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La Liga: Gomez-Inspired Valencia Have Occasion to Savour

Valencia 2-0 Barcelona

Most La Liga afternoons in January are cold, but the atmosphere in the Mestalla is nearly always white-hot for occasions like this so La Liga 2020 highlights were seemingly guaranteed.

Valencia fans have long been some of the most passionate, hostile and impatient in European football, and when they make a noise it takes a cool head to play football as a visitor.

Well, the Mestalla is rocking right now after their heroes upset the defending champions in convincing fashion.

 

Highlights of the game

Valencia went into this match in fifth with a plus one goal difference, not a ringing endorsement of their form this term and meaning they were out of the European qualification spots.

Their cause was not helped by the absence of captain Dani Parejo after he picked up a red card in Los Che’s 4-1 loss away at Real Mallorca last weekend.

There is no denying Parejo’s influence on Valencia; they are a different team when he plays.

That is often the case, too, as he has played 27 games so far this season: 19 in La Liga (1,671 minutes and six goals), six in the Champions League (540 minutes and one goal), one in the Supercopa de Espana (90 minutes and one goal), and one in the Copa del Rey (90 minutes).

The big decision from home manager Albert Celades was to leave Rodrigo Moreno on the bench. Barca are rumoured to be keen on the frontman who has just returned from injury.

New Barca boss Quique Setien would have been aware his side needed to produce a convincing La Liga performance following two narrow wins against Granada and Ibiza, in which they won but failed to impress.

Quique Setien feels disappointed after suffering his first defeat as Barcelona manager in La Liga game against Valencia
Barcelona manager Quique Setien looks dejected after losing to Valencia in recent La Liga clash

He named Arthur in midfield with teenager Ansu Fati again selected in attack.

With Rodrigo on the bench, all eyes were on the other central character in Lionel Messi. From the outset he was their key figure, seeing an effort blocked inside three minutes.

Messi has scored 28 goals against Valencia, including 24 in 27 league matches against Los Che, four of them coming in a single home game in the 2011/12 season. It was easy to see why the world player of the year was their main threat.

Only nine minutes had passed though when Gerard Pique brought down Jose Gaya and conceded a penalty for which he was cautioned. But Maxi Gomez wasted the opportunity as German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen dove to his left and clawed away the powerful effort.

Gomez and Francis Coquelin were again thwarted by the shot-stopper, with the former seeing an effort parried onto the inside of the post before the keeper also saved the rebound from Kevin Gameiro.

Barcelona may have been relieved to go in level at the break. They fashioned their best chance of the game within seconds of the restart as Fati played a one-two with Messi before bursting into the penalty area and toe-poking the ball inches wide of the far post.

It was to prove crucial as moments later. Pique’s headed clearance landed at the feet of Gomez in the corner of the penalty area, and he rifled in a powerful effort that was fortuitously deflected off Jordi Alba and beyond a helpless ter Stegen.

After that, Barca probed for long spells with Messi seeing shots blocked and attempts narrowly off-target. But without the Argentine maestro, there would have been no cutting edge and Valencia countered crucially 13 minutes from time.

Ferran Torres drove forward and, as the ball broke to Gomez in the area, he arrowed a powerful shot past ter Stegen. The ground erupted and Valencia had their first home win over Barca since 2007.

Messi and ter Stegen may have deserved more but Barcelona didn’t and Valencia held on comfortably for a victory to remember.

 

Key statistics

Since the beginning of the 2017/2018 season, Gómez has scored more goals vs Barca (four) than any other player.

Setien has a poor personal record against Los Che. He has now faced them eight times with just a single victory.

Barcelona have conceded 25 goals in 21 LaLiga matches this season.

Messi had the most shots (11) in a game he’s managed without scoring, matching a game he played against Deportivo de La Coruña in December 2017.

The two penalties conceded by Pique against Valencia have both been saved: Claudio Bravo in April 2015 and Ter Stegen today.

 

What’s next?

Valencia meet the conquerors of Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey last 16 in midweek, Cultural Leonesa, and will surely learn from their rivals’ defeat as they aim to defend the trophy they won famously last May. They then host Celta Vigo in La Liga a week from today (February 1).

Barcelona host Leganes in the Copa del Rey on Thursday before welcoming Levante to the Nou Camp next Sunday back in league action.

 

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