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Valencia 2-3 Real Madrid

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Jese’s second half goal keeps Real Madrid within five points of Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

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Carlo Ancelotti made three changes to the side that drew Osasuna last weekend. Angel Di Maria, Nacho, and Alvaro Arbeloa were in the starting lineup, as Gareth Bale and Pepe were unavailable.

Caretaker manager Nico Estevez made several changes to Valencia’s 4-2-3-1. Jonas led the line ahead of Fede, Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli, while Oriol Romeu and Daniel Parejo were in the double-pivot.

This was a disappointing match that surprisingly produced several goals – Madrid dominated possession, and although Valencia’s shape nullified their threat, attacking quality prevailed.

Valencia shape

One of the key components towards Valencia’s impressive display was their shape without the ball. Estevez’s side dropped into two compact banks of four and minimized space between the lines.

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Madrid struggled to find space in central areas around the final third, and this led to their front four constantly interchanging positions. As per usual, Ronaldo roamed around the final third looking for openings, but Isco and Benzema dropped deep into midfield to receive the ball. Isco desperately drifted from flank to flank aiming to create overloads and link play with the wide players, but the Spaniard’s impact was minimal.

Another key feat in Valencia’s shape was Feghouli’s role – the Algerian midfielder admirably tracked Marcelo’s runs and nullified his attacking threat down the left flank. Valencia’s narrow shape was impressive – it limited Madrid’s threat from open play and Ancelotti’s men struggled to created legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

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Although Madrid dictated the tempo of the match, the away side rarely penetrated in the final third nor did they test Vicente Guaita. At this point it wasn’t a matter of how they would score, many were questioning whether they would find the back of the net.

It took a moment of brilliance from Angel Di Maria to give the away side the lead. Di Maria received Marcelo’s cross-field pass, and drifted between Piatti and Juan Bernat, before striking a venomous shot into the far corner.

Prior to the goal, Madrid lacked direction, invention and creativity in the final third, and unfortunately for the away side, their lead was short lived.

Alonso/Modric

While Cristiano Ronaldo found it difficult to express himself in the final third, Madrid’s midfield duo flourished. In fairness, Valencia’s shape contributed to their dominance as they half-heartedly attempted to close down the duo.

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Alonso often dropped deep between the two centre backs to receive the ball and launch Madrid’s attacks, but Valencia’s midfield rarely pressed the Spaniard in central areas. On the other hand, Modric was marked tightly, but the Croatian evaded defenders and played positive passes into advanced positions – there was no surprise that the Madrid duo were the most reliable passers on the field.

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Likewise, they replicated their brilliance without the ball – Alonso made key tackles in his third, while Modric intercepted the most passes. On both ends they were magnificent – they controlled the tempo of the match, and facilitated passes into key areas, as they were Madrid’s main attacking outlets.

Valencia down the left

Although Estevez’s side spent large portions of the match defending in their own zone, they still managed to pose a threat on the left flank. On numerous occasions, Valencia’s left sided players isolated Arbeloa, and both goals were created down this flank.

The first goal highlighted Piatti and Bernat’s tactical understanding – Piatti drifted infield between the two centre backs and Bernat pushed forward, got half a yard of space ahead of Di Maria, and delivered a well-weighed ball into the box that Piatti nodded past Diego Lopez. As the match continued, Di Maria’s diligence to track Bernat’s runs decreased, and the Valencia fullback casually pushed forward.

But, the main issue Madrid encountered was the lack of protection provided for Arbeloa, as Piatti constantly attacked the Spaniard. And it was Piatti’s powerful run down the left flank that earned Valencia a corner, which subsequently led to Mathieu’s equalizer.

Majority of Valencia’s attack prior to Sergio Canales’ arrival was down the left flank. Arbeloa was left vulnerable on several occasions and it was peculiar to see Ancelotti overlook this feat.

Canales

Estevez made the first alteration of the match with 30 minutes remaining, opting to introduce Canales for the uninspiring Fede. Coincidentally, Valencia equalized seconds after his introduction, which gave the home side the incentive to push for a winner.

