Barcelona lost top spot in La Liga with a 1-1 draw with Valencia on Sunday night, dropping points for the fourth consecutive league game after Lionel Messi earned a share of the spoils with a brilliant equaliser following Ezequiel Garay’s opener.
The visiting team recovered from a terrible start, which could easily have seen Valencia double their lead, to dominate the final 75 minutes, and by the end there was only one possible winner as the hosts were continually pegged back deep inside their own half.
As we head into the international break, we look at three key stories to emerge from an enthralling contest.
A new Barca is born?
In time, this first week of October 2018 could be remembered as the birth of a new Barcelona. And the man at the centre – both literally and figuratively – of that transformation is Arthur Melo, the summer signing from Gremio who looks like rapidly becoming a fundamental part of his team’s future.
Labelling Arthur ‘the new Xavi’ is both easy and lazy due to their similar physical stature and shuffling running style, but the Brazilian’s remarkably composed and precise passing in the last couple of games has started to make the resemblance a lot more real.
Until this week, Arthur was very much a peripheral presence at his new club, only given occasional run-outs. But after seizing a starting chance with an excellent display in the midweek Champions League win at Tottenham he repeated the feat on Sunday night in Valencia, doing more than any other player to restore order to his team’s performance following a horrid start and ending up with a remarkable total of 135 completed passes – the highest total by any player in La Liga so far this season.
In the space of just two games it’s now difficult to consider how manager Ernesto Valverde can consider leaving Arthur out of his team, and the 22 year-old will surely feature heavily when Barca return from the international break for a thrilling week with games against league leaders Sevilla, Inter Milan in the Champions League and old rivals Real Madrid for the season’s first Clasico.
Pique continues to struggle
A notable feature of the season so far continued on Sunday night with another shaky performance from veteran Barca defender Gérard Pique. The long-serving centre back has been directly responsible for several opposition goals in recent weeks and failed to cover himself in glory again at Mestalla with an unconvincing display.
Firstly Pique could have done more to keep out the early corner which gave Valencia the lead, but that was a relatively forgivable lapse compared to some of his later contributions, with the hosts frequently troubling him during their fast start – one example coming when he was unable to cut out a cross from Kevin Gameiro, forcing Nelson Semedo to make a good block from Denis Cheryshev before Jose Gaya thrashed the rebound just wide.
Pique now has two full weeks to rest and recuperate following his international retirement in the wake of the World Cup, and he needs to put that time to good use to kill off the growing suggestion that he is jeopardising his position as an automatic starter for Barca. If he doesn’t improve and Samuel Umtiti makes a swift return to fitness, the question will become a serious one.
Valencia the draw specialists
Draw, draw, draw, win, draw, draw: a familiar pattern has been established in Valencia’s recent games, with Marcelino’s teams doing enough to avoid defeat but not quite enough to win.
That was certainly a fair description of their efforts against Barcelona on Sunday night, with the early hope provided by Ezequiel Garay’s second minute opener soon fading into a rearguard action as Barca fought back and took full control, forcing Valencia to spend almost the entirety of the second half camped deep inside their own half, desperately defending the edge of their penalty area.
Los Che have now drawn seven of their ten games so far this season, and that just about sums up where they are as a team. Not bad, but not particularly good either. The defensive discipline instilled by Marcelino – which restricted Barca to just a handful of half-chances despite their overwhelming dominance of possession – should serve as a solid platform, but when the action resumes after the international break they need to find a lot more going forward, because at the moment it just isn’t happening.
Lionel Messi’s first-half leveller rescued a point as Barca were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday.
Ezequiel Garay opened the scoring after just 79 seconds while the defender then marshalled Valencia’s defence superbly.
Barca are second, a point behind new leaders Sevilla, but are winless in their last four league games.
The only win in the last five outings came in Wednesday’s 4-2 Champions League victory against Tottenham at Wembley but midfielder Rakitic is not looking for excuses.
He told Eleven Sports: “I don’t want to use it as an excuse but obviously we have been playing lots of games and long journeys but that’s football at this level. We are really motivated and really looking forward to the next game.
“I thought we played very well and deserved more. It’s very difficult, you’ve got get back into a game when that happens (conceding a goal early) but we showed great spirit. We’ll take the positives and look forward to the next game.
“It’s a shame for all the work the team is putting in we’re giving our rivals this advantage.
“The league looks really good. It’s nice to see we’re all there at the top, it shows you have to work really hard every match.
“I was really impressed with the way we played. We’re happy we didn’t lose but a little bit disappointed with a draw.”
Barca battled back from conceding a sloppy opener in the second minute when Garay bundled in at the far post after Thomas Vermaelen failed to deal with a corner.
Messi grabbed his 11th goal of the season when he fired in from 20 yards after swapping passes with Luis Suarez.
The Spanish television show are reporting that tensions between the pair are said to have grown in wake of Blaugrana’s recent poor form, which has seen the Catalan club draw two and lose one of their last three La Liga games.
Pique is apparently not happy that club captain Messi rarely speaks to the media, particularly when things are going wrong for the club.
“Pique is critical of Messi for not facing up (to the press) when the going gets tough,” the programme claimed on Monday.
“He feels that Leo only talks when he’s not in Europe, with Argentina.”
Messi, meanwhile, is said to have hit back at the Spanish defender by pinning the blame for Barcelona’s current run of poor results on the Blaugrana backline.
“He has told him that they’re letting in too many goals; he has made it apparent to Pique that (he thinks) the defence is not offering the protection it should.”