Valencia 1, Barça 1, aka, “Everybody is NOT happy”

What a match. Barça played its best half of football all season, Valencia defended like lions, even if if should be ashamed for being second-placed team in the league and cowering on the rocks, both goals were of very high quality.

There were key moments galore, and even when players weren’t at their best, teams stepped up to have teammates backs. It was, all in all, great entertainment and fitting for the marquee match of the weekend in La Liga.

It is unfortunate that all of that excellence was sullied by incompetence. In the first half, Lionel Messi unleashed a shot that the keeper fumbled, and the ball went over the line. Clearly. To people at home, people in the press box, people in the stadium. The Valencia players hung their heads, the Barça players ran off to celebrate. The goal was clear to everyone except the people whose responsibility it was to make the call: the officials.

The ref was unsighted, the linesman was busy looking for an offside that never was, thus leading to a goal that never was. Games can’t be officiated by robots, but with all of the time and money that leagues put into marketing, and clubs put into finding the best talent, it seems a shame that it has to all be undone by simple incompetence.

The post-match narrative was that “everybody is happy.” The logic is that both teams got a point, so didn’t lose too much ground, and the championship rivals gained ground. No. Wrong.

There are 18 players who are unhappy, as well as a coaching staff and countless thousands of Barça supporters. My prediction was for a 1-2 win and a continued streak, lead atop the Liga intact. This wasn’t sport, this wasn’t fate. It was simple, garden variety ineptitude of the kind we see in match after match in La Liga, an entity who strives with each and every breath to live up to the saying, “Played by geniuses, run by jackasses.” To this, we can add “officiated by dullards.”

It isn’t just Barça. That every team in the league can cry conspiracy is cause sufficient to make someone, anyone in charge wonder about what can be done. You can’t remove the human element from the game. But when that human element discards the hard work and excellence of a group of athletes, something should be done, even as nothing will. And that will be that.

In the first half, Barça was sparkling. The press was aggressive, allowing Valencia nothing at all. The midfield was vibrant and the back line pressed up. The people who craved attacking, possession football got their wish as gaudy stats were something like 70 percent possession and more than 400 passes attempted in that first half, a half that, for all of that dominance by Barça, ended scoreless.

Valencia could be defensive against Barça, knowing that the very football that so many clamored for the team to play, is also logical and easy to defend. The two men who could have changed that, one was capering about for PSG, the other doing rehab work in Barcelona. The consequence was that for all of the possession and excellence, very few clear chances were created. The hints of attacks that might have been, died at the feet of an offside yet again Luis Suarez, who returned to the quagmire that has defined his performance this season.

The danger of that was that Messi was off today, misplacing passes, making runs and being dispossessed, playing like a man who is either carrying a bit of a knock, or just off. With Neymar, Messi could have off days. With Suarez in his funk, if Messi isn’t on, Barça is in trouble.

But even an off day for Messi is still enough to cause alarm bells to ring whenever he has the ball, witness the goal that he didn’t score, a moving shot sufficiently difficult to handle that in in-form keeper was flummoxed. The beauty of the way that the team played in the first half is that nobody’s form mattered as the group came at Valencia in waves of possession, players and ball moving in an inexorable dance toward their goal, until at the death, Messi was either dispossessed, or Suarez was offside.

Any time that Valencia got anything at all going, Umtiti or Busquets, both of whom were stunning today, took care of business, and returned the ball to the mixer. Vermaelen gets an honorable mention for his first start in ages, being dumped into a crucible such as this, and acquiting himself more than honorably. He played quite well today, well enough to be in the rotation, instead of on the transfer rumor list.

While the first half was compelling for culers, the second was compelling for neutrals, as Valencia came out on the front foot, as it looked a bit as though Barça was psychologically damanged by that blown call. The larger issue was physical, however. As Iniesta started to slow, the difficulties that Rakitic were having — a poor, poor match — became more evident, and gaps began to form. Valencia rushed forward, confident that the pace of the Barça counterattack would be sufficiently deliberate to allow them sufficient time to get enough players behind the ball to shut things down. This happened, time and again in a match that Luis Enrique probably watched and nodded smugly. For all of the scoffing at his wing play and going over the top, they were tactical variances that served to destabilize opponents, admittedly assisted by a Suarez who was still a viable scoring force.

