Evening/late afternoon all! Well the final round of La Liga fixtures are upon us. Our coverage on Saturday gets underway as Valladolid welcome Barcelona to the Jose Zorrilla. The home side have enjoyed an encouraging season to date and sit in 11th spot in the table. Meanwhile, Barcelona have won 15 of their 16 league matches thus far to sit atop the table with 46 points.
Barcelona’s incredible start to the season has been marred somewhat, however, by the news that boss Tito Vilanova has undergone throat surgery in order to remove a tumour. The club confirmed on Thursday that the operation had been a success and it is understood that he will now have six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It is safe to say that our best wishes go to him.
Valladolid: Hernandez; Rukavina, Valiente, Sereno, Balenziaga; Omar, Oscar, Sastre, Perez; Bueno, Manucho
Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Thiago, Busquets; Pedro, Messi, Sanchez
Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura, who has been with the Catalan club since 2009, will take charge of the team for the match this evening. It had been suggested that Pep Guardiola would return to the club in order to fill an interim role, but that notion has been rejected by the club. One thing is for certain, the Barcelona players will be playing for their manager this evening.
Valladolid, meanwhile, lie ahead of the likes of Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao in their quest for survival this season. They have not set up in the defensive manner that was expected at the beginning of the season, rather in an impressive fluid style with players that are certainly capable of causing damage – former Manchester United striker Manucho being a prime example.
The home side will also enter the match full of confidence having run Madrid close on their own turf a couple of weeks ago. Under the stewardship of Miroslav Djukic, they have certainly impressed with their ability to pick up convincing results. Undoubtedly for me, their star player of the season has been 25-year-old German Patrick Ebert. However, he has been deemed unfit for this match.
Valladolid also boast an impressive defensive record this season, having conceded just 18 goals in the league, the same as Barcelona. Malaga currently hold the best record having conceded just 10 goals in their 16 matches thus far. However, this is certainly the home side’s biggest test of the season to date.
All eyes will once more be on Lionel Messi
who grabbed another brace – his sixth in six consecutive league matches – against Atletico Madrid last weekend to take his tally to 90 goals in the calendar year. The little Argentine simply does not do one goal, if he scores, then more often than not he hits the target twice. Who would back against him having a similar impact this evening as he attempts to put his record beyond reach in Barcelona’s final match of 2012?
In terms of the recent meetings between the two clubs, it does not make pretty reading for Vallaodlid. Barcelona have won the last five matches against their opponents this evening, scoring 18 goals and conceding just once in the process. Valladolid have certainly improved since the last clash in 2010, but then so have Barcelona, who are arguably in the form of their life.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. Just about time for my pre-match prediction. I just cannot see any way how Barcelona do not win this match. I am backing a 3-1 away win, with Messi once more on the scoresheet. Little under two minutes until kickoff.
Just a quick full-time to bring you from the early kickoff in Spain. Real Mallorca have picked up a much-needed three points with a 2-1 win away at Real Betis. The result has moved Mallorca out of the relegation zone. Right, the home side get the action underway on this mild evening in Spain. Can Valladolid end Barcelona's unbeaten start to the season? Be sure to remain with us for the entirety of the action.
Confident start from the home side who have enjoyed plenty of the possession in the early stages of the match. However, their opening attack is cut short as Oscar loses control before fouling Sergio Busquets. High-tempo start to proceedings. Although neither side has really settled thus far.
Again it's decent football from Valladolid as Marc Valiente drives down the right before finding Manucho, but the powerful striker just cannot control and Gerard Pique comes across to clear the danger. Just a quick reminder that there is no Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta or David Villa for Barcelona this evening, who are all on the bench.
The home supporters are in good voice in the early stages of this match. Full house inside the stadium and it is making a difference to Valladolid's tempo. They are finding that extra yard as they attempt to squeeze the Barcelona midfield. However, the away side have just started to gain a period of control.
CHANCE! Glorious opportunity for Barcelona to take the lead as Alves drives down the right before firing a low cross into the penalty area, but Sanchez just could not make proper contact with the ball. Incredible opening for the Catalan outfit. If only it was Messi.
Barcelona continue to pressure with Alba and Alves playing as wingers rather than full-backs. Again it's sensational football with Xavi and Thiago involved in the midfield area, but Messi is just crowded out outside the box. It is all one-way traffic at the moment and the opening goal appears to be on its way.
