Barcelona beat Valencia 2-1 to set new La Liga record with 39-game unbeaten run

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Barcelona bounced back from their Champions League exit in midweek by strengthening their grip on the La Liga title with a 2-1 victory against Valencia at the Nou Camp.

Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti scored early in each half to put the hosts in control but a late penalty, converted by Dani Parejo, made for a nervy finish.

Barcelona moved 14 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, before Atleti’s match against Levante on Sunday, while Valencia sit a further three points back following the end of their five-match winning run.

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde made two changes from the side beaten 3-0 by Roma in midweek in the team’s remarkable Champions League capitulation. Ivan Rakitic was replaced in midfield by Paulinho while Philippe Coutinho came in for Nelson Semedo.

Valencia also made two changes as Santi Mina was recalled at the expense of Simone Zaza in attack and Ruben Vezo replaced Martin Montoya at right-back.

Home goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was called into action early on as he palmed away a curling effort from Goncalo Guedes but Barcelona soon found their stride and went ahead after 15 minutes.

Coutinho was afforded too much time and space just outside the penalty area, allowing him to roll an inch-perfect pass into the path of Suarez who calmly slotted past Murara Neto at his near post.

Valencia responded well to the setback and would have at least been on level terms heading into the break was it not for the fine form of Ter Stegen. The German showed good reflexes to push a shot from Moreno on to the crossbar and denied the same player again just before half-time.

Between those saves, Lionel Messi missed the target with a couple of headers, glancing the first one wide of the far post before powering another over the crossbar.

A slip by Umtiti presented Valencia with a clear-cut opportunity to equalise five minutes into the second half.

With Umtiti out of the game, Santi Mina and Moreno had a two-against-one on Gerard Pique but Moreno miscontrolled Mina’s pass before eventually getting a shot away which Pique managed to block on the goal line.

Umtiti immediately made amends by heading home Coutinho’s corner to give Barcelona a two-goal cushion and some breathing space.

The two goals aside, the league leaders were kept relatively quiet as an attacking force. Messi had been marshalled well but he showed a glimpse of his brilliance after 70 minutes with a trick and turn of pace to set up Andres Iniesta whose volley was well saved by Neto.

Barcelona were now knocking the ball around with their usual swagger but they were stopped in their tracks five minutes from time when a poor challenge from Ousmane Dembele on Parejo gave Valencia a penalty.

Parejo picked himself up to score the spot-kick, squeezing the ball beneath Ter Stegen’s body to set up an unexpected tense finale.

Barcelona might have restored their two-goal cushion in injury time following a swift counter attack but Neto won the one-on-one duel with Denis Suarez after a pass from Messi had put him in the clear.

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How Philippe Coutinho made the difference for Barcelona in 2-1 win over Valencia

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Barcelona held out to secure a 2-1 victory over Valencia at the Camp Nou.

The Catalans stretched their unbeaten La Liga run to 39 games as Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti gave them a 2-0 lead, with Philippe Coutinho setting up both goals.

Valencia did hit back with a late penalty from Dani Parejo but the hosts were able to seal the three points.

Here, we analyse Coutinho’s performance.

STATISTICS 

Goals – 0

Assists – 2

Shots – 1

Shots on target – 0

Touches – 72

Passes – 52

Key passes – 2

Pass accuracy– 81%

Interceptions – 2

Dribbles – 3

30-SECOND REPORT

With Andres Iniesta also afforded a start, Coutinho began on the left side in Barca’s 4-4-2 system. He played his part exceptionally as his positioning and link-up play created some of Barcelona’s best moments.

The Brazilian drifted inside to great effect and unlocked Valencia’s defence with a trademark through ball for Suarez to run onto before his corner kick saw Umtiti make it 2-1 to the home team. His performance earned him a deserved standing ovation from the Camp Nou as he was replaced in the 78th minute.

Philippe Coutinho (L) drives forward.

Philippe Coutinho (L) drives forward.

GOT RIGHT

Final ball – Even at Liverpool the Brazilian was renowned the quality of his killer pass and that’s what it took to break the deadlock against an impressive Valencia side. His excellent delivery from a corner kick went on to double the hosts’ advantage.

Positioning – What makes Barcelona’s 4-4-2 formation work is the fluidity it gains from the interchangeable nature of their players and that isn’t lost on Coutinho. He offered width on the right when he had to but drifted inside on occasion to allow Sergi Roberto to go forward. When Messi peeled off, he was quick to join Suarez up front.

GOT WRONG

Passing – While he played some passes in the final third, he also tried to force the issue a few times too many and that saw him occasionally give the ball away cheaply. His tally of 52 passes was considerably less than both full-backs Jordi Alba (70) and Sergi Roberto (68) even if he came off 12 minutes before full-time.

Shooting – How often did Coutinho register just one shot in games at Liverpool? This season in the Premier League, he averaged nearly four per game before his move. While his adherence to Barca’s system is encouraging, he had opportunities to pull the trigger against Valencia and shouldn’t be compromising on one of his finest attributes.

KEY MOMENTS

15th minute ASSIST – Coutinho receives possession outside the box and quickly spots Suarez’s run in behind. Without missing a beat, he slips a perfectly weighted through ball into the striker’s path who finishes at the near post.

51st minute ASSIST – From a corner kick, Coutinho’s dangerous delivery is met by Umtiti. Neto gets his hands to the Frenchman’s header but can’t keep it out.

Philippe Coutinho (L) made the difference for Barcelona.

Philippe Coutinho (L) made the difference for Barcelona.

VERDICT

After missing Barcelona’s disappointing Champions League elimination to Roma, Coutinho provided against Valencia much of what was lacking for the Catalans in midweek.

Apart from his assists, he brought plenty of fluidity to the team with his movement. His ability to carry the ball forward into dangerous areas also had the visitors back-tracking.

RATING: 7/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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Watch Barcelona's top goals against Valencia featuring Lionel Messi's wonderful chip

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Barcelona will lock horns against Valencia on Saturday as Ernesto Valverde’s men look to forget their Champions League blues on return to La Liga.

Though Ernesto Valverde‘s side have been ousted from the Europe by AS Roma, they have a chance to write history in their encounter against Los Che.

Barca’s unbeaten run in the league has reached a total of 38 games (W31 D7), and they are just one win away from setting the record for most consecutive games unbeaten (39).

And over the years, Barca have had the upper hand over Valencia, mainly thanks to one man – the Argentine genius – Lionel Messi.

Below are some of the top goals scored by the Catalans in games against Valencia. And not surprisingly, Messi’s brilliance takes most of the attention, while Rivaldo also features with a piece of magic.

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