FULL TIME: Barcelona 4 – 2 Valencia

Barcelona are back in second place in the La Liga table thanks to a hard-fought 4-2 victory over Valencia at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Monday night. Barça took the lead then gave it away in the first half, but played the entire second half against 10 men and a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick completed the comeback as Barça took all three points against a young, well-coached Valencia side that played well and fought hard all night.

FIRST HALF

The opening period was played at a very slow pace as Barça had all of the possession while Valencia sat back in a low block and tried to create danger on the counter. The home team was slow and unimaginative with their passing while the visitors couldn’t craft a good counter-attacking chance, and the first 20 minutes had very little action.

Then Barça found the opening goal after a beautiful cross from Raphinha and a gorgeous leap and header by Fermín López, and the game came to life: Valencia immediately started pressing higher up the pitch and looked for a quick response, which came in almost inexplicable fashion as Marc-André ter Stegen made a horrible mistake trying a skill outside the box and gifted Hugo Duro the equalizer.

The visitors were given a big boost by the goal and started to create real trouble on the counter and with long balls from the back, and one of them resulted in a penalty after a long goal-kick released Peter on the right wing and the young forward was brought down in the box by Ronald Araujo. Pepelu scored the penalty with ease, and Valencia had the lead.

Barça finally stepped up their level of intensity looking for an equalizer before halftime and started playing with more pace and creativity up front, and the Blaugrana came very close twice with João Cancelo nearly scoring a screamer and Araujo hitting the post.

They couldn’t find the back of the net, but their comeback bid was given a big boost after goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili made a bad mistake in front of Lamine Yamal and handled the ball outside of the box, and he was shown a straight red card after a VAR check.

The halftime whistle came after almost 10 minutes of added time and a wild ending to the half, with Barça behind on the scoreboard but with the man advantage ahead of what was expected to be a dramatic second half.

SECOND HALF

Xavi Hernández made a double change at halftime, sending on Iñigo Martínez and Sergi Roberto as Barça looked for a quick response. Iñigo almost gave away a penalty just 20 seconds into his substitute cameo with a challenge on Peter in the box, but the Barça defender got the ball first and avoided trouble.

Just a couple of minutes after that came the equalizer: Ilkay Gündogan sent a corner into the box and Robert Lewandowski headed it home at the near post to make it 2-2 just five minutes into the final period, giving Barça plenty of time to look for a winner against 10 men.

The home team had all of the ball but did very little to break down the Valencia defense in the minutes following the goal, so Xavi made a third substitution with 25 minutes left as João Félix replaced Raphinha. Pedri came on shortly after, and his first contribution off the bench was a brilliant goal-saving challenge when Valencia went on a counter-attack and Diego López found himself one-on-one with Ter Stegen.

The game was still all square as we reached the final 15 minutes, and Barça were still struggling to create really dangerous chances as they mostly resorted to set pieces and shots from distance to try and trouble reserve keeper Jaume Domenech.

Valencia coach Rubén Baraja used his final two substitutions to park the bus completely, taking off nearly all of his remaining attackers and putting all nine outfield players behind the ball to crowd the box and try to protect the result.

Xavi replied with his fifth and final change as Ferran Torres replaced João Cancelo on the left wing, and the Spaniard had been on the pitch for only a few seconds when he saw his team take the lead: Gündogan sent in another corner, Araujo won the inital header and Lewandowski was quickest to the rebound to score his second header of the night and put the home side in front for a second time.

Valencia had very little time to try and rescue a point with 10 men and just two attacking players on the pitch, and they couldn’t manufacture a chance and Barça cruised to the finish and even managed to add a fourth as Lewandowski scored a beautiful free-kick to complete his hat-trick and seal the victory.

The final whistle came to end a strange game in the Catalan capital, with Barça winning ugly and never managing to play well even with the man advantage in the entire second half.

Expecting a great performance was never realistic considering the two heartbreaking losses from last week, so three points, a Lewandowski hat-trick and four goals are good news. Barça go into the monster clash with Girona at the weekend in second place, but they’ll need to play a lot better to get a result against their local rivals.

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