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Unlike Fede, Canales became a threat in the final third. He drifted into space between the lines to receive the ball, and he successfully mounted Valencia’s attacks on the break. On separate occasions Canales was involved in the two legitimate goal-scoring opportunities that the home side created. Lopez comfortably saved his tame effort in the 73rd minute, and two minutes later his back heel to Piatti led to a cross towards Jonas, who fired his shot inches wide of the goal.

Canales’ introduction instilled an element of creativity the home side lacked in the first half, and they progressively created better chances.

Madrid 4-4-2

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Ancelotti switched to a 4-4-2.

The match was slipping away from Madrid, and Ancelotti gambled by introducing Jese and Daniel Carvajal – the double-change pushed Ronaldo upfront, and Di Maria to the left, as Madrid became a 4-4-2. The away side still lacked a competent link between midfield and attack, but these two men were involved in the build up to Jese’s winner.

Unlike Arbeloa – who didn’t venture forward – Carvajal’s first involvement in the match was an overlapping run down the right, which led to a dangerous cross in the six-yard box. However, Valencia failed to clear their lines and Modric recovered the ball, played a pass out wide to Jese and his weak shot at the near post beat Guaita, to hand the away side the lead.

Ancelotti summoned Asier Illarramendi in the latter stages of the match, as Madrid sat deeper and launched quick counter-attacks. Ancelotti’s change didn’t increase Madrid’s attacking impetus in the final third, but it did create one opportunity, which Jese pounced on.

Conclusion

Valencia contained Madrid for large portions of the match, but was unable to trouble the away side when they pushed into the final third. Their dominance down the left flank was logical – although Di Maria is usually a tactically disciplined player – however they took advantage of Madrid’s poor set piece defending, but only threatened from open play when Canales was introduced.

Madrid displayed an unappealing performance, but they found a way to secure maximum points.

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Ronaldo in an offside position seconds before Madrid’s second goal.

Their front four failed to penetrate in the final third, but an officiating error and poor goalkeeping handed Ancelotti’s men the lead twice. The away side keeps pace with the league leaders heading into 2014, but they’ll need to improve their all-around game if they intend on staying the course.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Valencia 2-3 Barcelona

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Lionel Messi’s first half hat trick was enough to guide Barcelona past Valencia, and remain top of the La Liga table.

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino made two changes to the side that drew Atletico Madrid midweek, in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Pedro Rodriguez joined Lionel Messi and Neymar to form the attack in Martino’s 4-3-3. Andres Iniesta also returned to the side replacing Xavi, to form a midfield three with Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets.

Miroslav Dukic made three changes to his starting lineup, after last week’s defeat to Espanyol. Sergio Canales and Dorlan Pabon joined Ever Banega in Valencia’s attacking three, replacing Jonas and Sofiane Feghouli. Andres Guardado started at left back in place of Jeremy Mathieu in Valencia’s back four, while Helder Postiga started as the lone striker.

Despite Postiga’s late first half goals, Barcelona took advantage of the space between the lines and was the dominant side, creating several chances throughout the match.

Valencia’s shape

It’s normal for teams to drop off against Barcelona, based on their superiority in midfield, but what’s key is how you approach the match without the ball. Valencia took a naïve approach and chose to sit deep in a 4-5-1, as they chose to play a high-line.

Now there’s no issue with the way Dukic aligned his men – the main issue was the lack of pressure applied to the Catalan side when they had the ball, and the amount of space between defenders. Valencia allowed Barcelona to play the match with freedom, and they punished Dukic’s men with three first half goals.

Barcelona press

One area that Barcelona got criticized for last season was their goal to keep a solid shape, opposed to pressing higher up the pitch when they lost the ball. Not only did it force Barcelona to defend for longer periods, but they also strayed away from a formula that was successful in the past.

But the arrival of Martino has seen the Catalan side revert back to their defensive strategy, when the opposition has possession. They worked hard to close down Dukic’s men when they attempted to play from the back, forcing the home side to concede possession. It was successful in the first half, and it led to Messi’s second goal of the night. Valencia won possession and looked to play out of their half through Banega, but Busquets pressed the Argentine and won possession. Fabregas picked up the ball and played a lovely pass to Messi, who calmly slotted his shot into the back of the net.

