Distracted by the Hleb: Valencia-Barça

Copa Preview: Valencia-Barcelona, Wednesday 3pm ET, GolTV

You may know them as the perennial third-place team, a team of despicable bat-men, or perhaps they’re your “second” team in Spain. Perhaps they’re even you’re first team in Spain and you’re slumming it at BFB with your second team (or maybe you come here simply to read the outrageously well-written articles by graceful, erudite Adonises and Athenas). Whatever your affiliation with los che, it’s probably sufficient to say that you’re not going to underestimate them. They are, after all, the perennial third-place team and used to be big on the European stage. They’re still capable.

Yet it’s the Copa del Rey. It’s the thing Sergio Ramos couldn’t even care enough about to not smash under a bus. Sure, it’s the semifinals and we all love hardware. The Triplete was all the more magnificent because it wasn’t a Doblete. And yet. It’s the type of preview that makes me want to curl up in a ball and not write for a couple of days.

The cavalry rapidly arrived in the form of my friend CJ, instant messaging me:

CJ: http://www.minijuegos.com/Messis-Hand/11767#
: Thank you. Now, write my Valencia preview. I’ve already started it for you.
CJ: Just make it a Hleb is gone party post.
CJ: He is! Officially!
CJ: And [Jonathan dos Santos] got promoted.

From there it sort of devolved into a bunch of blathering about Guardiola being wonderful in press conferences (actual quote from CJ : “kfhsdjkgykfhgjkdfhgjkldf”) and me trying to get work done and somehow not go dancing through the cubicle maze. Cuenca also renewed and was promoted (and now wears number 23 and signed through June 30, 2015), so it’s going to be fun to talk about how big our squad is once everyone has recovered. For now, it’s 18 to the copero front lines.

Valencia smacked the molasses out of Levante in the quarters (4-1 and 0-3), but succumbed to Racing Santander 2-2 in the league this past weekend, ensuring their bad run of form in that competition reached 4 matches. They haven’t won since beating Malaga 2-0 at the Mestalla to end 2011. They’ve drawn against Villarreal, Osasuna, and Racing and even lost to Real Sociedad. Yet they’re still in 3rd. We can beat them, but we won’t.

Official Prediction: 2-2. Newspapers scream about crisis and we all have aneurysms.

Oh, did I mention that Hleb is gone? Pop the champagne, Laporta-style:


By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. Hleb gone? So who’s gonna hlebbed us? is the verb still applicable?
    I really liked Tello, and I have high hopes for Cuenca. Thanks for the review, and wanna thank also for the couple of Euler reviews. Always enlightening.

  2. – What the hell that Laporta celebrate there? He look not so elegant as Barcelona president

    – I wish we dont push too hard for this game and resulting getting another tired legs for liga match. Scoring more than one away goals, 2-2 draw like Isaiah predict would be fine, then play safe in Camp Nou just to win on agrregate.

  3. – Thanks for that Messi’s hand link

    – CJ? Calvin Junior?

    We can beat them, but we won’t. That is so culé-ish.
    but yeah, I’ll take 2-2

    – Hleb is gone. Forever. But I don’t know about Hlebruary. We’ll see if this February stays February.

    1. No

      I’d like to see Tello or Sergi Roberto from the beginning against Valencia. Tello looked very promising against Villarreal, and Sergi Roberto was great in every single match he has already played.

      I would probably give Cesc a rest, to think about his game and his squandered opportunity vs Villarreal.

      A 2-2 is a good result, but imho Valencia is capable of doing more against us *fear*

    2. C’mon Helge. That wasn’t as easy as it looks re: Cesc.
      And to bench him for missing a difficult shot?
      That’s a bit too much.

      I would rest him just to rest him.

      Put Thiago at hybrid LW.

    3. Yes, that is also a very good reason.

      But you could rest Messi to rest him, rest Xavi to rest him, rest Alexis to rest him etc. – I just think that Cesc would be missed less than the above mentioned players. That’s why a would like to see him on the bench.
      If this was a match against AD Ceuta or sth, I would rest all of them 😉

  4. Sorry for Hleb. I believe the common element in all forwards and midfielders that failed at barca in the last years has been their failure to play ‘combinative’. I have seen Bojan fail over and over because of his inability to connect with Messi. Ibra – not even worth mentioning; I hope Sanchez is better at integrating with the Argentinian, their one-two last Saturday was brilliant.

