Valencia And Barcelona Share Manic Encounter

The title race took another twist on Saturday night, as Barcelona played out an intense 2-2 draw at the Mestalla...
Valencia 2-2 Barcelona

Barcelona dropped two points in the title race at Valencia, although they may consider it as a point gained...

Unai Emery gave Carlos Marchena a place in midfield, while the two Davids, Silva and Villa, were joined by Juan Mata up front.

Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, kept Thierry Henry on the bench, with Andres Iniesta being played in his position, while Sergi Busquets was handed a start in midfield.

First Half

The match started in familiar fashion, with Barcelona dominating possession, albeit without creating too much, except for one foray into the box from Samuel Eto'o. Valencia, however, were showing their danger on the counter, with Villa in particular putting the defence under relentless pressure.

It took 15 minutes for the first genuine chance of the match to arise, as Lionel Messi blasted over from Iniesta's pass, under severe pressure from the defence. Two minutes later, Villa came close after winning a contentious free-kick, but Victor Valdes, who has had his horror moments against the Asturian in the past, saved well low to his left.

Barcelona may have taken their time to hit their stride, but on 22 minutes, they scored a goal that embodied their brilliance this season. Iniesta received the ball from Messi on the left, and the pair exchanged passes to work their way into the box, before Iniesta toyed with the defence and keeper to square it for the Argentine, who slotted home to give the visitors the lead.

The goal clearly gave the Blaugrana increased confidence, as they began to assert themselves on Los Che. Lionel Messi was in the thick of the action, testing out Cesar with a long range shot. Eto'o tried one of his own, but it flew wide of the right-hand post.

On the half-hour, the notoriously vociferous home crowd erupted when David Villa was denied a penalty following contact from Carlos Puyol. At first glance, it seemed a stonewall decision, but further observation revealed that Villa made the most of minimal contact from the Barca captain. It could have gone either way, but it appeared to be a rare brilliant decision from a Spanish referee. Indeed, it could be argued that the penalty would have been given if Villa had not gone down so theatrically.

They may not have been given the decision, but Valencia's indignation spurned them into life, as they began to exert enormous pressure on the Catalans. Crucially though, they failed to make it count, as their final ball consistently flattered to deceive. Just as the half was winding down though, they made the breakthrough, as Valdes made a hash of a corner in customary fashion, leaving the ball to rebound in off Hedwiges Maduro.

Barca almost equalised immediately, when Cesar nearly replicated Valdes' mistake at the other end, but no forward could pounce on the loose ball. It proved to be a costly mistake, as Pablo Hernandez played a one-two with Villa and sliced through the defence on the stroke of half-time, to coolly slot past Valdes and give the home side the lead.

So Barcelona went into the sheds in an unfamiliar position, faced with the task of turning a 2-1 deficit around.

Second Half

Barcelona started the second half on top, as Valencia appeared content to sit back and hit on the counter. It was a proverbial cat and mouse game, as Barca poured forward constantly, wary however of the threat posed by Valencia's speedy forwards.

As the half-hour approached, Guardiola made his first change, bringing Thierry Henry on for Seydou Keita. He almost made an immediate impact, but his fierce strike from the left was straight at Cesar. Seconds later, he drew another fine save from Cesar, who could only tip it around for a corner.

Unai Emery then showed his hand, bringing Michel on for Ruben Baraja, who was on a yellow. The half was being played almost exclusively in Valencia's half, but they continued to threaten on the counter. With twenty minutes left, Mata wasted a glorious chance when he found himself through, only to volley wide.

With 15 minutes left, Eidur Gudjohnsen came on for Xavi, while Emiliano Moretti replaced Miguel. For all their possession, Barcelona were not creating enough chances to pull this one back, as their attacks were routinely met by a white wall. Emery then made his final change, replacing Mata with Vicente.

With five minutes remaining, Barcelona equalised in uncharacteristic fashion. Cesar could only punch Messi's floated free-kick out to Henry, who lobbed it into the empty net, with the aid of a deflection. The Valencia players were incensed, but there was no foul play in the build up.

Seconds after the kick-off, Villa almost gave Valencia the lead again, when his shot from an impossible angle was well saved by Valdes. The tension was mounting at the Mestalla, as the assistant held up his board, signalling five minutes of extra-time.

Unsurprisingly, all five minutes were played in the Valencia half, but Barcelona's pressure could not translate to a winning goal.

Barcelona's attentions now turn to Chelsea in midweek, but their eyes will be trained on Real Madrid tomorrow, as they travel to Sevilla tomorrow with the chance to cut the gap to four points.

Valencia 2-2 Barcelona
Maduro 43    Messi 22
Pablo Hernandez 45 Henry 85

: Cesar - Miguel (Moretti 75), Albiol, Maduro, Alexis - Marchena, Baraja (Michel 66), Pablo Hernandez - Silva, Mata (Vicente 81), Villa

: Valdes - Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal - Busquets, Xavi (Gudjohnsen 75), Keita (Henry 62) - Iniesta, Messi, Eto'o

Yellow Cards
: Silva 21, Valdes 40, Iniesta 41, Maduro 53, Baraja 55, Marchena 64, Alexis 84

Arjun Miglani,