Barça was, in the second half particularly, even as it was noticeable in the first, too slow. As Iniesta lost that step due to fatigue, Valencia players that he was intercepting in the first half, got past him in the second. The difficulties of Rakitic became evident on the Valencia goal, a dazzling bit of play that saw Semedo get caught flat-footed on the overlap.

Because Rakitic wasn’t covering, Semedo hesitated just long enough for his man to get the corner and lace in a hard, low ball that Ter Stegen moved out to get. Problem was that Vermaelen, in the back line because of Pique’s stupidity, let his man get goal side of him to knock it home just before Ter Stegen could get there. It was an unfortunate goal to give up for many reasons, not least of which was that it took advantage of the weakest link in the XI in Rakitic, as well as preying on the uncertainty of a new player. It was a class goal that leaves us with the question, would it have been scored had Pique been in the XI? Impossible to say, even as many will ask the question.

Valencia was buoyed by the goal, and pressed forward to seek the dagger. Valverde, sensing that things were in the balance, subbed Iniesta off for Deulofeu, who picked the wrong match to play down to the level that everyone expected of him. He was awful in possession, uncertain, turned the ball over and fouled at the wrong time, a subsitution that Valverde would certainly have liked to have taken back.

The sub he got right was Aleix Vidal for Rakitic, as the Catalan got busy in attack up the right wing, and had a key intervention to keep Valencia from going 2-0 up and putting paid to any points at all from Barça. Valencia were running and gunning, the Barça right flank being terrorized by a man who, as it turns out, played the full match with a broken toe, and things were looking bleak.

And then came Messi.

It doesn’t matter how off he might have been, doesn’t matter that he was misplacing simple passes. He struck a pass, on a diagonal, over distance, that fell perfectly for Jordi Alba to volley home for the 1-1. It was an astonishing goal not because it came against the run of play, as it didn’t. Barça was back on the hunt, and working hard to equalize. But it came against the run of form. But that is why Messi is the player that he is, because the kind of match he is having is often immaterial to the effect that he has.

Valencia knew what was coming, had the right defense, but the pass was too perfect. And spare a thought for the Alba volley finish. Suddenly it was 1-1 and the Mestalla went as quiet as if the ruckus was an audio track, and someone pulled the power cord. And Barça was hunting, as again Valencia looked to play off the counter, looking to capitalize on a moment of weakness or inattention that wasn’t to be.

The best remaining chance fell to Paulinho, one of the players who sparkled today. We can be assured that he will take a look at the cross that fell to his head, realize how much time he in fact had with the ball, and kick himself. But it’s also safe to say that he won’t kick himself harder than the refs will, if they have a shard of professional pride.

Culers will scream conspiracy, but that doesn’t wash with me, unless the conspiracy is simply to support a lack of excellence, to be perfectly fine with the kind of officiating that, week after week for team after team, reduces matches to key moments defined by human error.

Next season, the Liga will introduce VAR, but — as of this moment — not goal-line technology. For the unfamiliar, they are two different things, both of which should be present in a league that offers, week after week, the best football in the world and boasts two of the most glamorous teams in the game. It’s a conspiracy of incompetence that shouldn’t be tolerated, because it’s expensive.

Officiating errors last season, outside of the team’s mental walkabout, cost Barça last season at Betis, most significantly, but also at Villarreal (a match that featured the same official as today’s). But they cost every team. The Liga should have better officiating, should have men adjudicating the match that are of a level approaching the quality of the titanic showdown fans got to watch today. The game, the players, the fans deserve that. And until that happens, it’s hard to ever envision a situation, particularly in a match such as this one, in which everybody will be happy.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

18 Comments

  1. Dar_vincy
    November 26, 2017

    Absolutely brilliant review, Kxevin. Had everything in it. Haven’t seen such a dominant performance from us since the 3-0 shellacking of Juventus. No Culer can walk away from this match dissatisfied with the team’s performance, the hapless notwithstanding.

