Football Features

“A shining light in the darkness” – Winners and Losers as Messi makes more history in Barcelona 2-2 Valencia

By Muhammad Butt

Barcelona 2-2 Valencia: Winners and Losers as Messi makes more history

Published: 17:34, 19 December 2020

In an open afternoon of football, Barcelona and Valencia played out a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou.

The result doesn’t help Barcelona climb the table and will pour more pressure onto manager Ronald Koeman. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Pedri

There weren’t many Barcelona players who truly excelled against Valencia but Pedri was certainly one of them. In fact he might have been the only one. The young Spaniard is still just 18 years old but is rapidly becoming a key player for the side, just as Ansu Fati already has. A shining light in the darkness.

Pedri today had 94 touches. Only Leo Messi and Jordi Alba had more. Pedri attempted 75 passes. Only Alba had more. He completed 3/3 dribbles, created two chances, made a team-high three tackles and was involved in just about everything Barcelona did. He is a truly special talent whose skill and smarts have him on the path to superstardom already.

Loser: Barcelona’s set-piece defending

Valencia took the lead by exploiting a growing weakness of the Blaugrana this season: set-pieces. A simple corner routine found Mouctar Diakhaby unmarked and he headed it home. Watching the game back, it’s clear the defender evaded his marker (Antoine Griezmann) with absurd ease and nodded home with no one around him.

That is the fourth goal Barcelona have conceded from set-pieces this season, the joint-most in the division along with Huesca. That’s the same as they conceded from set-pieces in the last three seasons combined. Their organisation and stability, especially since Gerard Piqué went down injured, has been shocking and it’s something that future opponents will look to exploit.

Winner: Leo Messi

Messi has scored so many goals that on the occasion of his 450th La Liga goal, that isn’t even the big story. Why? Because Messi’s goal today, a brave header after his missed penalty led to Jordi Alba lifting a nice cross to the far-post, was his 643rd in Barcelona colours.

Why is that number important? Because it equals Pelé’s record for the most goals scored for a single club. The Brazilian bagged that amount for Santos back in the 50s and 60s, while Messi has now scored 643 for the Blaugrana in the modern age and, even with his rickety finishing, you’d expect he will make the record his own sooner rather than later.

Loser: Philippe Coutinho

What on earth is going on here?

Philippe Coutinho was fantastic in his first half-season with Barcelona. Then in his first full-season he was awful, inexplicably so. The Blaugrana then loaned him out to Bayern Munich, where he was… alright? But only really when coming off the bench.

He returned to Barcelona in the summer and despite being given a prominent role in the side and plenty of minutes he’s been… terrible. Today against Valencia, he was a complete an utter non-entity for 77 minutes, contributing nothing to attack and little to defence. No matter how poor he was, Ronald Koeman only took him off in the 78th minute, right after his only notable contribution to the game (a good run and shot that went just wide).


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Winner: Javi Gracia

Valencia came to the Camp Nou having drawn three of their last five games since the 4-1 devastation of Real Madrid, during which time they had won just once, an extra time Copa del Rey match against Terrassa. They weren’t in good form and a Barcelona that had just beaten Real Sociedad were a worrying prospect.

But his Valencia side played exceptionally well from start to finish. Los Che were relentless in the way that they defended, rigid and organised they prevented the Blaugrana from getting too many clean looks at Jaume Domenech and on the rare occasions they broke on their opponents their counter-attacks were impressive and they really worked Ter Stegen.

His side took the lead from a set-piece, a wonderfully worked corner, and even when Barcelona fought back to take the lead they never gave up and continued to push, creating an equaliser of pure quality from Maxi Gomez to earn a draw. So, OK, not a win but a very creditable point that will boost confidence in Gracia’s system.

Loser: Ronald Koeman

It’s hard to describe how poor Ronald Koeman has been as Barcelona manager because there have been things he has done well. But in general he has been nowhere near sharp enough, either in terms of his starting line-up, his tactics or his substitutions.

Today, he picked the wrong side to start, and when he had chances to change things he did so in baffling ways that altered his side’s shape to the point where whatever rhythm they had vanished in the last 15 minutes. In a period where Barcelona should have been pinning Los Che back, they were instead disorganised and scrambling to try and contain Valencia counter-attacks.

That Koeman let the obviously subpar Philippe Coutinho last 78 is beyond the realms of sense. That he waited until 78 minutes to change to a back three to try and contain Valencia was baffling. That he took off Pedri and Sergio Busquets when both were playing well was so confusing; what kind of coach brings on a defensive midfielder and centre-back when they need a goal?

Koeman is painfully out of his depth, and it’s costing Barcelona points in La Liga. The Blaugrana are currently fifth, eight points off the top of the table and Atlético Madrid have a game-in hand as well. That is simply not good enough.