Barcelona 2 – 1 Valencia
A scintillating second half display saw Barcelona come from behind to beat La Liga leaders Valencia and moved above them into top spot, albeit for a couple of hours. The victory came courtesy of a goal from captain Carles Puyol after Andres Iniesta had cancelled out Pablo Hernandez’s opener.
Valencia began the brighter, and came close to taking the lead after seven minutes as Jeremy Mathieu’s fine ball across the face of goal was only inches away from the outstretched Roberto Soldado. The opening exchanges belonged almost exclusively to the visitors as they controlled possession and showed exactly why they entered the game top of the table.
Barca’s first real chance came after 19 minutes, as David Villa broke the offside trap to get on the end of Dani Alves clever pass. Villa cut the ball across goal from the right hand side looking to give Carles Puyol a tap in, but the ball was cleared. The hosts seemed to have hit their stride now, as three minutes later Xavi produced a clever nutmeg and a curling 20 yard effort that was well saved by Cesar in the Valencia goal.
Soon after, however, the visitors regained control of the game, and it wasn’t long before they opened the scoring. Valencia made their breakthrough in the 37th minute, as the impressive Mathieu broke down the left once again and cut back from the byline for Hernandez to side-foot home a deflected effort. Valencia very nearly doubled their lead as a swift counter attack released Soldado to square for Hernandez on the edge of the box, but with the goal at his mercy the Valencia winger shot straight at Valdes.
On the stroke of half-time Barca came close to an equaliser as Messi played in Alves, with the Brazilian’s low cross evading Cesar’s grasp and falling to Messi, but a great block from Bruno saved the day. Seconds later and Barca had a penalty claim as Villa’s header appeared to hit Hernandez’s arm, but the appeals were waved away and Valencia entered the break a goal to the good.
Just after half-time, Barca were level thanks to a combination of Xavi and Iniesta, with the two displaying their almost telepathic connection to produce a goal of the highest quality. Iniesta received a pass from Seydou Keita just into the Valencia half, carried the ball towards the edge of the area and produced a clever pass with the outside of his foot that found Xavi. As four Valencia defenders watched on, Iniesta continued his run and got on the end of a fine return pass from Xavi and sidefooted past Cesar with consummate ease.
Barca created a host of chances being created soon after the equaliser. First, a Maxwell cross was met by Keita, but the midfielder lost his footing at the vital moment and failed to get a full connection. Next up was David Villa, whose dangerous cross was turned over his own bar by Jordi Alba. Soon after, Alves played the ball inside to Messi, who returned the favour with a first time pass with the outside of his foot which released Alves into the box. Alves’ dinked a cross to the far post, where it was met by a powerful header from Villa that was clawed away superbly by the outstretched Cesar.
It seemed only a matter of time before Barca found another goal, a goal which inevitably came in the 63rd minute. Receiving the ball out wide, Xavi swung a pinpoint cross in from the right, where it was met by a bullet header from Puyol, the Barca captain giving Cesar no chance as he found the top corner in emphatic fashion.
Barca were now rampant, and a dazzling run from Messi saw him jink one way and then the other as he left the Valencia defence for dead, but saw his near post shot saved by Cesar. Another chance came soon after as Villa was put through on goal by a fine Iniesta through ball, but the forward chose to try and take the ball round Cesar, with the Valencia keeper equal to Villa as he won the ball with an outstretched glove.
Messi also saw a late effort ruled out for offside, while at the other end Victor Valdes was a virtual passenger for the entire second half. The result saw Barca move above Valencia courtesy of goals scored, although their place at the top of La Liga was soon taken by Real Madrid. Both Barca and Valencia now have 16 points from their seven games.