Evening all! Our penultimate live commentary of the weekend comes from Valencia
as the home side welcome Barcelona to the Mestalla in arguably the tie of round 22. Valencia continued their resurgent league form with a 3-2 win over Deportivo last time out, while Lionel Messi
scored four as Barcelona thumped Osasuna 5-1 last weekend.
Valencia are currently one of the in-form teams in La Liga having taken 12 points from their last six matches. That run of results has moved them into seven position in the table and with serious hopes of making the top four despite a difficult start to the season. They have impressed on their home patch, meanwhile, with seven wins from 11 matches, taking 22 points in the process.
Barcelona, meanwhile, were in Copa del Rey action in the week as they picked up a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final against Real Madrid. They top the away table in Spain having won 10 of their 11 matches on the road, but they have conceded 16 times in the process. The last time they travelled to the Mestalla in the league was in September 2011, with the points being shared in a 2-2 draw.
VALENCIA: Guaita; Costa, Rami, Pereira, Cissokho, Ruiz, Guardado, Banega, Costa, Bernat; Soldado
BARCELONA: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Xavi; Iniesta, Messi, Pedro
Here we go then. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. Just a quick note on the main teams news, Valencia have Roberto Soldado back in their team, but Jonas is on the bench. Barcelona, meanwhile, replace Carlos Puyol with Javier Mascherano. The away side get the action underway.
Strong start from Barcelona as expected as Jordi Alba drives down the right, but Adil Rami comes across to fell the Spaniard. The resulting free kick is taken short by Xavi, meanwhile, as the away side begin their passing and probing football. Valencia just need to keep it tight in the early stages of the match.
Really good atmosphere in the stadium this evening as the Valencia supporters make their voices known in the early stages. Decent possession for Valencia as Ever Banega
combines with Soldado outside the box, but Gerard Pique comes out to make the clearance, before Alba whips in a dangerous cross down the other end.
Another half-chance comes to Barcelona as Pique meets a corner from Pedro, but he can only head his effort wide of the target. Messi dances into the penalty area moments later, but Pereira is across to clear the danger. Stunning start from the away side with just about six minutes on the clock. Barcelona look in the mood this evening.
Slight sense of frustration from the home supporters as Barcelona continue to dominate possession in the early stages of this match. A half-chance arrives for the away side as Guaita takes too long in possession, but he just manages to clear with Xavi in close proximity. Not the best of decisions with the best central midfielder in the world on the scene.
It's good work from Guardado as the Mexican picks up possession before driving a low cross towards Soldado, but Pique just steps out to clear the danger. The Catalan outfit attempt to break down the other end with Pedro, but Rami is across to clear at the vital moment.
Not too much to report in the last couple of minutes with Barcelona dominating possession of the ball. Valencia are more than happy to allow the Catalan outfit to have the ball outside the box, but are keen to close when Fabregas looks to find the final pass. Meanwhile, it is the away supporters making the noise with 12 minutes on the clock.
Pass, pass, pass from Barcelona as they continue to craft around the edge of the Valencia penalty area. A free kick is awarded as Pereira fells Iniesta outside the box, but Xavi's delivery is cleared by Guaita. Barcelona indeed lost in their last away league match to Real Sociedad, however, and therefore Valencia will harbour hopes of securing a result this evening.
Ricardo Costa looks to be in a slight bit of trouble here as he over-stretches for the ball. It does not look too clever, it could well be a torn groin based on his reaction. That is the last thing that Ernesto Valverde would want at this stage of the match. It seems unlikely that he will be able to continue.
Barcelona continue to dominate the possession in the early stages with Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas all enjoying touches. Nothing is ever rushed by the Catalan outfit, with each pass measured to a teammate. However, in fairness to Valencia, they have defended well in the opening 18 minutes of this match. But not too much to get excited about down the other end.
It's better from Valencia as Soldado combines with Guardado before going for the return pass, but Pique is across to clear the danger. The home side gather possession moments later with Guardado, but his shot is straight into Alves, with the Mexican claiming a penalty. The referee is not even slightly interested.
Valencia have won seven of their 11 home games this season, but Barcelona have come here and utterly dominated the opening 22 minutes. On this form, there is not a side that is capable of matching them in world football. Meanwhile, this is what I consider to be there best starting side. However, still no goals in this one as the midpoint of the half approaches.
Again it's wonderful football from Barcelona as they play their one-touch football around the edge of the penalty area, but once more they just cannot find that final pass. Soldado advances down the other end, but Mascherano comes across to fell the Spaniard. Free kick in a good position here.
Costa strikes the effort, but it thumps straight into the wall. The home side want a penalty as Pique appears to handle in the penalty area, but the referee shakes his head. This stadium is absolutely bouncing at the moment with the supporters putting an increasing amount of pressure on the officials.
End-to-end match at the moment with both sides attacking with pace and numbers. A Barcelona attack breaks down on the left with Alba, allowing Guardado to look for the run of Soldado, but Pique comes across to clear. The resulting corner causes problems to Valdes, but the referee awards a free kick for Rami's challenge. Not too much in that for me.