Valladolid just need to settle with possession as the half begins to develop. You get the feeling that they cannot afford to fall behind in this match. It's good work from Antonio Rukavina as the full-back drives down the right, but he just cannot keep the ball in play and Barcelona restart with a throw. Still 0-0 with 10 minutes on the clock.
Half-chance for Barcelona here as Messi is pulled down outside the penalty area by Valiente. The resulting set piece is taken by the Argentine, but his effort is straight into the palms of Hernandez and the goalkeeper attempts to launch a counter for his side. Meanwhile, Messi has a long-range effort blocked by Sereno moments later.
Still Barcelona pass and probe outside the Valladolid penalty area. However, they have not been unable to find that elusive final pass thus far as Hernandez comes to collect in his area. But there is simply no out-ball for the home side at the moment and the pressure continues to remain on their defence.
It's better from the home side as they force two corners in quick succession. Meanwhile, they have a strong penalty shout as Alba appears to handball in the penalty area, but the referee waves play on. Replays have shown that the ball did indeed strike the Spaniard's hand, but it would have been harsh with Manucho in close proximity.
Again it's decent work from Valladolid as Sastre finds Bueno out wide. The striker in return whips a dangerous cross towards Manucho, but Pique throws himself in front of the strike and the danger is cleared. The passing has been good from both sides in this opening 18 minutes, but the standout chance fell to Sanchez in the early stages.
Barcelona continue to enjoy plenty of the possession, but their final pass has just let them down on each occasion this evening. Again it's nice football with Xavi and Thiago involved in the midfield area, but the latter's pass for Pedro is just too long and the danger is cleared by Balenziaga.
We haven't seen much from Manucho in the opening 22 minutes of action. The former Manchester United striker has had a couple of crosses to attack, but has thus far been unable to make an impact. Barcelona advance immediately down the other end with Sanchez, but his shot is blocked by Rukavina. Meanwhile, the resulting corner is also cleared.
Not a great deal to report in terms of chances in the past few minutes. Barcelona continue to enjoy plenty of the possession, but Valladolid are squeezing the play in midfield and the away side have thus far been able to find that elusive pass. However, you get the feeling that the opening goal could soon be on its way.
Pass, pass, pass. Barcelona continue to dominate possession of the ball with Valladolid chasing shadows. The Catalan outfit force another half-chance as Alba whips a low cross into the area, but Sereno just beats Pedro to the ball and the danger is cleared. Meanwhile, it's good work from Manucho down the other end as he wins a corner.
Again Barcelona force a free kick just outside the Valladolid box as Bueno fells Messi, with the striker gaining a yellow card for his troubles. The set piece is taken by Xavi, but once more Hernandez is comfortable in dealing with the danger. Little over 15 minutes of normal time of the first half remaining.
Quick word on Xavi. The Spaniard has extended his contract with Barcelona until 2016. Injuries aside, he will be approaching 800 games by that stage of his career. It is incredible to look at this side and notice how many players have come through their youth system. How do they continue to produce such stars year after year?
Another half-chance for Barcelona as Sanchez collects possession on the right before feeding a low cross into the penalty area, but it just would not fall for Pedro and the danger is scrambled clear. It is all one-way traffic at the moment, but the home side are fairly comfortable in dealing with the danger.
Barcelona continue to dominate possession in and around the Valladolid box as they pass and probe in search of that opening. However, the home side continue to thwart the danger as they sit in with numbers behind the ball. Another corner if forced by Barcelona, but once more the danger is cleared.
It is almost like a training match at the moment. A typical attack versus defence exercise with Barcelona playing with eight men prepared to advance beyond the centre circle. Messi attempts to craft once more as he plays a one-two with Pedro before meeting the Spaniard's cross, but he heads just wide.
POST! Barcelona force another free kick just outside the penalty area as Messi is felled by Sereno once more. However, the Argentine's effort rattles off the post. Sensational technique there. Fernandez was rooted to the spot.
I could be wrong but I do not think that Valladolid have had any sort of possession in the Barcelona half for the last 20 minutes or so in this match. Barcelona are in total control of proceedings, but the score remains 0-0. You just feel that Valladolid have to score first this evening in order to stand a chance of taking something from the match.
