Barcelona bounced back from the disappointment of their midweek Champions League loss against Roma with a 2-1 home win over Valencia which sees them set a new La Liga record by registering their 39th game without defeat.
Going forward it was a much better performance than the no-show in Rome, but there were still defensive concerns as Valencia created plenty of good chances and will feel aggrieved they couldn’t snatch a point.
Valverde refuses to rotate
In the wake of Barca’s shock loss in Rome, manager Ernesto Valverde received heavy criticism for failing to regularly rotate his squad and therefore leaving key players tired in the decisive phase of the season.
But if Valverde heard that criticism he didn’t act upon it. He made just two changes from the starting line-up in Rome: one of those was enforced as Paulinho replaced the injured Ivan Rakitic, and the other was tactical as Nelson Semedo – probably the physically freshest member of the squad – dropped to the bench with Philippe Coutinho coming into midfield and Sergi Roberto moving into defence. And he again declined the opportunity to use his bench, only making his first substitution after 78 minutes.
Valverde now has to decide how many of his first-choice stars he will rest – if any – for the midweek game at Celta Vigo, which precedes the team’s first chance to secure silverware with next weekend’s Copa del Rey Final against Sevilla. Perhaps Tuesday’s trip will finally be the time when Valverde decides to give players like Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi a break.
A win…but questions remain
Barcelona will be greatly relieved to get back into winning ways and dispel the negative headlines that followed their European exit, but this was by no means a perfect performance as Valencia created enough chances to take at least a point.
Visiting boss Marcelino ruefully noted that Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had been the home team’s best player, and Valencia striker Rodrigo will be particularly frustrated not to have scored after firing several efforts goalwards.
Barca were certainly much better going forward than they had been in midweek, with Messi and Iniesta in particular producing some excellent creative play, but Valencia were often able to overrun the midfield with Sergio Busquets regularly left outnumbered. So although it was a very good result for Barca, question marks remain.
Coutinho adds attacking intent
Philippe Coutinho's game by numbers vs. Valencia:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 14, 2018
3 tackles won
2 chances created
One option denied to Valverde in midweek was cup-tied Coutinho, who showed that he can add plenty to Barca’s Champions League challenge next season with a bright display.
The former Liverpool man produced a perfectly weighted pass to Luis Suarez for the opening goal and later delivered a pinpoint corner to the near post for Samuel Umtiti to head home the second.
He was also heavily involved in his team’s approach play, linking well with Messi and Iniesta, and fired one long-range shot narrowly wide. And although it’s still unclear exactly what his long-term role in the team will be, he has the potential to become a major asset.
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.
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.
Here are our ratings from the Camp Nou.
Ter Stegen 7. Made two decent early diving stops from Guedes, and redeemed himself for a terrible pass out by saving brilliantly from Rodrigo. Kept out another shot by Rodrigo before the break, and nearly stopped Parejo’s penalty.
Roberto 6. Returned to right-back for the dropped Semedo and is more effective there than in midfield, coming forward to play a key role in the build-up to the opener. Occasionally struggled defensively against Guedes but stuck to his task.
Pique 6. Booked early and frequently looked vulnerable, gifting one chance to Rodrigo with a sloppy clearance. But made a vital intervention to deny Valencia an equaliser with a goalline clearance from Rodrigo.
Umtiti 6. Solid until an embarrassing slip gifted a chance for Rodrigo which Pique cleared off the line. Made amends two minutes later with a great header from Coutinho’s corner to double the lead.
Alba 8. Made a couple of key early defensive interventions and did well going forward, although he was once guilty of shooting from a tight angle when Suarez was unmarked. Never stopped running and competing.
Coutinho 7. Lined up on the right of a midfield four, and came inside from that position to slide a lovely assist to Suarez for the opener. Also delivered the corner for Umtiti’s goal and crashed a long-range strike narrowly wide.
Busquets 7. Reportedly took a pain-killing injection in order to play, but you’d never know it as he excelled in the centre of the pitch, showing a wonderful range of passing to keep his team moving.
Paulinho 5. Played a little deeper than usual to support Busquets, but the game at times passed him by as he neither joined in with attacking play nor broke up Valencia’s attacks.
Iniesta 8. Delivered some outstanding probing play from the inside-left channel, producing some moments of sheer quality to draw oohs and aahs from the home fans. Nearly scored a memorable goal with a volley from Messi’s cross.
Messi 7. Headed a reasonable chance wide from a Suarez cross but was relatively quiet in the first half. More influential as the game opened up after the break, coming close with a fierce volley. Also produced a brilliant cross which Iniesta nearly converted and fizzed a low shot just wide.
Suarez 5. An early fresh air shot appeared to betray a lack of confidence but that didn’t last long as he produced an adroit near-post finish for the opener. However, it was a frustrating and frustrated performance from then on.
Dembele 5. Introduced for Coutinho for the final stages. Did little positive and conceded a penalty for a late challenge on Gaya.
Denis 5. Late replacement for Iniesta and had a chance to make it 3-1 after being released by Messi, but shot too close to Neto.
Semedo. Introduced in injury time and didn’t have a touch.
Neto 6. Perhaps could have done more to keeper out Umtiti’s header inside his near post, but made a good instinct save from Iniesta a little later on. Had little else to do.
Vezo 5. A non-factor going forward as he concentrated on his defensive tasks against Iniesta and Alba, and was often exposed with the home team consistently looking dangerous down his flank.
Garay 7. Took a robust approach against Suarez and did well, showing good positional sense to make a seemingly endless series of well-timed clearances.
Gabriel 6. Steady and solid in defence, making one excellent challenge to deny Suarez a shooting chance. But he was beaten in the air by Umtiti from the subsequent corner for the second goal.
Gaya 8. Regularly strode forward to combine with Guedes down the left, earning a reward when he won a late penalty after being fouled by Dembele.
Soler 5. A few nice touches from the young winger, but he couldn’t get regularly involved in the game and struggled both in defence and attack against Alba.
Kondogbia 7. Compromised by an early yellow card for a foul on Paulinho and slightly lucky to avoid a second caution for a clumsy lunge on the Brazilian, but still exerted an influence with his powerful running and confident passing.
Parejo 6. Couldn’t settle into his usual passing rhythm but did a good job defensively protecting his back four. Curled a free-kick narrowly over the top and was fortunate to convert a weakly-struck penalty.
Guedes 7. Had a curler and a long-range strike well saved as he showed his class early on, and then saw a snapshot deflected just wide. Faded sharply after the break and was taken off midway through the second half.
Mina 6. Sent a skimming header wide in the first half and had a competitive battle with Pique, also robbing Umtiti to tee up Rodrigo for a golden chance.
Rodrigo 6. Frustrated to be brilliantly denied by ter Stegen midway through the first half, then saw Umtiti make a strong block from another strike and another shot saved by ter Stegen. Bad luck continued as Pique cleared his next shot off the line.
Pereira 6. Manchester United loanee was Valencia’s first sub and showcased his dribbling ability with several pacy bursts down the left flank.
Vietto 6. Came on for Mina for the last 20 minutes and was involved in build-up play without offering a threat inside the box.
Zaza 6. Appeared for the latter stages and nearly grabbed a point with a glancing header across the face of goal.
Barcelona are licking their wounds after emerging from the wrong end of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.
Now Ernesto Valverde’s men must put their Rome horrorshow to one side and focus on their quest to finish the La Liga season unbeaten.
In one of their toughest tests left, Barca entertain third-placed Valencia, who are more than capable enough of making their hosts’ week worse.
Follow their every move with our live updates below.