FC Barcelona – Valencia: Inept Barcelona Put To Bed By Effective Valencia Counterattacks (1-2)
Barcelona’s poor mid-pitch press combined with Valencia’s ruthlessness gave Marcelino’s side an early lead. Barcelona’s lack of attacking output allowed them to keep it. A late glimmer of hope from Messi was ultimately quashed as Barcelona stumbled out of another trophy.
Tactical analysis and match report by Tom Quartly.
The Benito Villamarín was the elected venue for the last Spanish game of the season, the final of the Copa del Rey. It saw the LaLiga champions Barcelona face off against fourth-placed Valencia. As for form, it is fair to say that Barcelona took their foot off the gas when they were confirmed champions back in April, beating the impressive Getafe at the Camp Nou but drawing to Eibar away at the Ipurua Municipal to cap off their season. A win tonight meant Barcelona would be the first team to win the Copa del Rey five years in a row. Dominant.
On the other hand, Valencia bounced back from the Europa League hammering they took against Arsenal by beating Deportivo Alavés 3-1. They then finished their season away at Real Valladolid, winning 2-0; that confirmed Champions League football for them next season and set up this tie perfectly. All season long, they have had one of the most impressive defenses of the league, which has come to full fruition in recent months.
Barcelona began the game in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Sergio Busquets sat in the hole between the defense and midfield. Cup goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen kept his place in goal, while the absence of Luis Suárez forced Lionel Messi to return to his lone striker role. Philippe Coutinho passed a late fitness test and operated on the left hand side. Sergi Roberto was on the right.
As expected, Marcelino set Valencia out in the same 4-4-2 formation that he has used for much of the season. Jaume Doménech followed on as the Copa de Rey goalkeeper as Gabriel Paulista and the returning Ezequiel Garay protected him in the middle. The makeshift right back Daniel Wass continued his spell; perhaps a weakness that was targeted by Barcelona, as Jordi Alba is their most prominent attacking output.
With Gonçalo Guedes out on the left wing, the partnership of Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro up front were given the task of occupying the Barcelona center-backs. It would be interesting to see how high up Valencia would press, especially in the opening exchanges. Barcelona have a habit of picking off sides that get too close, so if Valencia were to return to La Mestalla as Copa del Rey champions, they would need to be disciplined without the ball.
Barcelona unable to control the game
The first five minutes were epitomized by Clement Lenglet’s stray pass into Valencia’s Rodrigo; the Spaniard rounded Cillessen but was denied by a brilliant Gerard Piqué block on the line. The side, that just weeks earlier were on course for a treble, began to suffocate under the lights of the Benito Villamarín. Marcelino’s compact medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. allowed Gameiro and Rodrigo to chase lost causes, giving the uncomfortable Lenglet major issues.
It would be easy to lump the praise on manager Marcelino for his tactical setup, but Barcelona were beyond poor. Lost and dazed in the frantic opening, they found themselves a goal down just twenty minutes in. Their lazy mid-pitch press would see only Busquets push on. This left a gaping hole behind him, which was not filled by his teammates and left Barcelona susceptible to a direct ball in behind.
That is exactly what happened. All it took was Nélson Semedo to switch off to a Gabriel Paulista long ball and, in a flash, Gonçalo Guedes was driving towards the Barcelona penalty area. Intelligent movement from Gameiro gave him space in the aforementioned hole. Guedes cut it back to him and, after jinking past Jordi Alba, he fired a rocket beyond Cillessen.
Guedes’ cutback gave Gameiro plenty of time to pick his spot. Busquets and Rakitić were jogging back. Talk about space.
Barcelona have the ball, but Valencia get a second goal
Barcelona held nigh on 70% possession in the first half, but were very lackadaisical with it. Their ineffective attacking output with Suárez sidelined led to very few chances. The Uruguayan striker’s off-the-ball movement was sorely missed, as there was less space for Messi to play in. What made the game such a spectacle was the regularity at which Valencia would break forward.