  2. PPos
    November 26, 2017

    I was so incredibly mad after the game that I had to take a nap. The officiating was piss poor. The ref who already hurt us last season with the lack of penalty against Villareal had 0 control of the game. Valencia is a great team, but let’s be real, the winners here should have been us. 2-1. Instead because of ineptitude it was 1-1, Messi deserved to break his little dry spell. He had earned it, instead, we were robbed. If we had gone up 1-0 there’s no way we would have played the second half, the way we did.

  3. Hristo
    November 27, 2017

    We dominated possess. This was not our best half at all. We created little to nothing.

    Our coach clearly does not know how to use Messi. 3 goals in 10 matches. One assist in 5 games. This tells whole different story.
    Still playing Rakitic, who is totally useless, along side Suarez instead of Paco. How dull, how gutless can you be? We had one Martino and we have another gutless turd.

    Here is an analog for you to consider. We play for a draw nor because its the right thing to do, but because our coach is trying to keep his job. Caution and repetitive.
    Coaches who play for draws in whatever matches traditionally are those who concentrate with keeping their job before anything.

    • georgjorge
      November 27, 2017

      Are you really calling Ernesto Valverde and Tata Martino, two persons you surely don’t know personally, “gutless turds”? Why would you do something like that?

      I’m also not sure where Messi has 3 goals and 2 assists in 10 matches. He has 12 goals and 4 assists in 13 in La Liga, 3 goals and 1 assist in 5 in the Champions League. I guess it works if you pick a specific period of the season, but then a case could also be made for Cristiano Ronaldo being the best player in the world if you pick the period accordingly.

      • Hristo
        November 27, 2017

        Is in it obvious? In Messi’s last 10 games in all competition he has scored 4 goals. He has assisted 4 times. Out of those 10 games he has scored in only 3 of them. Assisted 1 time in last 5 games.

        Messi has been poor. That’s down to the coachs inability to utilise him appropriately. Pragmatic football disables Messi. It makes him slow and ponderous. We are seeing it. Use your eyes in your mind. See how Valverdes personal touch affects the team and Messi. Our previous coaches, bar TaTa, utilised Messi made him a focal point. Used a system that benefits the best player of all time. Now. This system disables him.
        Semedo has been tamed and asked to be conservative. If you have seen Semedo play you will know how good offensively he is. Played great successively and his reward was the bench. Do you know why? Because the coach is caution anticipating injury, he decided not to risk him. Attempted to protect him. This took the rhythm away from him.
        Rakitic is playing. Had he played Roberto as he was deserving, as a starter in midfield, this injury would not have been.
        Instead he insists in playing Suarez. And Rakitic.

        We no longer enjoy the game. Winning isn’t everything. Doing your best is Everything. John Wooden said that.
        Are we gonna hope on Dembele to fix us? A 20 year old?
        Things are not alright.

        • georgjorge
          November 27, 2017

          If you think Messi has been poor the last 10 games, why – according to the stats – was he doing so incredibly well the previous 8 games, within the same system, under the same coach? Why do you think Messi isn’t a focal point anymore when it’s clear that he receives more passes than anyone else on the pitch and almost all attacks go through him? If anything, he is too much of a focal point in my opinion.

          Also, I like Sergi Roberto a lot as a player, I think he fits right into Barca, but I’m not sure he would be decidedly better than Rakitic this season. But that’s beside the point I want to make, which is that every single coach makes bad decisions but Ernesto Valverde has made relatively few so far while making many succesful ones. And that calling someone we don’t know at all a “turd” because he played a specific player instead of another one is rather bizarre.

