In a vital clash on Saturday, FC Barcelona took on Valladolid in La Liga. Here’s the result, what happened and what we learned.
Riqui Puig returned
This starting XI had been predicted widely across Spain’s leading sports papers, save for the reintroduction of La Masia pearl Riqui Puig to the fold. His inclusion came at the expense of Luis Suarez, who has been scoring but still seems to lack fitness since a harrowing injury in January.
Here, there and everywhere
Puig was Barça’s brightest spark early doors. In the fifth minute, he started a move from deep in his own half that was finished by him shooting the ball at the ‘keeper for his side’s first on-target shot.
That’s the shape the Blaugrana seemed to be holding, with three center backs – of whom Roberto was the right-hand sided one – plus Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann up top.
Arturo Vidal made no mistake
Suarez tugging down his face mask in the stands to reveal an approving smile, the Chilean filled his boots by receiving a clever low chip from Messi and smashing it into the bottom corner off the post. With just over a quarter of an hour down on the clock, the goal gave Quique Setien’s men a little breathing space.
Messi passed another milestone in the process
In setting his teammate up, he became only the second player of the century, after former locker room colleague Thierry Henry in 2002/2003 at Arsenal, to notch 20 goals and 20 assists in a single league season.
Griezmann missed a sitter
Found in the box by Nelson Semedo on 19 minutes, the Frenchman should have buried it but was not having a good evening.
Semedo was having a blinder
Not just providing for those around him, he also had a crack himself and forced a save from Jordi Masip.
Kike provided a scare
Getting in behind the defence approaching the interval, the youngster was one-on-one with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen but ended up on the floor in failing to get his shot off.
But still Barça managed to end the half on top
Unable to add to their lead, the holders had Real Madrid’s cushion reduced to just a single point at the summit.
Griezmann was put out of his misery
And replaced swiftly by Suarez at the start of the match’s second installment.
Barça came back out of the tracks sloppy
With no memorable chances created up to the hour mark, it was only the genius of Ter Stegen that kept out a dangerous header from Enes Unal.
Messi came close with a free kick
Knocked just over the bar by Masip’s fingertips, his dead ball showed that there were still some signs of life from the Catalans.
Before these incidents, a double substitution
In a move criticized by fans and pundits alike, Setien hauled Puig off in the 57th minute for Ivan Rakitic while Clement Lenglet also made way for Ronald Araujo.
Two left backs on the pitch
When Sergio Busquets was hooked, his replacement by Junior Firpo meant that there were two left backs on the field for FC Barcelona.
Two penalty shouts, and a heated discussion with the ref
VARlladolid one wisecracker dubbed the opposition, after appeals for Suarez and Pique both fell on deaf ears. The latter center back in particular exchanged heated views with Matheu Lahoz, but the notorious figure in Barcelona folklore was having none of it.
Thankfully neither incident proved costly, as Setien’s troops held on for the scrappy win.
Barça’s hopes are still alive
But only by a thread. Real Madrid play on Monday night against Granada, and may be tired from having ran out as recent as Friday to face Alaves. If Los Blancos win their next two matches, however, it is all over by Thursday with one game left to spare next weekend.