In a shocking afternoon of football, Valencia beat Barcelona 2-0 at Mestalla.
Barcelona’s passing carousel is a thing to behold. In their first game under Quique Setién, the Blaugrana attempted an enormous 1,002 passes and managed a massive 82.4% possession. They dominated that game in the classic fashion and looked much more like their old self.
But that positive start under Quique Setién wasn’t without some signs that this was not going to be an instant transformation. Despite dominating the game Barça didn’t exactly rain shots down on the Granada goal, and their goal only came once their visitors were reduced to 10-men. So, positive, but there was clearly still work to be done.
The scale of that work was revealed in Mestalla as Valencia tore Barcelona to pieces on the break and deservedly won 2-0. In fact it could have been more as Maxi Gomez missed a penalty, Gabriel Paulista had a goal (rightly) ruled out and the hosts missed a couple more chances besides that. Los Che was superbly organised at the back with their centre-backs Gabriel and Ezequiel Garay shining behind the imperious Geoffrey Kondogbia. They fully deserved their victory and it gets them back on track after two straight defeats.
But for Barcelona, the work is there to be done.
The most obvious thing that they need to do, need to work on, is shooting. Sure, they out-shot Granada and they out-shot Valencia too, especially in the second-half (more on that later) but it’s remarkable how much of that shooting is still revolving around Leo Messi. The Argentine had a whopping 11 of Barcelona’s 14 shots today.
11! That is utterly ridiculous. So many of Barcelona’s players seem hesitant to shoot, even when they’re in a decent position to do so. Years of moving the ball forward and letting Messi or Luis Suárez do the shooting has left the Blaugrana’s midfielders looking shot-shy. Antoine Griezmann is still trying to make a good first impression so even he isn’t shooting as much as he could do and Ansu Fati is just 17-years-old and it’s very obvious when you watch him play.
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Setién needs to instil in his players the confidence to shoot, the desire to shoot. All the passing in the world (Barcelona played 867 today and had 73.5% possession) isn’t going to amount to anything if you aren’t prepared to shoot. Possession is always a means to an end and if the end isn’t a shot, then all that happens is the opponent realises you’re not a genuine goal threat and starts countering with more gusto. This increases pressure on your defence which becomes more exposed as you throw more men forward looking for a goal you won’t get because too many of your players funnel shots into one man.
That is what happened at the Mestalla, and it will happen again.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. Barcelona have been losing this kind of game all season under Ernesto Valverde. Going down and never looking capable of rousing themselves. But today they had more shots in the second-half (11) than Valencia managed all game (7). Yes, most of them came from Messi but the increased verve in their play was notable.
Arturo Vidal came on with just 55 minutes on the clock, Setién was decisive in his change (unlike Valverde) and made a sub that dramatically shifted the momentum of the game. With Vidal on and making forward runs that penetrated the lines of Valencia’s defence, the passing triangles that allowed Barcelona to cut through Valencia were possible. As a result Barça generated shots that, if Messi had his shooting boots on, would have probably resulted in a comeback victory.
But Messi wasn’t in hero mode today, and as a result Barcelona fell to defeat. That’s not good, no defeat is, but there were positive signs to be had from this afternoon’s game – although people who aren’t Messi definitely need to start shooting more.
Ultimately, Quique Setién has been in charge for just 10 days so there’s no need to panic just yet; it’s going to take more time for him to get them to fully understand his ideas, to get them sharp, to get the Blaugrana playing like themselves again. He’s made some positive steps so far, but there is still plenty of work to be done.