Martino’s men worked hard to retain possession with their pressure, forcing Valencia to concede possession in their own half, presenting them with legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

Barcelona between the lines

One clear aspect to Barcelona’s dominance was the amount of space available between the lines. Dukic’s men often changed their shape without the ball – they went from two banks of four, to a bank of five ahead of the back four, and despite being organized, they were not compact.

Messi’s opener stemmed from the amount of space and time Fabregas received on the ball. Minutes prior to Messi’s goal, Fabregas played a defence splitting pass to Neymar, but the Brazilian was unable to make the most of the opportunity. Messi was different – despite being fortunate, the Argentine made an identical run behind the defence, but he got the ball past the keeper and tapped it into the open net.

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But it wasn’t only Fabregas enjoying the abundance of space available, Messi also dropped deeper, and the Barcelona forward had a significant impact in the Catalan side’s dominance. Messi found pockets of space throughout the Valencia half and was combining with his teammates, spreading passes wide, and aiming to thread that decisive ball in the final third.

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It was no surprise that Messi and Fabregas connected for Messi’s third goal – based on their dominance in the opening 40 minutes, it was just a matter of time. Messi dropped into midfield to receive the ball and he found Fabregas unmarked between the lines, waiting to receive the ball. Messi played in Fabregas, who then found Neymar out on the left – Neymar found an oncoming Messi who slotted the ball into the net.

The third goal highlighted the amount of freedom Barcelona was given when in possession, and Martino’s men deserved their three-goal lead.

Helder Postiga

The often-maligned Portuguese striker was signed by Valencia to replace Roberto Soldado, who made a move to Tottenham over the summer. Surprisingly, for all the negative reviews the Portuguese international gathers, he’s still managed to find the back of the net. And in the span of five minutes, Postiga pegged his side back into the match with two quality finishes.

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Postiga provided an exquisite finish for his first goal, as Joao Pereira got into an advanced position on the right flank, and provided an outstanding cross for his countrymen. Minutes later, Postiga narrowed the lead to one, when the Portuguese striker made an intelligent near post run and flicked the ball into the far post.

Postiga’s goals provided moments of brilliance, which allowed Valencia back in the game, despite their shambolic performance in the first half.

Wide Areas

Valencia got into dangerous positions in the final third, when they took advantage of the space provided in wide areas.

In the first half, Joao Pereira was allowed to push forward at will, with Neymar not instructed to track the Portuguese fullback, when he surged forward. Iniesta drifted over occasionally to nullify Pereira’s threat, and Mascherano was forced to on a few occasions as well – this didn’t bode well for Martino’s men as Postiga was then able to drop off and link play with Mascherano out of position. Pereira’s freedom out wide led to Postiga’s opener, and it was an element to their attack that was successful in the opening 45 minutes.

Dukic’s men took their focus to the opposite flank in the second half, looking to overload Dani Alves. In fairness, if Barcelona continued their high pressing that was so successful in the first half, this may not be an issue, but the Catalan side chose to get back into shape without the ball. When Barcelona lost possession, Banega and Pabon attacked the space behind Alves, creating a few opportunities. Banega and Pabon overloaded the left flank when Barcelona got into their shape, delivering dangerous balls into the box, but Valencia failed to find an equalizer.

Conclusion

Barcelona was exceptional in the opening 40 minutes, and although they missed several chances to put the game out of reach, the rapid decline in their intensity, allowed Valencia back into the match.

Valencia drops their second match in a row, conceding six goals in total, which is not impressive. Dukic’s men were fortunate not to lose by higher tally, based on how open they were throughout the match. With the Europa League about to kick off, it’ll be interesting to see how Valencia copes, but there are a few warning signs that are clearly being shown. The one positive is that Postiga has yet to look a downgrade to Soldado, and they’ll need the Portuguese striker firing if they intend on claiming a European spot this season.

Barcelona keeps their perfect record intact, and they may not have an easier away outing this season. More importantly, the front three are beginning to click and Neymar is slowly finding his groove in La Liga. The one worry for Martino besides signing a centre-back, will be the approach he adopts, once his men are unable to press higher up the pitch, as Barcelona look quite vulnerable when sitting off and keeping their shape. Nevertheless, Messi continued to display why he’s the best player on the planet, while Fabregas has given Martino belief that he can afford to rest Xavi.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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