  4. November 27, 2017

    Lots of good movements in that first half. Just that if only Luiz Offside Suarez could keep himself checked or used some of those balls to pass or do something else than a poor first touch or passing back to the c.circle, we would have had more good chances created too. Am sure he rewatch his games and how can he still complain to the linesman after almost every offside call, as if he is wrong!!!
    Umtiti and Busquets were excellent.
    Messi, inspite of bad passes in the second half, together with Iniesta is still our only hopes in attack.. Am afraid the dependency pressure is working too much on Messi.
    Vermaeleen had a good game except for that goal moment.
    And Alba, after Iniesta and Busquets he seems to be person with the best understanding of Messi.
    I really dont u.stand what Pique would have done different if he had played today. Havent we let in similar or even poorer goals when he was playing.

    For me it felt like while watching the ghost goal replay during h.time, we lost our morale and Valencia gained. Yet, we had played ok in parts during second half too.

    Jim,saw your comment on the second last post :)- I still havent u.stood what you meant, but glad you remember .. regards

  5. Hristo
    November 27, 2017

    Just say; Vidal replaced Semedo. Vidal played as a RB.

    I’ve been enjoying your articles for a long time. You’ve for a long time seeketh to find the balance in everything. Slowly this has been replaced by rather a positive attitude towards the team and game.
    Your articles no longer deal with WHAT IS. Instead they depict selected events.
    You used refer to things as they are. Not you are calling the tree A Flower.

  6. Hristo
    November 27, 2017

    Let me leave with some words of our own Johan Cruyff:

    Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.

    We get addicted to anything that gives us certainty. And when this is no longer pertinent our minds are still lingering.

  7. Hamid
    November 27, 2017

    It is evident that we need some attacking reinforcements. Valverde has done an amazing job with the group he has. We are back to ball control and are more and more dominant in midfield. Our defense (thanks to Umtiti and Semedo) is solid. We just need to start scoring goals. Louis Suarez is not a creator. He is a one-touch goal scorer. Which is not a bad thing at all. Things were for easier for him with Neymar and Messi playing close by. Now that the focus is more on midfield, he is struggling and will continue to do so unless we get him support. The winter transfer window is fast approaching. I hope the board will act.

  8. Bruce Wayne
    November 27, 2017

    Suarez’s problem is easy to identify. He has the same problem Diego Costa has with Spain. They don’t work well in teams that dominate possession. They work well with teams with speedy wingers. That’s why he was a hit in Liverpool and Costa in Chelsea. When Dembele comes back and he’s back in the tip of the attack, you’ll forget his current malaise.

  9. squeen
    November 27, 2017

    I, for one, very much appreciate Kxevin’s calm positivism and seasoned perspective. I am not looking for vitriol—there’s too much of that in the world.

    Enjoyed the article. After the first half, I felt like that level of control might be wearing our boys out more than Valencia whom reportedly are kept extremely fit. Perhaps if we haven’t had a mid-week game against Juve, perhaps Pique or Mache positions themselves better to cut-out the cross. Who knows. I loved watching the lighting passing of the first half, and rued the missed chances. I was a bit frustrated with Suarez and Deulofeu (I think that dude drinks too much or something, his on-field intelligence is lacking). I kept waiting for Messi to rise up and turn the game on it’s head—which he did, but not in the way I was expecting/hoping—nevertheless his interplay with Iniesta was a thing of beauty. Andres is a genius. Perhaps, as you say and Valverde agreed, he was slowing too much in the second, still…it would have been hard for me to take him off with so much of the creativity coming from him.

    All-in-all, I want to thank you again for a nice cap-stone on a very entertaining game.

  10. Jim
    November 27, 2017

    First of all, ignore me, Fotobirajesh. It was an attempt at humour on the back of the thought that Messi was listening to what I said and I suggested maybe he was a regular. I suggested tongue in cheek it might be you as you come across as quite calm and even tempered in your comments, that was all. Was a slow day . . .

    Wasn’t going to post until I had rewatched the match but my golf is off and I can’t get any sense out of my TV with wall to wall twittering ( hmm, apt expression ) about a royal wedding . Jeez !

