After the horrific loss against AS Rom Barcelona tried to bounce back this weekend. After their elimination in the Champions League Quarterfinals, they can now fully concentrate on winning the La Liga title. Against Valencia, they made a big step towards securing the title. In an offensive game with chances for both sides Barcelona was more efficient and therefore won the game with 2:1. However, the defence performance of both teams was far from perfect due to good offensive strategies and holes in the defensive shape.
Valencia with a high amount of chances
The game was quite even more or less the whole game. Valencia was pretty dangerous and found themselves in good striking position multiple times but wasn’t able to take advantage of Barca´s defensive errors.
Naturally, Barcelona dominated possession and pressed high up the pitch in their common 4-4-2 shape. This made it quite difficult for Valencia to successfully advance to Barca´s half. More often their build-up wasn´t successful and they had to play a long ball, especially in the first half. In the second half, they found more space between Barcelona´s lines because the pressing of the Catalan side wasn´t that aggressive and compact in the first line compared to the first half.
However, Valencia got dangerous through counter-attacks and quick vertical plays. In those situations, they focused the left wing where Goncalo Guedes and José Gaya were pretty effective in using the available space Barca gave them there. Due to the lack of defensive work by Coutinho Sergi Roberto often found himself in 1v2 situations against Guedes and Gaya. Even if Coutinho helped defensively Valencia managed to get in the space behind Sergi Roberto because of the weak positioning and anticipation of Coutinho.
After Valencia moved the ball from the right to the left side, Gaya and Guedes faced a 2v2 situation, however, they were better positioned. No one of Barca´s central players moved quickly to that side (the blue marked space is open). Furthermore, because of Guedes wide positioning, Sergi Roberto had to push out of position and Gaya could attack the white marked space without the ball.
Especially after a shift, Guedes could isolate against Roberto. In those situations, he sometimes was able to get past Roberto. Consequently, dangerous situations for Barcelona appeared. But, more often Guedes needed the help of José Gaya who used the open halfspace to sprint into the open space which appeared due to the sometimes extremely wide position of Guedes.
In that situation, Sergi Roberto closed the passing line for Guedes until Coutinho captured the run of Gaya. Still, Guedes tried to play the pass but Coutinho could intercept it. However, by blocking the passing line Sergi Roberto opened the way towards the middle for Guedes (grey marked space) which he didn´t use in that situation.
Barcelona struggles in terms of compactness
Under Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona presses in a 4-4-2 shape constantly. Against Valencia, they were able to control the centre which made it hard for Valencia to get a controlled build-up. Especially the narrow position of the strikers and the midfielders prevent Valencia from using their central midfielders because they faced a 2v4 situation. But, Barcelona had one problem. Behind the midfield line appeared a big hole.
The last line of Barcelona didn´t move that high, so Valencia found space behind Barca´s midfield. Consequently, they could risk playing a pass in that space because even when it was not accurate enough the receiver had enough space. Particularly in counter-attacking situations Parejo and Kondogbia could find space and therefore had the time to shift the play to the left wing.
Furthermore, Barca lacked the balance to regain the ball quickly. Normally, they had enough players around the ball, but Valencia could find space by playing forward due to the spaces Barca left in the centre. Therefore, Barca couldn´t control the counter-attacks of Valencia regularly.
Barca´s offensive game
With the ball, Barca played quite well against Valencia. They managed to use the space which appeared due to Valencia´s defensive approach. The foundation for that was the good positioning of Valverde´s team. Furthermore, multiple problems of Valencia´s defence helped Barcelona to dominate the game and found openings in Valencia´s shape.
First of all, Valencia´s fullbacks moved out of position in order to press the ball carrier one the wing. This left an opening behind them which their centre-backs rarely could fill. However, when the winger was positioned in the halfspace he denied Barcelona the access to the halfspace or centre which prevented Barcelona from using the space behind their fullbacks even more efficient.
But, in some situations, the ball-near winger of Valencia pushed out of position too. Mainly when Coutinho or Suarez who often occupied the left halfspace moved more towards the centre. Or when the fullback of Barcelona positioned a bit deeper. In the example above, Coutinho moved in the open space from a central position. That’s why Parejo followed him instead of Guedes. Look at the space Valencia gave Barcelona behind José Gaya.
Similar to Valencia, Barcelona mainly attacked the space behind Valencia´s right back Vezo. Jordi Alba is the better offensive player while Suarez and Iniesta supported him nicely. Coutinho and Sergi Roberto on the other side tried to open space in order to relocate the play in the centre.
What happened next in that particular situation was one of the other problems I mentioned. Valencia couldn´t control the space in front of their midfield line. Neither were they able to close passing options for Barcelona towards the centre. Here, Parejo had to follow Coutinho in order to deny a pass in the open space. Consequently, Paulinho could receive the ball in the centre without any pressure. Both strikers of Valencia didn´t press Paulinho here. The combination of the deep defensive block of Valencia due to the sprints behind the lines and the fact that Valencia hadn´t anyone who covered the space in front of the midfield gave Barcelona that much space.
Besides that, Valencia tried to make the centre as compact as possible, as a consequence, their horizontal compactness wasn´t perfect. After switches, Barcelona found space in the halfspace or on the far side.
Here, you can observe the compact shape of Valencia. The problem was, that they were focused heavily on closing the centre that they left too much space for Barcelona in the halfspace and wing area. Messi triggers Valencia´s midfielders to press. Vezo and Soler both only focused on the defending the centre. Therefore, Iniesta had a lot of space in the halfspace and Barca could attack through the left wing after the switch.
It was an interesting game offensively between Valencia and Barcelona. Both teams created a lot of chances because they were able to attack the weaknesses of their opponent. However, both teams struggled to defend and left a lot of space for the attacking team. In the end, Valencia could have scored multiple goals but missed big chances. Barcelona, on the other hand, was more effective and that’s why they could win the three points in the end.