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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Valencia vs Barcelona Match Report: How good is Messi without Xavi and Iniesta?

When it comes to Lionel Messi there are two schools of thought: one he is the best player in the world and possible the greatest of all time; or he is probably better than Cristiano Ronaldo but it is the players around him that make him so special. Those of the first school cite his magnetic touch, goal scoring record, mazy runs and Ballon d’Ors. Those inclined to believe the second thought point out his lack of success with Argentina and the phenomenal abilities of Xavi and Iniesta.

Last night Barcelona went to the Mestalla to face Valencia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi final, they were without Xavi and Iniesta. How did Barcelona and Messi fare?

Honour’s were shared in an entertaining often frantic encounter, Barcelona will be the happier of the two sides with the 1-1 result as they have the away goal to take back to the Nou Camp next week along with their formidable defensive record at home. The game sprang into life with a controversial moment, Barcelona’s favourite Copa del Rey shot-stopper Pinto came rushing out to stop Roberto Soldado. The Valencian no.9 poked the ball forwards and Pinto appeared to stop the ball progressing with his upper arm outside the penalty area. Soldado pleaded with the linesman as dust rose from the Mestalla as ‘Los Che’ fans leaped from their seats whistling and shouting with indignation, nothing was given and Valencia were right to feel grieved. It wasn’t long after that Valencia got their deserved lead, Mathieu was laid on brilliantly by Jordi Alba and pulled the ball back for Jonas who smartly finish with the outside of this boot. Just as when the two sides met here in the league, Jordi Alba and Mathieu were excellent down the left flank, constantly overlapping one another making themselves difficult to track. Pep Guardiola made some tactical changes from the 2-2 in the league not starting with Dani Alves and instead deploying Puyol and at times Pique at right back in a bid to thwart the dangerous Valencian left wingers.

It was Alexis who missed the first real chance for Barcelona who looked to play themselves back into the game, it was a guilt edged chance too but the Chilean’s weak shot was parried wide by Diego Alves. The resulting corner brought about Barcelona’s equaliser, Jordi Alba lost Puyol and Diego Alves was caught in no man’s land as the Catalan skipper headed home to bring his side level. However, Diego Alves was given an opportunity to redeem himself in the second half; as Thiago was clumsily brought down by Miguel inside the penalty area. Messi stepped up; he conducted himself in his usual manner for spot-kicks, assured confidence, a slow almost nonchalant run up. He struck the ball across his body but his eyes couldn’t fool Diego Alves nor could his usual effortless accuracy beat the Brazilian keeper, the result was a rather tame penalty at the perfect height for the keeper to push it away to safety. Messi was keen to make amends and linked up well with the energetic substitute Dani Alves but the Brazilians thunderous shot cannoned off the post. As the final whistle blew, Soldado lamented the referee and his officials, whilst Messi was left to rue his mistake.  

Messi had a solid game and one cannot expect magic on every occasion he graces a pitch, he set his teammates on up on numerous occasions and was influential in almost every attack. However, without Xavi and Iniesta he had to make his own chances, Messi probably missed his fellow little magicians more than Barcelona did but tonight did little to suggest that the first school of thought of Lionel Messi is the wrong one.  

1 comment:

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