    Anyway, I’m kinda with Kxevin’s general thrust of we are where we are and we need to judge the team on that. That in no way means I’ll be happy if this is where we are next year this time but at the moment Valverde is doing well with what he has. Now being me, there will be quite a few caveats later but that’s a start. I think it’s a bit harsh to have a go at EV already. If I were him I’d be making sure at the moment we were hard to beat till I see what I’ve got in combat.m

    The game. Good result for me and Im not gonna knock it. We’re still top, still unbeaten and still looking good for the title, even this early. I thought we put on a good controlling display in the first half which I kinda enjoyed watching. There were even some Pep-like triangles and quick one twos, perish the thought. Lovely between Ini and Messi .

    The formation. Okay, I understand the thinking but only as long as we understand this is a pretty defensive formation which won’t stand the test of time. If you’re gonna play four ( plus Messi ? ) in the middle then I’d be a bit shocked if we couldn’t control the ball, especially against a surprisingly passive Valencia. We moved it well but too slowly to do any damage, we were scared to commit either the FBs or mids ahead of the ball, and worst of all for me we played Ini wide left with nobody ahead of him and a huge area to cover. Nonsense. If you have four in the midfield you play a diamond with Ini at the top of it so he can play with Messi as often as possible while not having to expend his legs on pointless attempts to press their back line or cover for Alba. No wonder he gets knackered ( and I’m betting hacked off ) . Paulinho in the middle had a pretty decent game I thought but like Rakitic ( no, I’m not going there but this is not new) he doesn’t create much and isn’t very quick on the ball. If he’s gonna get into the box regularly fine but I wasnt seeing much it last night.

    In fact we didn’t really do a lot of bodies in the box at all, did we? Almost back to the dark days of a false nine and Villa played wide. A couple of articles ago I mentioned I’d gone back and rewatched some of our top CL games. The thing that struck me most was how many players we got into their box at the end of moves,me specially Xavi. That was because most of the time we were playing it around the edge of their area so it was no great distance. Now we have Suarez in splendid isolation.

    No, he didn’t have a great game but only in terms of getting caught offside. He needs to be much better than that but as has been said he’s being wasted at the moment. A typical big CB will have long balls thrown up which he plays back or flicks on to rushing mids. That’s not Suarez. You’d be as well hiring Scotland’s ex CF, Kenny Miller if you want that. There’s literally nobody else occupying their back four. He’s getting fewer touches, more difficult situations when he does get it and spends half his days trying to sprint from one side of the field to the other to press the CBs. Not excusing the offsides but also not good. We’re winning nothing this year unless we get him support from somewhere because the goals aren’t coming from anywhere else. He did have a couple of decent efforts, both largely down to his own work.

    Other bits now that I know where Megan Markle buys her coats and have had a chance to rewatchthe match.

    We must all have been sitting there thinking good first half but Valencia have to come out sometime and that’ll be the test. And so it was. They upped it and we struggled. I still felt we could stop them scoring, though. The defence, led by Umtiti, had had a pretty good forty five and looked solid. However, when it came, it was one of those that Kxevin and I often disagree on but this time it’s me rather than him who is suggesting it was virtually a “team” goal.

    First, I’m not sure what Semedo did wrong, really. He had a tough night overall, part of growing up with the big boys, but will be a mainstay for us and I can’t see what he should have done differently. When it goes wide to their number seven he comes across and closes down. He sees the runner but has to prevent the 7 from coming inside for a shot ( remember he doesn’t know where Rakitic is ) . He does kind of do neither one thing nor the other and for me it is Rakitic who is really clueless. Who did he think he was covering ? The 7 is already Semedo’s man and he’s quick enough to prevent anything happening inside. If Rakitic had kept on running he covers the runner. You can’t say Semedo gets caught if he has two men to mark. Errors happen when you leave your man and expect team mates to be able to read your mind.

