struggling to keep up with Suarez. But it was a stupid goal. A quick throw-in from Neymar in behind our defence. Alves got down well to cover the space and against 99% of forwards, probably would have saved it, but when it's one of the best forwards in world football, you can't gift chances like that.
The key moment in the game then occurred. Mangala had possibly been Valencia's best player up to that point but then threw it away. First a poor, mistimed challenge on Messi earned a yellow, then he hauled back Suarez in the box. Sure, the latter made a meal of it, but overall: clear foul, clear penalty, clear card and suddenly Valencia were down to ten men and 2-1 down.
To their credit, the team didn't give up. From the kick-off, it was Barça's turn to go to sleep. Soler threaded a great pass through to Gaya and the latter in turn squared well for Munir to equalise.
Sadly, in the second half, ten men in the Nou Camp against an in-form Barcelona proved too much, but VCF did keep fighting, creating further chances for Soler and Munir and the team was still in with a shout until Andre Gomes made it 4-2 in the 89th minute. (As an aside, Barcelona winning the Champions' league this year wouldn't be the worst thing from a VCF point of view as it would gift us 5 (or 10?) million as part of his transfer deal.)
Overall, after the sending off of Mangala, it was always going to be a serious struggle for Valencia to get points from this game. The team did make a valiant effort, but that comes back to my question at the start. Why does this team so often only turn up against top clubs? Games like this are so much more frustrating than the 1-1 draws with Gijon, as they show us glimpses of what this team can do, but overall, this level of effort comes too rarely. Why can't we play this way against the Gijons, Betises, Osasunas and Eibars?
Alves 6.5 - made some great stops, though should have done better for their third goal
Montoya 3.5 - night to forget, was turned inside out by Neymar.
Garay 4 - struggled to keep tabs on Suarez and ineffective overall
Mangala 5 - was having a really good game until the sending off, but cost us the game
Gaya 7 - has been back in form of late and had a good game defensively, while contributing well in attack
Enzo 5.5 - the team is better with him in it, but he was limited to a mostly defensive role
Parejo 5 - while he was better than the last game and provided the assist from the corner, he struggled to make a big impact
Orellana 4.5 - what's happened with this guy? A great few games after signing but a series of below-par performances of late including this one, where his passing was often wayward
Soler 6.5 - confident performance overall and did well in attack, though less effective in cutting out the opposition midfield
Cancelo 5.5 - had a very good first half and caused their defence real problems, but much less effective after the break and could have done more to help out Montoya in defence
Munir 6.5 - overall had a good game, though missed a couple of good opportunities. I know I'm in the minority who thinks we should buy him, but I do think he has good potential.
Abdennour 5 - more effective than Garay after coming on and produced a competent, if unspectacular, display
Zaza 4 - limited and saw little of the ball, with Valencia under the cosh
Bakkali N/A - unable to do much in his usual late cameo