Sun11192017

LAST_UPDATESun, 19 Nov 2017 10am

MSN Magic Masks Barcelona's Deficient Defending

Pic: Getty ImagesPic: Getty ImagesThe forwards all shone in an entertaining 4-2 win over Valencia, but the back line will be a concern for Luis Enrique with tougher tests ahead.

History happens here. So read a huge poster put up outside Camp Nou with an iconic image of Lionel Messi from the recent comeback against Paris Saint-Germain. This was Barcelona's first match at home since then - but there will be more concern than optimism after a somewhat unconvincing performance this time.

Valencia are an inconsistent team and have been struggling at the wrong end of the table again this season. Nevertheless, the Mestalla-based side always seem to raise their game against Barcelona and Real Madrid - and they had won two of their previous three visits to Camp Nou in La Liga.

That is probably why Luis Enrique decided to opt against rotation, picking the same side that secured that historic 6-1 win against PSG here earlier this month: 3-4-3, with Samuel Umtiti back in defence and Neymar restored in attack after missing the 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna last Sunday.

Failure to win this match would have meant all but bidding farewell to La Liga. Leaders Real Madrid had beaten Athletic Club 2-1 in a hard-fought fixture at San Mames on Saturday and moved provisionally five points clear. Barca could simply not afford to slip up.

Nevertheless, poor defending from a corner allowed Eliaquim Mangala to head home from a corner and give Valencia a shock lead. And as so often before, it took some inspiration from the forwards for Barca to turn things around.

Quick thinking from a throw-in by Neymar gave Luis Suarez space to run clear and he beat Diego Alves with a precise finish to make it 1-1. Then Mangala pulled back the Uruguayan in the box and was shown the red card. Valencia were down to 10 men and Lionel Messi hit the resulting penalty down the middle to give the home side the lead.

A goal up and a man up, that looked like that. But before the half-time whistle, Valencia hit back almost immediately as Barca were caught cold in defence and Munir El Haddadi made it 2-2.

It was the second time in two games since the comeback win that Barca had conceded twice and PSG must be kicking themselves. Another goal here for the French side and the famous victory would probably never have happened.

That was a different match, of course, and Barca's back line was much more concentrated - as was the entire team - and Luis Enrique must hope his side can hit those levels once again when it matters most.

Barca went on to win this match comfortably in the second half as Messi netted another special strike with a super run and a low, angled drive before Neymar set up Andre Gomes for the fourth right at the end. And it could have been more as the Brazilian, in particular, was guilty of missing chances in search of his 100th Barca goal - and also came close with a fantastic free-kick similar to the one he had scored against PSG.

This team still boasts a perfect record with Umtiti in defence in La Liga, but even he was caught out at times, along with Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique as Valencia caused problems on the counter attack.

It was not too important in the end because Barca won the game to stay in the title race thanks to their three fantastic forwards, but with a Clasico clash at the Bernabeu ahead in April and a tough tie versus Juventus in the Champions League also in wait, such defensive deficiencies could prove much more costly.

- Goal