  5. How bout this:
    Alves, Pique, Mascherano
    Busi Xavi, Messi, Thiago, Adriano
    Cuenca, Sanchez
    -classic amoeba formation-or a 1-8-1 🙂 with Alves on a shorter leash than usual because he’s part of the 3-man back line

    I’d like Messi and Xavi but rest but I don’t think it will happen. Abi hasn’t had a rest in like forever so he sits. The captain should be saved for the league. Sergi Roberto in for Xavi ASAP. Tello in for Messi (I know…I know…then give Alexis a rest) ASAP. JDS rests Busi ASAP.
    0-1 (Tello—why not) with Mascherano being a complete animal in defense stopping everything. Rare Mestalla victory. Furthermore, the kids perform tiki taka magic similar to to the last CL game.

    Do you think we can borrow Keita back for 90 minutes on Saturday?

    Has anyone noticed that the official team phote(from the official site) has JDS, Montoya, and Muniesa in it but not Cuenca, the first to be promoted? Football is a strange game.

  6. NO Sanchez please. We can’t risk another forward out.

    Use Cuenca, Fab up front if necessary, and Thiago in the midfield.

  7. Tito’s not going to be there today. According to Barcastuff he’s still recovering from his surgery in Nov. This seems odd, ominous, and scary as he has made it to other games. So not liking this! 🙁

    1. There were really frightening rumors circulating earlier about Tito and his health… Praying none of them were true!

      He is what Barca need right now, the calming and the ever-watching eye on the sidelines, why else do you think Mou Mou tired to poke his eye out 🙂

    2. I think he did not travel due to the cold temperature.

      Did anybody notice, in the last game when Pep was getting ready for the first change he was talking to his assistant which was talking on the phone. I was imagining that Tito was giving his opinion from home 🙂

  8. Was watching Feyenoor vs. Ajax at de Kuip (from my armchair of course!).
    I really like Vertonghen. His ball distribution skills are better than 2011 Pique.

    It got me thinking how awesome it would be for him to join his ex-partner in crime Vermaelen over at Arsenal.
    Arsenal would have 2 tall ball playing CB’s.

    Didn’t see much of his pace though.

    Any Eredivisie followers care to give your views on Vertonghen?

    1. I’ve been a huge fan of Vertonghen (I support Ajax in football manager and in all my spare time).

      I think you hit the nail pretty much on the head. He is an intelligent defender who is good on the ball and has great distribution, but lacks pace. He also has a screamer of a long shot, and knocks in a couple goals from distance a season.

      I’m a fan, but I’m not sure he would fit that well in this Barcelona back line.

    2. I was more looking at him as someone who will keep Pique on his toes since they are a carbon copy of each other.
      Based on current form, I’d take Vertonghen over Pique.

      His long aerial balls hit their targets. They are faster and doesn’t float in the air like Pique’s which makes it easier for a defender to intercept since the ball is longer in the air.

      He makes a lot of forward runs with the balls. Takes shots which were dangerous.

      Too bad he is not an upgrade of Pique pace-wise.

  9. I thought Hleb did okay whenever given a chance but got limited playing time from Pep.
    Pep didn’t make a change until the 89th minute therefore squad players hardly have any time to make an impact.

    Something must’ve happened behind the scenes between Hleb and Pep.

  10. Valencia’s Adil Rami (26) and AC Milan’s Thiago Silva (27) are two of the centre backs Barcelona is scouting with an eye on next season [as]

    I would go for Silva and Alba. Haven’t seen much of Adil Rami but if he is that good, many clubs would be associated with him but I have read none so far.

  11. Valencia has successfully utilized a few different tactical approaches against Barca over the past few seasons. Emery reimplemented these in the first meeting this season with great success.

    Valencia has their own injury issues so perhaps they’ll need to change the way they play. However, I’d guess Emery will go back to approaches that were successful in the past. Hopefully Barca makes needed adjustments though that will a challenge given the injuries.

    Valencia has played an assymetric formation vs. Barca. Valencia pinches in their right flank players centrally to overplay the middle. Emery tries to get extra defenders into the midfield zone by drawing in from wide positions.

    The problem with this type of approach is that it can make a team very narrow. Emery tries to balance this by having his left flank players stay wide (Alba/ Mathieu). In attack Valencia tries to create 2 vs 1 with the FB/LW vs. barca’s RB.

    This asymmetrical arrangement has caused barca problems. They have difficulty playing through the middle. And they also have trouble playing the ball to Alves as an outlet because the valencia players on the left flank stay wide.

