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Copa del Rey? Copa del Yay.

The pun god giveth, the pun god taketh away

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Mark Thompson

May 28 2019

4 mins read

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I’d planned to write this week’s Get Goalside! about the Copa del Rey final in advance. And then Valencia won it and I thought “oh, this’ll be good, can’t wait to watch the game back”.

And then I watched the game back.

It’s not that the match was boring, it’s that it was (to a brain who’d been up late the night before following the European elections, among other things) a bit uninteresting.

Barcelona were bad in the first half. Valencia defended in quite a compact manner, and then scored with two of their three first-half shots. I’ll tackle this chronologically rather than going for the defending first.

I haven’t watched Barcelona much, at all really, during this season but I’ve seen people comment about the lack of ability to run among their forwards. Luis Suarez wasn’t playing this game but Messi was being used as the central forward, and he’s not making runs in behind anymore.

Anyway, I decided to pay attention to how many defence-pulling runs they made for a five minute stretch, between 15-20 minutes. Apart from a couple of times the ball was played to Jordi Alba at left-back and Philippe Coutinho moved into the space behind the Valencia right-back, I counted just one. In five minutes.

I’m not talking completed passes, or through-ball opportunities, just times when a run would stretch the defence. In that short stretch of time, Barca had close to 70% possession.

Just after that period ended, Valencia showed the value of those runs in behind/that pull the defence backwards. Left-back Jose Gaya made a run down the left to receive a long pass forwards, taking Valencia into an advanced position (a lack of tracking from Barca’s midfield and their right-back Nelson Semedo being occupied by another Valencia player helped).

Then, a run from Rodrigo across the six-yard box opened space towards the edge of the penalty area for Kevin Gameiro to receive the ball, turn away from a defender, and fire the ball into the net.

Just about ten minutes later, another run down the line from a wide player – this time right-sided midfielder Carlos Soler – brought about another Valencia goal.

Barcelona finally added some movement of depth in their attack in the second half. Ivan Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho would make runs into pockets of space between the lines, with Lionel Messi rotating around causing problems by exchanging passes with whichever men were close by.

Sometimes you don’t need anything fancy and really basic stats tell the story.

Key: Shots (how many of those were inside the box)

First half:

Barcelona – 8 (3)

Valencia – 3 (3)

Second half:

Barcelona – 18 (13)

Valencia – 5 (0)

The rest of the match, on Valencia’s end, is mainly just of a team defending in a compact two lines of four facing a team with the quality of this current Barcelona. There were numerous good chances for Ernesto Valverde’s side. Messi scored the only one. They could very well have won this game.

The best thing to note that Valencia did defensively in the second half was actually what they did when they won the ball back. They won fouls, they had men break forward, they pinched the ball off Messi’s toe to spark a counter.

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To which were added a couple of other Valencia players rushing forward against a makeshift defence (as Gerard Pique had been installed as a makeshift striker).

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It was enough to give Barcelona some problems and, more importantly, to give Valencia’s defence some respite. The fact that Barca were starting to add depth to their attack – as well as the pressure of the game – was pushing Valencia’s back-line deeper and deeper. They needed opportunities to push back out, and the team’s play when they (briefly) got the ball back let them.

Sometimes the old adage is true: the best form of defence is attack. And I now understand a little more why Barcelona fans I see on Twitter are annoyed.

Thanks for reading! Next week: Champions League final.

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