Barcelona faced Valladolid in a game that came after a week’s rest, and right before three games in 8 days, and had it all set on the table to go out and win, which they did – but only just.
Recently, Barcelona haven’t had the most impressive performances, football-wise: part of the reason has been the tactical approach by Ernesto Valverde, e.g. playing a virtually triple pivot midfield in Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal, but also on the players’ mentality and fatigue going into a decisive part of the season.
After a string of off-color performances by Luis Suárez, a Philippe Coutinho who hasn’t had the best of seasons, although he’s slowly but surely regaining form, and Ousmane Dembélé being injured, facing a not-so-tough opponent who sit 15th in the Liga table seemed to give Barca a good breather – but perhaps that breather was a bit too big.
From the first blow of the whistle, Barcelona didn’t seem like Barcelona, they seemed like any other Liga side – as if the ‘Més que un club’ part of the style of play had disappeared. Passes were wasted, the few chances the players got in the first half were also wasted – that was until Gerard Piqué decided to join an attack, which resulted in him getting a penalty. The penalty was calmly converted by Lionel Messi who put it past Jordi Masip, and the former Barcelona-keeper almost got a hand to it that time.
In the second half, the team-talk in the dressing room definitely had an effect, as Barcelona started looking a bit sharper. The passes were better, the crosses into the box were better, and overall, the team had improved, both defensively and offensively – though not by much.
Carles Aleñá who had a great first half, had an even better second. He looked more energetic in the second half, and got more space when he had the ball.
Leo Messi started looking a bit better although not his usual self, which also comes down to the fact that he still isn’t 100% fit, and arguably should’ve been rested today in favor of the Lyon game, and his spot could’ve perhaps been given to Malcom, who, sadly, got no playing time today.
Arturo Vidal had a really good game, he put his body on the line to block many of Valladolid’s shots – too many to count, really, and put in a true fighter performance out on that pitch – and deservedly got the 90 minutes today.
Philippe Coutinho, who replaced Ousmane Dembélé, possibly for precautionary reasons due to the tight match schedule ahead, had a really good cameo. He looked very lively, much more confident than he has been as of late – and looks to build a string of good performances following his – in my opinion – really good performance in the Athletic Club game prior to this one.
He created chances for Messi and Suárez, had good combinations with his teammates and good dribbles, and didn’t try to do too many things at once, which really has been his problem lately: trying too hard to impress, when he really just should be playing his game, which he can do very, very well.
His performance was topped off after a great combination with Luis Suárez, who ended up missing 4 big chances in the 30 minutes he was on the pitch, and Coutinho was then tackled in the box, and rightfully given a penalty that Lionel Messi stepped up to take, chasing a brace on the day.
This time, however, Masip had his angles covered, and Messi who struck the shot towards a very similar position, and Masip then one-handed saved Messi’s headed effort on the rebound, to keep the scoreline 1-0.
All in all, a disappointing performance by the hosts, in truth, and brave Valladolid were just lacking the final touch on the day, although the scoreline easily could’ve been 3-0 or 4-0, if the Blaugrana players hadn’t been so wasteful in front of goal.
With 3 games in 8 days, with the first one being away from home against Olympique Lyon on February 19, rotation will definitely be the keyword for Ernesto Valverde, who admittedly has become better at using all of his players, and hopefully he’ll only get better, as we enter this decisive part of the season with the manager who yesterday renewed his contract with the club.