Little over three minutes of the half remaining and Barcelona continue to enjoy total control of the possession. However, aside form the Sanchez effort early on and the Messi free kick, it cannot be said that they have peppered the Valladolid goal. Wouldn't it be just like football if the home side stole one on the counter?
Barcelona continue to hunt in packs as they gather possession back in an instant. Alves and Alba continue to play as wingers with Pique and Mascherano happy to deal with the threat from Manucho. Surely Valladolid cannot hang on for another 45 minutes?
GOAL! Real Valladolid 0-1 Barcelona (Xavi)
I posed the question: Could Valladolid hold on? The answer is no. It's Xavi that opens the scoring as the Spanish midfielder meets a low cross from Alba to fire home from close range. You just get the feeling that Valladolid had to hold on until the interval. This is an entirely different match now.
Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional one minute of football at the end of the half. Barcelona are so in control of this match it is untrue. Valladolid looked a good side against Real Madrid a few weeks ago, which may say more about Madrid than it does about them.
Real Valladolid 0-1 Barcelona
So there we have it. It took a while for the goal to arrive, but Barcelona lead at the interval courtesy of a strike from Xavi moments before the interval. There has been few chances for either sides, but the Catalan outfit have been in total control of the possession.
Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half of football. Barcelona have dominated the possession with 74%. Meanwhile, they have managed five attempts on goal. That is in contrast to the home side who have barely been in the Barcelona half let alone near Valdes's goal.
As it stands Barcelona would extend their lead over Atletico Madrid to nine points. Meanwhile, they would move an incredible 16 points clear of Real Madrid, yes 16. Just a reminder that Madrid are in action away to Malaga following the completion of this match. Be sure to stay with us for that one.
In terms of the second period. It is important that Valladolid attempt to get Manucho and Oscar involved in the match. Meanwhile, they could introduce Alvaro Rubio or Javi Guerra
from the bench. For Barcelona, they are so comfortable it is untrue. But they have the likes of Iniesta and Villa on the bench should they so wish.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of the second period. No changes for either side at the interval, although I would expect that to change as the half develops. Just a reminder that we have action from Malaga vs. Real Madrid following the completion of this match. Barcelona get the action underway.
Barcelona begin the second period pretty much how they played the whole of the first half, in total control of possession. You just get the feeling that Oscar needs to get closer to Manucho for the home side. The next goal in this match - if there indeed is one - could have a huge effect on the final result.
POST! Barcelona come close to extending their lead twice in quick succession. The first chance comes to Alba as the defender rounds the goalkeeper, but he cannot find the back of the net. Meanwhile, Pedro meets a Xavi cross moments later, but his header comes off the outside of the post.
Surely Valladolid need to push their defensive line higher up the pitch in this second period. They continue to drop deeper and deeper and the pressure remains. You could understand if the game was still 0-0. But you have to think that another Barcelona goal at this stage would certainly secure all the points this evening.
The home supporters continue to attempt to lift their side in the early stages of the second period with a vast amount of noise. But the team is just not responding as they continually hand possession back to Barcelona. Meanwhile, Sastre picks up a booking for a handball outside the penalty area.
Still Valladolid continue to struggle for any invention as Omar fires a lone ball towards Manucho, but the striker cannot make the challenge and Valdes collects. The home side have not yet registered a single attempt at goal, let alone pressured with any force in the final third. Little under 35 minutes of football to play.
Slightly scrappy period of the match at the moment with Barcelona having lost some of their tempo. They have not been at their best this evening but in truth they have not had to be against a very lacklustre Valladolid side. But all they need is that once chance. That one set piece.
Half-chance for Barcelona as Xavi attempts to find the run of Messi, but Valiente comes across to clear the danger. The former Barcelona youth player has been his side's best defender this evening. In truth, it has not been their defensive performance that has let them down. They have just simply not offered any attacking threat.
CHANCE! So he is human?! Messi comes close to adding Barcelona's second as he picks up a loose ball inside the penalty area, but he drags it wide of the post. He is rubbish this boy. Where is his normal two goals?!
GOAL! Real Valladolid 0-2 Barcelona (Messi)
Oh my word I have cursed it again. Messi puts one wide, but then what happens? The Argentine collects possession outside the penalty area before drilling into the bottom corner. He has an additional 30 minutes to keep up his record of a brace in his last six league games. Incredible.