Decent spell for the home side with Banega and Costa joining the attack on each opportunity. However, they just cannot find that final pass with 30 minutes on the clock. The same can be said for Barcelona, however, with the Valencia defence quelling the danger thus far. Even contest as we enter the latter stages of the first period.
Still Valencia continue to contain the Barcelona threat as they limit the away side to a couple of long-range strikes. Meanwhile, they remain a threat down the other end with Soldado providing a focal point in the final third. Not too much to report in terms of clear opportunities in the past few minutes.
The challenge for Valencia is whether they can keep up this tempo for the entire 90 minutes. It is similar to the Malaga vs. Barcelona match a few weeks ago, the first half followed a similar pattern before Barcelona blew them away in the second period. Valencia are more than in this match with little over 10 minutes of the half remaining.
GOAL! Valencia 1-0 Barcelona (Banega)
Valencia take the lead in the Mestalla as Banega thumps a low effort into the back of the net. It's brilliant play from Soldado as the skipper floats a cross into the box, it lands at the feet of the Argentine midfielder, who finds the bottom corner. Stunning strike.
Banega is usually good for one goal a season, what a time to open his account for the campaign. Barcelona have certainly dominated possession in this first period, but Valencia have created the better chances. There is always a chance of scoring against this Barcelona defence. However, can Valencia stop them scoring?
Another half-chance comes to the home side as Guardado finds the head of Soldado in the box, but the striker attempts to go for the spectacular as he twists his body in the air. However, it moves out for a goal kick. A reminder that Barcelona lost their last league away match to Real Sociedad.
PENALTY TO BARCELONA: The away side are awarded a penalty as Pereira fells Pedro in the penalty area. It was clumsy, but the defender did get part of the ball. What a chance for the away side to get back into this match.
GOAL! Valencia 1-1 Barcelona (Messi)
Good grief. What a stunning penalty from Messi as the Argentine thumps his effort into the top of the net. Even if there were two goalkeepers in the net, they would not have saved it. You just felt that Valencia needed to hang on until the interval.
Little over three minutes of the first period remaining and Barcelona have just taken control of this match with their passes finding the target much quicker. Meanwhile, that Messi strike has just silenced the crowd, who were jumping following the opening goal.
End-to-end football in the final stages of this half as Soldado comes close for the home side before Messi breaks with pace down the other end, however, each defence manages to clear the danger. Despite the score, Valencia will be happy with their opening half of football this evening. Plenty of signs that they can cause problems in the second period.
Barcelona take hold of the possession in the final stages of the half with Messi and Xavi passing and probing outside the box, but Rami has been a tower of strength thus far. Guardado comes close down the other end, but Valdes is on hand to make the save. Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play one minute of stoppage time.
HALF-TIME: Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
So there we have it. The referee brings the opening period to an end with the two sides level at 1-1. The home side took the lead after 34 minutes when Banega thumped a low effort into the back of the net, but Messi converted from the spot five minutes later. It has been an enthralling opening half of football.
Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half of football. Barcelona have dominated the possession with 64%, but they have had just two attempts to Valencia's five. The away side certainly started the better, but Valencia took control in the latter stages, despite the penalty.
Let's take a look at both benches for this evening. Valencia have a host of options on the sidelines with Jonas, Pablo Piatti and Nelson Valdez capable of influencing proceedings. Meanwhile, Barcelona have former Valencia striker David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Thiago as their attacking options.
Just a reminder of what we have to come this evening. Following the completion of this match we have action from the Spanish capital as Atletico Madrid welcome high-flying Real Betis. Be sure to remain with us for that cracker. Right, the second period is just a couple of minutes away.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the second half. No changes for either side at the interval which is not all too surprising based on how events unfolded. A reminder that three points for Valencia would move them level on points with fourth-placed Malaga. The home side get the half underway.
Good start to the half from Valencia with Costa taking possession from Busquets before attempting to find the run of Soldado, but Pique is across to clear. A poor pass from Alba presents another opportunity to the home side, but Banega's pass is just too long.
Soldado becomes the latest player to have his name taken as he Spaniard fells Busquets just outside the Barcelona penalty area. After a slight period of rolling around, Busquets is fit to continue. He does seem to have a very low pain threshold. You just get the feeling that Valencia need to score again in order to take something from this match.
Half-chance for Barcelona as Messi finds Alba with a fine pass, but Bernat comes back to make a fine challenge. The home side really need to keep their concentration in the early stages of this half. Messi is again involved as he drives into the penalty area, but Rami is across to clear.
Half-chance for Valencia down the other end as Guardado finds Soldado in the penalty area, but the striker can only head wide of the target. He makes such a difference to this team. It would not surprise me to see Jonas introduced in the next 10 or so minute to provide more service to the Spaniard. Meanwhile, Messi cannot gain hold of possession down the other end.
