The midweek Clasico took too much out of Barcelona and their rivals, who lost on the previous day. Only one shot on target in the first half, a Lionel Messi penalty kick, was enough to earn them the draw at the Mestalla after going down to an Ever Banega opener.
Not to mention Victor Valdes at goal, delivering an excellent performance to keep Barcelona with only one loss this season. When the passing game was far from its usual level, and Gerard Pique turns in one of the softest performances a centre back can imagine to have, it’s no wonder Valdes got a rare man of the match nod.
Valencia have an excellent head coach, who has been doing very well since arriving from Greece, making the right adjustments after their hellish Real Madrid week. Making Victor Ruiz something of a third centre back/DM countered Messi’s habit of dropping back, while the passing game between Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas was subdued at best.
Only in the second half, when Calres Puyol came on for Javier Mascherano and David Villa entered for Cesc Fabregas did Barcelona start to look a bit more dangerous. Things opened up on the field which forced Valencia to regroup and focus more on counter attacks while not having the same kind of sturdiness in the middle.
The worst news for Barcelona came late in the match, Xavi picking up an injury, leaving at the 90th minute. It has already taken him out of Spain’s international friendly on Wednesday, but the hamstring injury might cause him to be out a bit longer.
Unlike in the middle of the week, it looked like Barcelona were glad to get out of the Mestalla, looking completely exhausted from two very tough away matches in the span of five days. The defense didn’t have the same focus it did in Madrid, with Pique once again looking a bit soft when Carles Puyol isn’t next to him to back him up. Javier Mascherano, in and out of the lineup in recent weeks, ever since Puyol came back from his injury, isn’t looking too sharp as well.
The problem for Barcelona was intensity and physicality, which can be explained by fatigue, and possibly by the fact that the league doesn’t hold that kind of competition anymore. So far up the table with both teams chasing them practically giving up on their title hopes leaves Barcelona with a motivational problem coming into certain matches, especially away from home after a special midweek effort.
Our showing in the first half cost us, and Valencia had a great intensity in the second, playing higher up the pitch, from a physical standpoint. As always, we came with the intention of winning, but what happened was we found it difficult at the Mestalla and, in the end, a draw is fair enough. We lacked intensity in the first half. We lacked depth in the second half; we had three or four very clear chances. Overall, we did not have the freshness of other games, but it’s understandable.
You never know just how much Tito Vilanova’s absence is affecting this team, although the notion is usually business as usual at Barcelona. Same coaches, same players, nothing has changed. Just like Lionel Messi, scoring a goal on his 12th consecutive league match. Some things never change.