After a two week break in the league, Barcelona hosted the league leaders Valencia in an absolutely must-win match. A defeat would have been a serious blow to Barcelona's title hopes.
Given the situation, Pep Guardiola fielded arguably the strongest squad available. Fortunately for Barcelona, Xavi recovered in time and led the team, as usual. He wasn't at his scintillating best, but he still commanded the field with his usual class and assisted for both goals.
Things didn't look good for Barcelona in the first half. Surprisingly, it was Valencia who controlled possession and created dangerous chances. Unai Emery's team showed no fear and tried to dictate the pace of the game from the very start. They were determined to show everyone that they were deserved leaders.
Barcelona only had one good chance during the first half and David Villa couldn't put it away. Valencia didn't create many chances either but they were controlling the match by playing an impeccable possession game, moving their lines forwards and creating constant pressure. Barcelona looked overwhelmed and sparkless and it was no surprise when Valencia scored in the 37th minute by Pablo, after a very fast attacking play from Valencia.
Moments later, the Barcelona stopper was one on one with the same man, Pablo, but this time produced a point-blank save to prevent his side from going two down. Once again, Valdés saved Barcelona.
In the end of the first half, Valencia led 1-0 and it was certainly a fair result. The best player on the planet was almost invisible and so was the rest of the Barcelona team. The prospect of a defeat and of losing further ground in the league seemed very real by half-time.
Guardiola understood how critical the moment was, and whatever he said in the locker room during half time, it certainly worked wonders!
Barcelona looked like a completely different team (for the better) in the second half; barely a minute had passed before Iniesta beat the offside trap with a sensational one-two with Xavi and his class finish brought the match back all square. The golden duo worked their magic once again and brought the match to level terms with the entire second half left to play.
The goal boosted Barcelona's confidence levels and the blaugrana finally started imposing their game and dominating their opponents. Chances started appearing but Cesar, Valencia's goalkeeper, denied Messi (who had an off day) and Villa's efforts.
In the 62th minute, an unlikely hero emerged: Barcelona's captain Carles Puyol headed the ball into the back of net following a perfect cross by Xavi. The comeback was complete, much to the relief of the home crowd and manager Pep Guardiola. After Puyol's goal, Barcelona kept dominating and wasting chances and, as a consequence, Valencia caused them some scares in the final minutes. Mascherano came into the match for Xavi in the 77th minute and some of his interventions were providencial stopping Valencia's attacks. It seems that Argentine has finally adapted to Barcelona's style of play and can now become an important player in Guardiola's plans.
In the end, Barcelona managed to hold on to a very hard-fought win. A terrible first half but a good second half were enough to get the three points. Barcelona are now in second place with the same points as Valencia (16), who proved today that they must be taken as serious contenders in the title race; they have enough quality and depth plus a very competent manager in Unai Emery.
Real Madrid lead the table with 17 points, one more than Barcelona. At this point, a one point difference is obviously quite irrelevant, especially since Barcelona have had a far more difficult schedule than Real Madrid up to this point. There's still everything left to play in this year's title race.
In 2008/2009, Barcelona lost five points in their first few matches (like this season) and then went on to win 18 of their following 19 league matches (one draw), score 67 goals and concede only 14. Barcelona supporters hope that history may repeat itself and Barcelona can have another historic season.
Next week, Barcelona will play at Saragoza and another victory is expected. Before that, though, the team must focus on Wednesday's match against Copenhagen at Camp Nou. The sooner Barcelona guarantees the first place in their Champions League group, the better.
Barcelona won a difficult battle today, but the war is only starting...