The 33rd minute saw one of those breakaways. A simple through pass into the right channel to Francisco Soler pitted the Spanish midfielder in a foot race with Jordi Alba. What happened next seemed to stun the Barcelona back line: Soler breezed beyond the fullback with an untimely ease.
This shocking burst of pace from the Valencia wide man had enabled him to break into the Barcelona area and fire a ball across the box. World Cup and three-time Champions League winning Gerard Piqué was caught frozen; a statue in the warm Andalusian air. The ball seemed to bend around him, and found Rodrigo entering the six yard box. His downward header gave Cillessen no chance. 2-0.
Substitutes unable to shift the mood
A couple of substitutions at the interval saw Barcelona look slightly different as they reentered the fray. Arthur came off for Arturo Vidal and Semedo gave way for Malcom. This was probably a clever change from Valverde: the Roberto-Semedo connection down the right hand side was incredibly flat. Vidal would occupy the left channel, similar to how he did in both legs against Liverpool in the Champions League. Malcom was brought on to give a direct threat down the right hand side.
Despite Valverde’s alterations, the first half’s pattern continued. Barcelona hopelessly retained possession, the only break coming when Valencia would counterattack. Just three minutes into the second half, it could have easily been 3-0. Gonçalo Guedes’ one-two with Rodrigo gave the Portuguese international space on the edge of the area, however he was unable to convert.
The cornerstone of Valencia’s attacks, as it has been all season long, was certainly Rodrigo. His willingness to run into the channels and provide wall passes to onrushing attackers made him a constant threat whenever Marcelino’s side came forward.
Lots of passes, not in the penalty area though.
Impeccable Coquelin shuts down Messi
In the 56th minute, Lionel Messi almost scored one of the greatest goals of his career. A one-two with Malcom, a skip inside and an outside-the-foot half volley fired the ball off the left hand post. That spell of play, alongside his rebound with fifteen minutes to go, was all the freedom the Argentinian would have.
Francis Coquelin’s bulldog-like approach to marshalling Messi stifled much of Barcelona’s creativity. The way the French combative midfielder closed down Barcelona’s number ten felt oddly calculated. Coquelin would repeatedly attack Messi’s right side with aggression, unbalancing him.
Coquelin’s tenacious attitude to Marcelino’s plan quite possibly turned the match in Valencia’s favour. A masterstroke and a performance for the ages, epitomized by a short fifteen second spell in the closing stages of the game. Coquelin made five tackles in this period, two especially crunching ones on Messi.
NAME ME ONE DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER IN THE HISTORY OF FOOTBALL THAT CAN DO THIS pic.twitter.com/rn8eMjjS0p
— Matteo (@BulletTackles) May 25, 2019
Marcelino’s rigid 4-4-2 shape continued as the medium block transitioned into a deep line following Messi’s goal on the 73rd minute. They expected the alamo, but Barcelona offered little. Even Gerard Piqué as an unorthodox number nine could not help Valverde’s side retain the Copa del Rey. Valencia’s first silverware in eleven years, and a fitting end to a remarkable season.
26 shots, 6 on target. 78% possession. The over-reliance on Messi. The Champions League failure, despite holding a generous lead. Barcelona’s lack of potency in front of goal really showed today and it could cost Valverde his job, in this era wherein league titles are not sufficient to keep your job at a super club in Europe.
Also, there are growing signs that Busquets is past it. The holding midfielder’s lack of tracking back for Valencia’s first goal was a troubling watch. Busquets has never been mobile, but he could always make due because of his smart positioning and the team around him. If the spaces open up against an elite counterattacking team like Valencia, he is a liability rather than an asset. Furthermore, Coutinho’s lack of input in big games is worrying. The Brazilian was seen as the future of Barcelona when he came in from Liverpool, but is currently not even in the strongest starting eleven when the whole squad is fit.
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