    Which brings us to the next error(s). I thought Umtiti had a great first half but less so second and this was a great example. What is he doing? Kxevin rightly asks would the goal have happened had Pique been there ? For me, almost 100% never, because Pique would have taken up the correct position which was blocking the low ball across goal, making sure nothing gets between you and your keeper. We’ve all seen him do it hundreds of times. Umtiti gets it badly wrong with his original position which is too central not cutting off any angles, then at the last minute jumping further away to cover an imaginary cutback which is none of his business. I can’t tell about TV’s involvement because it isn’t clear but he’d a right to expect that wouldn’t get past both TS and Umtiti anyway. As I’ve said before Umtiti is a great buy for us and may well become world class but he still needs to keep learning. Wasn’t impressed just before the goal by his easy skinning by the 7 or indeed his clumsy challenge in the box just after which bordered on penalty ( although I reckon it wasn’t, just). He’ll meet a lot better than Valencia.

    Lastly, I quite liked the pace both Vidal and Deulofeu brought. I agree Deulofeu really needs to get some confidence in his decision making but frustratingly every time I see him there’s something there … Loved Vidal’s enthusiasm, although, in both breakaways, while it was good to see his pace, in both cases there’s an argument which says he left his job to chase the ball.

    No, with what he has just now, for me EV is doing a decent job. Dembele isn’t far away from resuming training and then we’ll know a bit more. This season can still go either way.

    • TITO
      November 27, 2017

      I agree on Rakitic and i think the goal is solely on him, but of course someone is going to score against us from time to time, with or without Pique.
      Now, Suarez, i understand that you will try to defend him even when there’s nothing to defend but his playing gas gone from bad to worse. Its not just his offside positions. Poor first touch, poor second and every other touch of the ball. Can’t dribble any more. Can’t make a single pass, from the simplest to the more complicated. Lost pace, constant complaining and 9 in 10 attacks that go through him he screws up.
      If it was someone else he would have long been benched or put on sale. I love him when he is on form, but this Suarez is not good to us.
      But since we dont have anything else to add to the attack where Messi is all alone we will stick with him. Delofeu is also not doing any favors to him with his playing. You can even see frustration on Messi’s face in few ocassions.
      On other hand Messi seems to enjoy playing with Paulinho and respects him a lot.
      I was saying since beginning of the season that Semedo needs to play almost every game so he can gain the necessesary experience when the tough games come around and i got slacked from some fans here for favoritism from Valverde. Semedo playing means stability for us in the back along with Pique Umtiti and Alba and in long term it will make a difference in winning a title or not.

    • Yaredinho
      November 27, 2017

      Jim,
      Semedo was bizarrely too close to our central defenders the whole night in defending and made life easier for Valencia players to pick Guedes from any position, especially with those long balls from Valencia right side.
      Yes Rakitic was poor in every sense yesterday and that exposed the Portuguese more. The goal we concede could have been prevented on multiple points. Help from Rakitic, Umtiti positioning, Vermalen using his body more…Or Semedo could have prevented the pass to Gaya by forcing Guedes to the right, in doing so he could buy time for Rakitic. This is not necessarily a criticism, this comes with experience.

  11. luisthebeast
    November 27, 2017

    Valverde is doing wonders with a squad that it s almost a Lucho squad plus Semedo,Dembele.
    Deulofeu is a non existent player,Segunda level.
    People whining because they see the truth,but they dont want to admit that and they will blame the coach.
    Last 3 seasons our game and our plan was MSN.
    Time to create again a team,it will be a slow and painful evolution but it s the only way.
    Players like Denis,Deulofeu,Vidal,Arda,Rakitic,Vermaelen and maybe Paco have to leave.
    Quality is what we lack,nothing else.
    Now we have a coach.

  12. luisthebeast
    November 27, 2017

    It s time to stop the,maybe,if,and look the truth,thats our squad and thats how the team can play.
    Its 2017 and they cant find a Iniesta replacement.We have a RCM that cant do the things the team needs,a slow DM,we dont have a LW and our RW is brainless.
    But by surprise cules wants the team to play amazing football.
    “Why he doesnt start Denis”? is the new argument.
    Because he is nt that special.just an average player.
    Accept the truth and you will be in peace with your mind and the team.

  13. luisthebeast
    November 27, 2017

    And i am sorry but if a genius like they call Pep,needed 500+m in transfers to build and good team and failed badly in first season,i will give Valverde a full season and when he create his team i will judge him.

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