Umm… holy crap.
That was a partidazo (great game) if I ever saw one. Thoroughly enjoyed it (well, maybe not so much in the beginning, heh), and after a long day, the best kind of entertainment.
I’d take 2-2 at Mestalla any day of the week, except maybe Monday. (I like to start the week on an awesome note, and anything other than a win will have me sulking for the rest of the week). In fact, I would have gone for 2-2 if I wrote a preview for it, which is partly why this post is here.
Sorry for the preview no-show, guys. As one of the hardest away games of the season (yes, including CL) against a world class team in pretty good form, it deserved at least a little blurb. Maybe Pep decided to do some tinkering (heh, and I wonder how well Inter will do with the master tinkerer…? Yeah, moving on) so we’d have so much to talk about post-game that pre-game was pretty much unnecessary.
(Our previwer and blog overlord that’s not Kxevin is back, though. Yay!)
A big thank you to Ryan for hosting the Liveblog today. You did a great job! Thanks so much.
Some thoughts on the match:
–First things first, a bunch of hats off to Unai Emery and Valencia. I love the pre-match love-ins between managers — Pep and Unai have a lot of respect for each other. Probably because they’re both young and hip managers who gesticulate a lot — and when the two Dahveeds Silva and Villa were there… Suffice to say I spent much of my time not dedicated to Barca watching them.
They’ve always been strong at Mestalla, but coupled with a savvy manager who really, really pays attention to the opposition team… Well, you get something like what happened in the first half.
(If you can’t tell, I really like Unai. Been following him since his time at Almeria).
— Speaking of the first half, man, did we get roasted on the right, or what? It’s no surprise since the last time we played Valencia they started two leftbacks (one to attack, and one to defend). I mean, Unai pretty much said so in his press conference and, well, if it worked so well last year, why change it?
Which is why I’m a little disappointed in Pep and his team selection. In this case, they had Mathieu attack, and Jordi Alba defend. Nothing we didn’t already know, which is why the team selection had me scratching my head a bit. (Mentally of course). Hindsight is of course 20/20, and Mascherano’s skill set could have worked well at RB (I think he was playing there at least. Will have to watch more closely if I get the time to watch the game again). It didn’t though, and there was admission* of his mistake by Pep when he subbed in Villa and Thiago, both of whom I would have started before the match. We could have limited a lot of the damage and played like we did for the last 10 minutes earlier, but again, it’s easy to say these things in hindsight.
*Post game Pep said: “We leave with lessons learned and we’ll wait them [in the return leg in Barcelona].”
–Oh, and one thing that I want to stress here is that cules in general have a tendency nowadays of forgetting we play against another team. It’s expected that we walked onto the pitch of the current Liga leaders who also have the joint-top Pichichi and dominate them. Sure, some say, there are going to be some scares, but we have enough to get this done easy-peasy. Some passes weren’t connecting in good positions? Is it a bad pass, or was it a good interception? Considering that some fans sometimes think opposing players are pylons, the latter option isn’t, well, an option, so it must be the former.
That being said, we’ve got some kinks. Rustiness, new formations, yadda yadda yadda. Once we inevitably get over this little hump, watch out.
–Actually, keep watching regardless because Cesc-Messi is mucho sexy. (Pun had to happen. Sorry). As readers Blau-Grenade, blitzen, just listenin’ and the other people from the Cesc Faction (don’t deny it, there were factions, man. I don’t miss Cescgate) can attest to, Cesc coming was always going to have a positive effect. I think it’s because he knows I’m watching him, waiting for the slightest sign of weakness… 😀
Between him and Messi, they’ve either scored or assisted every one of our goals except for one. Oh my.
— On the subject of Leo, it’s a given now that fouling him in the box isn’t a foul, eh? That’s two penalties, one in each half, that he should have gotten. No doubt. And it’s not whining, complaining, or whatever to say so. It’s just a fact.
It’s funny in a frustrating sort of way, like the refs are saying, “this guy’s too good. Gotta give the defenders something to work with.” But I don’t find it very funny, to be honest.
Moving past that, the pass he did in the second half to Villa where he froze four defenders inside the box was nothing short of Messi. Should have been buried by El Guaje; he’s played with the Chip the Goalie master for a season now. His man feelings for Valencia must have gotten in the way.
— Know who else got in the way time and time again? El Capita. It’s so awesome to have Puyol back. He was in fireman mode for the entirety of the first half. I missed those man-sized, inch-perfected sliding tackles. Note that they aren’t reckless; he’s going in in a way that, for all its strength, is controlled. It’s an art, man. To tackle like that is an art.
— He’s allowed to have these sort of matches once in a while. I mean, even machines have a time where its productivity goes down a bit, like when a computer is on too long and is all slow. (I hate that.) Though I think Valdes should have been more clear in his communication for the first goal, I’d say that Abidal didn’t have the greatest of matches today. Which is funny because usually when things go wrong on the defensive end, and people don’t understand why, Keita‘s blamed. (Tho, I think Keita’s skill set wasn’t meant for this kind of game).
As usual, these sort of plays start from someone in attack losing the ball and a sort of domino effect starts to happen. Abidal clears the ball both times and no goals, but remember why the defense was on the back foot both times in the first place. I’d place it on the team’s collective breakdown which steams from the different positions which was what Pep chose. Therefore, everyone has a part of the blame.
— Xavi was kind of awesome. When he came in, Thiago was pretty amazing too. Xaviago. I love it.
— Busi had The Funk, and when he funks up the place (i.e. his passes go astray), we notice because of the position he plays. He looked a lot better in the second, and that goes for the whole team really.
— Banega‘s alright, ain’t he? He had some nice moves. It’s kind of sad that I wait for La Liga Loca to give him some kind of backhanded compliment, though.
— Mascherano had the place on lock down in the second half. If that cannon went in, thus scoring his first goal in blaugrana, I think I could have screamed my roof off. Some proper smashing as well. And those interventions? Me gusta.
— Alves as a right winger? Pep, my man, you tried that in the 09/10 Clasico in the Bernabeww and it didn’t work all that great. Osasuna? Well, Valencia ain’t Osasuna. /shrugs
— One of the consequences of playing us is that even when we’re feeling The Funk, we’re still pretty damn good. Valencia played their hearts out and still could, and probably would had we gotten that penalty, have lost. They were pretty much out of gas by the 75th minute, which Unai tried to rectify by putting in fresh legs. This is the trade-off the happens when you take the game to us, and press and all that jazz. You have to put the game out of sight or you’ll be under ridiculous pressure when you start to tire even a little bit.
If we had won this game, would it have been unfair? Depends. Did people think the Milan result was unfair despite them having two clear chances in the first and last third seconds of the game? When you have quality players, they usually find a way to settle games, whether or not your team deserves it or not. Football’s just that kind of game.
–On the subject of seconds, we get 4 minutes. A random red card happens during that time, and we’re about to launch another assault on goal and the ref blows at 3 minutes 30 seconds? Dudes, AC Milan would have scored in that time frame. *sulks*
All in all, this was an amazing match. We could have saved ourselves a lot of grief and hair pulling (and for Miguel, hand pain from punching walls) if we had gotten Thiago and Villa on from the beginning, but it is what it is. At least we got a very entertaining game out of it. The best so far this season, IMO.
Oh, and EE drew! I’m missing all the schadenfreude with this placement. 🙁
Ah well, he who laughs last, laughs the hardest, no?