Isn't that just to typical of Messi? He has a horror miss, but scores a minute later. That is his 91st goal of the calendar year. I just cannot see any possible way how that record can be bettered. Certainly not in my lifetime. Little under 30 minutes of football remaining.
Barcelona continue to dominate possession as they go in search of their third. The central defender Pique joins in with the attack, but it breaks down at the vital moment. They away side do come close to a third moments later, but Hernandez just manages to keep a header from Sereno out of his own goal.
Meanwhile, the home side make their first change of the match as Ruben Pena replaces Bueno. Still Valladolid continue to struggle for any sort of possession in this match. You can see more goals coming, but only for Barcelona. Messi will be keen to get another to keep his double run going into the winter break.
Slightly untidy period to the match at the moment. Everyone inside the stadium knows that this game as a contest is over. Barcelona continue to dominate the possession, but they are not really creating too much to get excited about. Meanwhile, Valladolid continue to chase shadows.
Alves continues to threaten down the right as he collects a pass from Pedro before driving into the box, but his cross is cleared by Sereno. The home side attempt to counter down the other end with Oscar looking for Omar, but the pass is too long. Little over 20 minutes of football remaining in this one.
The tempo of the match has certainly dropped since Barcelona scored their second of the evening. Valladolid have enjoyed more of the ball, but have still been unable to register a single shot on target. Messi attempts to go alone as he bends one from outside the box, but it is just wide of the target.
Just a reminder that we have two back-to-back matches in La Liga to bring you this evening following the completion of this one. Be sure to remain with us for those. Little over 15 minutes of football remaining and Barcelona continue to pass and probe outside the Valladolid penalty area.
Valladolid make their second change of the evening as Manucho is replaced by Javi Guerra. It does appear strange when the striker is brought off time after time when the home side need goals. He has terrorised defences at times this season. Not a great deal happening in the latter stages of this one.
Barcelona make their first change of the evening as Villa replaces Sanchez. Not a bad sub to bring on I suppose? The away side came close to adding their third moments ago, but Alves drifted into an offside position as he collected a pass from Pedro. You just get the feeling that there is another goal in this match.
First real chance of the second period for the home side as Oscar whips a dangerous cross into the penalty area, but Omar can only head over the crossbar from close range. The resulting corner is taken by Omar, but Valdes punches clear. Meanwhile, the danger is eventually scrambled away by Mascherano.
Another half-chance for Barcelona to extend their lead as Alves advances on goal, but for some reason he decides to square when presented with the chance to score. Meanwhile, the home side make another change as Javier Baraja replaces Sastre for the final seven minutes or so.
Barcelona make their second change of the evening as Andres Iniesta replaces Thiago. What an incredible squad the Catalan outfit has. Not a great deal happening in the final stages of this match. Valladolid are enjoying plenty of possession, but are still struggling to fashion any opportunities.
Barcelona continue to go in search of their third as they push their defenders up the pitch. But in fairness to the home side they have defended well this evening. Unfortunately they were undone by two wonderful goals. But they have not been embarrassed this evening. Far from it.
Still Barcelona pressure the Valladolid area with Messi crafting around the edge of the box. However, the Argentine's cross is collected by Hernandez. The goalkeeper attempts to find Omar through the middle, but Valdes collects. Little over one minute of normal time to play in this one.
GOAL! Real Valladolid 1-2 Barcelona (Guerra)
Valldolid score entirely against the run of play as Guerra collects a rebound from Valdes to thump his effort into the back of the net from close range. Surely not? Surely there is not time for another?
Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional three minutes of time at the end of the match. Barcelona have possession of the ball and it appears that they will indeed hold on for the points.
Some late pressure from the home side as they force a couple of free kicks in advanced areas. However, Barcelona are comfortable in dealing with the danger as Pique heads clear. Little over 30 seconds of football remaining and the away side lead 2-1.
Barcelona make a late change as Cristian Tello
replaces Pedro. That is just about that for this evening. A matter of seconds remaining in the match. Barcelona have possession in the Valladolid half.
GOAL! Real Valladolid 1-3 Barcelona (Tello)
Barcelona wrap up the points late on as Tello bursts beyond the defence before finishing from close range. That is indeed the points as the away side continue their sensational record.
Real Valladolid 1-3 Barcelona
So there we have it. Barcelona move nine points clear at the top of the table with all three points. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and stay with us for action from Malaga. Until then!