    Essentially Valencia’s strategy is built on the idea that Barcelona’s left flank is the lest dangerous aspect of the team. As such it’s better to allow space there – even if its significant space to take away Barca’s strengths.

    Barca shouldn’t play a 3-4-3. As we saw in the first leg – that formation plays into Valencia’s tactical focus.

    What Barca need to do to counteract this is to make the left flank dangerous while having players on the right that can attack to pin back Alba/Mathieu while also tracking the runs of those two defenders.

    If Alexis is healthy it would be beneficial to have him play on the LW. He will find room there if Emery attempts to use his assymetric formation.

    Playing Adriano at LB behind Alexis would then further augment the attack on the L flank. Abidal could play CB.

    The issue with this formation is that Barca don’t have that many attacking players and it calls into question who would play RW. They can’t use Messi as the nominal RW. That will allow Alba to make untracked runs forward when Messi drifts centrally.

    Barca could play Cuenca on the RW – but if he’s stationed there he’s going to need to work very hard defensively. And I’m not sure if he has the experience needed to read the game in the way he would have to.

    If the team had an in form Pedro – he would be an ideal winger to use in this kind of game. But they obviously don’t.

    So in this sense it makes sense to use Adriano/Alves as RW/RB. But that means Adriano’s attacking thrust wouldn’t be available on the left flank. In this case they could play Abidal at LB and play more conservatively on the left (though I think that might be a missed opportunity).

    One option would be to play Thiago on the RW. Or play Thiago on the LW and Sanchez on the RW.

    The issue there though is fatigue for Fabregas and Xavi. I don’t think both of them should play in this match. One should be rested – probably Fabregas as he just looks exhausted.

    Another option would be to play Cuenca or Tello on the LW and put Sanchez on the RW. This would reduce the space Sanchez has to operate in but it would allow Barca to defend Alba/Mathieu with their strongest R flank defense – Sanchez/Alves. At the same time it would reduce the defensive burden on Cuenca/Tello.

    I could see Tello in particular doing very well on the LW with his pace in the open space Valencia may concede there. But does Pep want to start him in this match? Putting the player with the least experience into the position where there is most opportunity has real risks to it.

    Not easy decisions. The team really has functionally depleted its reserves and it has a real impact on how they can counter Valencia’s tactics.

    If Barca want to take maximum advantage of the weak area in Valencia’s system – they need to maximize attack on the left. If they can do that successfully it will force Valencia to defend wide on their right flank. That in turn will open up the middle.

    But for this match, the only real way to do that while playing Thiago in midfield to rest Cesc/Xavi is to entrust Cuenca (or Tello) to play significant minutes, potentially on the RW and defend Alba/ Mathieu – players who have really troubled Barca in the past.

    1. So it would be:
      Pinto/ Adriano, Abidal, Puyol, Alves / Thiago, Busi, Xavi / Tello, Messi, Sanchez

      I think it might be a lot of responsability to Tello, but he may be up to it. Cuenca plays better on the right wing, but he doesn’t track back, and we need to take care of that wing. Emery may surprise us. Pep definitely will surprise us. Whatever tactics,
      Vamos Barça!

  12. I know many are riding on Tello right now but I just don’t think that it’s wise to start him in this kind of match.

    I also don’t think that Cuenca should play. He would have to deal with the Alba and Matthieu at the same time. I don’t think he has the quality and experience of going up against two players at the same time.
    He needs to attack those two and defend those two. Too much to ask for a young guy like him.

    1. Bottom line for me is that none of the B teamers are really game changers at the moment. So it depends how much we want this.

      I’m not sure why Cesc is so tired and wouldn’t blame him at all for the miss we’re all worked up about. These sometimes go in and sometimes don’t. The ball came at pace to his weaker foot and he had to hit i I can completely understand Xavi. So on that basis I’d go with Cesc and Thiago in the middle in a 4-3-3 with Busi at DM. Happy to let Sanchez and Cuenca accompany Messi up front.I thought Tello had a good 15 minutes or so but even in that time it struck me that he was going to have something more than stopover and race to byline. He’ll need to develop the cut inside and right foot curl to succeed.

  13. Pinto
    Puyol – Pique – Masch – Abidal
    Cesc – Busquets – Thiago
    Cuenca – Messi – Alexis

  14. In the U.S. I believe the match is only on ESPN deportes. That can be accessed via the internet if you get ESPN 3.

    I don’t think the match is on Gol TV. And I know if there’s an English langauge broadcast.

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