15 mins: Simon McMahon emails in: “Good evening ,John. A little bird once told me that Dundee United are the only team to have a 100% record against Barcelona. Played 4, won 4, I’m told. Can you confirm? Thanks.”
I think that’s right, Simon, but perhaps others can confirm.
14 mins: Messi and Suarez attempt one of their linking sequences but Soler steps across to stop it and then Messi concedes a foul.
13 mins: Barcelona play some possession football. Their first objective is to take the sting from Valencia. Their second is to get Messi on the ball.
12 mins: A replay of the Valencia goal suggests Pique ducked under the ball, which was highly odd. Batshuayi, meanwhile, has yet another shot on goal.
11 mins: Guedes leaves the field and is replaced by Russian World Cup hero Denis Cheryshev.
10 mins: Messi has his first touch. It has been that long, and he can’t do much with the ball. Time for Coutinho to step up here? Guedes comes back on, but not for long. His knee took a nasty twist.
8 mins: Great noise from the home fans again. Gameiro’s shot gets the hackles raised with another shot. Barcelona rocking on their heels.
7 mins: Guedes, excellent in midweek against Manchester United, is down injured. he leaves the field having looked in some pain. He looks like he might come back on, though.
5 mins: Valencia go close again! Gaya storms down the left, Gameiro holds the ball up and Batshuayi shoots just wide. Ter Stegen was beaten…and they go close again Kondogbia fires in a long shot that again had Ter Stegen beaten.
4 mins: Ok, then, Lionel Messi, what have you got? Barcelona step into their passing rhythm as Valencia try to keep their defensive shape.
3 mins: Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde didn’t even get the chance to take his seast before that goal went in. The word is out: his team are not very good at defending.
2 mins: What a sorry mess that was for Barcelona. And what a noise greeted that goal.
Goal! Valencia 1-0 Barcelona (Garay, 2)
Valencia force an early corner. Parejo takes it. Kondogbia flicks on, Vermaelen misses it and Garay bundles home off Pique.
Away we go!
Valencia take the kick-off and we are underway at the Mestalla.
Two Valencia changes – Soler for Arsenal legend Francis Coquelin. And Kevin Gameiro comes in for Bolton legend Rodrigo.
Valencia are the lowest scorers in La Liga. They hung on grimly against José Mourinho’s entertainers on Tuesday, and more of the same must be expected here against Barça.
Mark Turner emails in: “King Arthur must be getting narked. Bench again. And he came from Bayern to sit there, too.”
Barcelona’s run of three Liga matches without a win is their longest winless stretch in two years. For a club in supposed decline, that’s not bad, is it?
Charles Antaki emails in: “Sometimes the easy and tempting answers might be right – Barcelona still haven’t adequately replaced Dani Alves nor Andres Iniesta; Semedo, the current incumbent, is inconsistent and prone to giving the ball away, while Coutinho, while a wonderfully skilful footballer, simply has too much to live up to. Or it might be the Catalan independence movement, or global warning.”
Richard TW Arthur emails in: “’Arsenal legends Francis Coquelin and Gabriel are having a tough time.’” Yeah, yet more snide remarks about anything connected with Arsenal from the Guardian. Get over it, the lot of you!”
Arsenal legend Francis Coquelin does not start this game.
A reminder that, for all their Wembley wizardry, Barça have not won their last three league games. The rot started with a 2-2 draw with Girona, then that 2-1 loss to Leganés and a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao.
Here’s a nice preview from Harry Middleton of tonight’s ref. Thanks, Harry.
“After the goal missed in last season’s fixture, Carlos Velasco (Spanish refs chief) appointed experienced referee Jose González González for this match.A Primera División since 2009, González is a pretty solid referee. Incredibly, despite not being an international referee, he had the highest mark average in LaLiga 2014/15, which considering the algorithm is used to favour those ten FIFA referees is quite impressive. The 44-year-old is not the biggest match-manager, nor the referee most liked by the players, but generally is a ‘safe pair of hands’ for big(ish) matches. VAR is Jose Sanchez Martinez.”
Barcelona have made one change from midweek and that’s Vermaelen in for Lenglet. The Frenchman is still suspended for his VAR-snared forearm smash on a Girona player two weeks ago.
A reminder here of what happened to Real Madrid yesterday.
And some more Barney on the wonder of Luis Suárez.
Here’s a reminder of the way Messi was in midweek.
Let’s list those in a more analogue fashion.
Valencia: Neto, Gaya. Paulista, Garay, Piccini, Guedes, Kondogbia, Parejo, Soler, Gameiro, Batshuayi
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Alba, Vermaelen, Coutinho, Sergio, Rakitic, Arthur, Suarez, Messi
Here’s those teams.
It was nice of Lionel Messi to remind the English of just how he good he is. We had completely forgotten how good the best player in the world is until he put Tottenham to the sword at Wembley. Anyway, back to the day job for him, and the chance for Barcelona to climb to the top of La Liga. Alavés’ Saturday night defeat of crisis club Real Madrid has meant Atlético Madrid climbed to the top after beating Real Betis this afternoon. Valencia are 16th in the table, and really not having much fun this season, though did draw 0-0 with crisis club Manchester United on Tuesday. Already, their hopes of returning to the Champions League look in severe lumber. Arsenal legends Francis Coquelin and Gabriel are having a tough time.