A game away to the bottom placed team in La Liga tells its own story. FC Barcelona travel to the Estadi Ciutat de València following a game where they taught England’s most hyped manager in recent memory a lesson he won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Barcelona dispatched Gary Neville’s team so empathically at the Camp Nou that some of Valencia’s legends have come out vocally asking for Neville’s resignation. You would forgive Levante for simply coming out with white flags before the game starts.
Post today’s game, a good friend of mine who watches football from time to time sent me the following message:
“How is the communication between the front three so good? Poor Valencia, it should be illegal for ‘MSN’ to play that well”. I think those sentiments sum up yesterday’s game, from a neutral point of view at least, quite well.
To say Gary Neville doesn’t know football would be silly. But to say Gary Neville has not been a calamity at Valencia is equally silly. Neville took control of Los Ches on December 2, 2015 and since has managed them to 5 wins, 5 draws and 3 defeats. Okay, on the face of it, that’s not entirely awful. Although, as is mostly the case numbers can’t be taken on face value. Say Cristiano Ronaldo’s season goals for example. Those wins have all been in the Copa del Rey against 18th place Granada and Las Palmas. The defeats read Villarreal (away), Real Sociedad (away) and Sporting Gijón (home). But really it’s how Valencia have played. Though unlucky to lose over the weekend to Gijón, in a match Neville described as their best under him, for most his tenure Valencia have looked a team without a plan. And that’s precisely what Barça is not. Absolutely assured in their identity and abilities, Barça will only add to Neville’s steep learning curve.
Who could have predicted this a month ago? Barcelona B are currently on a three match winning streak. They have not lost in 2016 and last conceded a goal three weeks ago against the high-flying UE Cornellà. Yesterday at the Estadi Municipal de L’Hospitalet, Barcelona B did enough to confirm there are exceptions to the unwritten law that January squad overhauls don’t work. With five new signings starting, Barcelona B recorded a third consecutive win with their favourite 1-0 scoreline. This time, it was Wilfrid Kaptoum’s turn to score the match winner, as Gerard López’s men continued their miraculous 2016 turnaround.
Back in 2014, a match against Atlético Madrid meant the impossibility of scoring, that if the rojiblancos nicked a single goal a win was impossible. Before that, Pep Guardiola’s Barça routinely went head-to-head with Atleti in unpredictable matches with wild scorelines. Luis Enrique’s Barça, however, do exactly what is needed, no more, no less – especially in its second season as players begin to tire. That uncanny ability is arguably Luis Enrique’s strongest accomplishment, and it was the defining feature of the clash at Camp Nou on Saturday.