Valencia continue to control the early stages of this second period as their midfield continues to press the Barcelona team, but can they keep it up for the remaining 35 minutes? Real sign of frustration for Messi as he loses possession once more. Saying that, he will probably score a hat-trick now.
CHANCE! Wonderful opportunity for the away side as Messi finds the run of Fabregas, but the Spaniard just cannot hit the target, much to the delight of the home supporters. Meanwhile, Barcelona make a change as Carlos Puyol replaces Mascherano, who had been booked.
Another half-chance comes to the home side as Alba is deemed to have handled outside the penalty area. The resulting free kick is taken by Costa, but his effort is driven straight at Valdes. It would be no exaggeration to state that Valencia look the better side, both on and off the ball with an hour on the clock.
Messi attempts to go alone down the other end as he thumps an effort from outside the box, but he fires it over the crossbar. Meanwhile, the home supporters continue to drive their team on. The next goal - if there indeed is one - could have a huge say on the final result this evening.
Another half-chance comes to Barcelona as Alves drives a low cross into the penalty box, but Messi just could not make contact with Rami on hand to clear the danger. Meanwhile, the decisions continue to go against the Catalan outfit as Alba is deemed to have felled Rami.
David Villa receives a welcome reception as he begins his warm-up routine before embracing in a hug with Albelda. Could the Spaniard return to the Mestalla at the end of the season? He has not looked a happy man on the bench this evening. Not too much to report in terms of clear chances as we approach the final 20 minutes of this La Liga fixture.
Meanwhile, the home side make their first change of the match as Banega is replaced by Sergio Canales, as the Spaniard continues his return from a long injury. He is a wonderful talent and it is good to see him at this level once more. I may be about to curse it, but Barcelona have not really been at it in this second period. Can Valencia capitalise?
Valencia come close once more as Soldado collects possession in the Barcelona box before thumping an effort towards goal, but it just moves wide of the post. Barcelona attempt to break down the other end with Alba, but once more the final pass is just too short. Guaita is then forced into a punch as the pressure continues.
Another half-chance comes to the home side as Canales strikes a powerful effort towards the top corner, but Valdes is across to make a fine save. The resulting corner also causes problems, but Rami just heads wide of the post. Meanwhile, it appears that Barcelona are readying Villa for action. Spain's all-time leading scorer.
The home side make a change of their own as Juan Bernat is replaced by Pablo Piatti. Can the little Argentine create something in the final 15 minutes of this match? Barcelona have not really been at it this evening, but you still expect them to create chances. Barcelona also make a change as Villa replaces Fabregas.
Villa receives a wonderful reception from the home supporters, which is much deserved for the time he gave to this club. But it would hurt if he scored the winner. Barcelona have scored at least two goals in their last 18 La Liga matches. Is that record in doubt? You just get the feeling that there is late drama to come here.
The chances continue to come for the home side as Costa strikes a powerful effort from close range, but it takes a deflection before moving behind for a corner. The resulting set piece is taken by the Argentine, but Puyol rises highest to clear. Barcelona break with Messi, but Guardado fells the Argentine.
CHANCE! Glorious chance for Villa to send Barcelona into the lead as Alves drives a low cross into the box, but the striker can only cushion his effort wide of the post. Sensational attacking football from the Catalan outfit. Little over 10 minutes of football remaining and the score stays level at 1-1.
Another half-chance comes to the away side as Messi strikes a free kick from just outside the box, but it smashes into the wall. The pressure continues as Pique drives a low cross into the area, but the danger is cleared. Will we have a winner in the final stages of this match?
The only other time this season that Barcelona failed to score more than one goal in a La Liga match was against Valencia. Is that an omen? That record is almost continued as Alves fires a low cross into the box, but Costa is across to make a fine clearance. The resulting corner is met by Pique, but Guaita is on hand to collect. Little over five minutes remaining.
Barcelona continue to press Valencia into their own penalty area, but the home side quell the danger on each occasion. Guaita has not had a great deal to do, but he has taken the pressure off his side when needed. Can Barcelona score? They always score. Little over four minutes remaining.
Meanwhile, Valencia make another change as Guardado is replaced by Jonas. That is an attacking sub at this stage of the match. Still Barcelona put the pressure on the home side as they pass and probe outside the box, but Valencia have been sensational in defence this evening. Not too long remaining in this one.
CHANCE! Stunning chance for the home side as Cissokho fires a low cross into the box, but Valdes makes two wonderful saves to deny both Jonas and Soldado from close range. That was the winning goal on a plate. Wow.
The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional three minutes of added time and we are into the first of those. Barcelona continue to threaten with Messi attacking with pace, but he is once more denied by Rami, who has been sensational this evening.
Meanwhile, Barcelona make another change as Xavi is replaced by Thiago. Not too much to report in the last couple of minutes with Valencia comfortable in dealing with the Barcelona threat. A half-chance arrives for Valencia as Canales fires a low cross into the box, but it just evades Soldado.
FULL-TIME: Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
So there we have it. Valencia hold on to secure a point against Barcelona. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and stay with us for Atletico Madrid against Real Betis. Until then!