Inept refereeing costs dearly in devastating late loss
Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Monday April 5th, 2021
F.C. BARCELONA 1
Ousmane Dembélé 90’
REAL VALLADOLID 0
Barcelona were again the beneficiaries of the need to keep the top of the table as close as possible, earning the narrowest of wins over Real Valladolid thanks in large part to some questionable officiating. Jordi Alba’s handball in the box went unpunished, while Óscar Plano was inexplicably shown a straight red card following a challenge on Ousmane Dembélé.
Missing twelve first-team players, Pucela made the trip to Camp Nou without a win at that particular stadium since 1997. Sergio had little choice but to make five changes from the side who conceded a crushing last-minute equaliser to Sevilla at the José Zorrilla in their previous match. Jordi Masip returned between the posts in Roberto’s absence and assumed the captaincy, with an initial back three of Lucas Olaza, Bruno and Javi Sánchez ahead of him. Nacho played as a wing-back on the left with Saidy Janko in the same role on the opposite side. Between them, Rubén Alcaraz and Roque Mesa flanked Óscar Plano who was starting in the centre of midfield, somewhat of a rarity for the natural wide player. Up front, Kenan Kodro earned his first start in white and violet, along with Sergi Guardiola. Samuel Pérez, Miguel Rubio, Kuki Zalazar, Moha, Oriol Rey and Francisco Álvarez all earned call-ups from the Promesas despite the side playing at Celta B on Saturday. They joined Pablo Hervías and Marcos André on the bench, both of whom had overcome injuries to make the squad, and there was room for Waldo Rubio who had played sparingly this season.
Despite being heavy underdogs, Real Valladolid began the match in spritely fashion and Kodro rattled a header off Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s bar inside ten minutes from Nacho’s cross.
As one would expect, Pucela surrendered the bulk of the possession but made good use of the little they had of the ball. They showed confidence when making forays forward, particularly through Roque Mesa, but also demonstrated patience and an ability not to panic in the final third.
After Alcaraz checked Lionel Messi’s run on the edge of the box, the Argentine fired a free-kick narrowly wide left as Barcelona reminded Real Valladolid that, for all their initial industry, the threat of going behind was very much a reality.
Real Valladolid continued to enjoy space down the left flank and Nacho guided a low ball into the box which called ter Stegen into action to smother before it could reach Guardiola as the visitors continued to make positive inroads.
Roque Mesa continued to be the engine-driver of Pucela’s moves forward, with two chances in the space of a minute. He stroked a shot which kissed the roof of ter Stegen’s net as a flowing advance came to a conclusion. His next effort was less accurate though as he wasted an opportunity which concluded a fluid attack by firing high over the bar.
Barcelona grew into the match in the final ten minutes of the half and came close to finding a way past Masip. Messi led a square of defenders around the edge of area before the ball finally fell to Pedri. The young midfielder, fresh from an impressive showing with the national team last week, cracked a vicious shot which Masip got just enough of a touch on as it squeezed under his glove to divert it onto the base of the post before pouncing on the loose rebound to keep the scores level at the break.
When the teams re-emerged, Ronald Koeman made a tactical adjustment, moving to a flat back four and allowing Frenkie de Jong to play a more advanced role. This, along with Barcelona collectively waking up as a team, saw the hosts rejuvenated and immediately putting their opponents under pressure. The opening ten minutes of the second period belonged to the Blaugranas as they peppered Masip’s goal with a series of speculative efforts.
Pucela responded to Barcelona’s tactical change and switched to playing five defenders, pulling Nacho and Janko back to their more familiar roles to cover the edges. However, Lucas Olaza almost gave Pucela a shock lead when he revived a move forward which looked to have broken down by driving into the box and rifling a strong shot which whistled into ter Stegen’s side netting from an angle.
Shortly before the hour mark, Masip came to his side’s rescue after a counter-attack started by Pedri saw Messi slide an incisive pass through for Ousmane Dembélé, but the skipper repelled his effort well and Antoine Griezmann attempted an acrobatic header from the rebound only to see it drop wide of the mark.
One of the most significant moments in the match came when Jordi Alba appeared to handle the ball in the box from Óscar Plano’s touch and the Pucela players screamed for a penalty. Initially it was waved away, but then the referee – Jaime Latre – went to consult with the VAR monitor. He stood firm in his initial decision and no penalty was awarded. It is interesting to note that Latre was involved in penalising Plano for handball in Matchday 2 at Real Betis, as well as denying Shon Weissman a goal against Elche in Matchday 19 as his momentum sliding into the ball to divert it into the net while riding a challenge caused his hand to inadvertently make contact.
After Barcelona made a triple change, Pablo Hervías was introduced into the action in place of Saidy Janko on 65 minutes as the hosts continued to ramp up the pressure. Marcos André made his long-awaited return from injury in place of Guardiola, who showed some petulance at being replaced.
The match exploded into life with eleven minutes to play as Plano brought down Dembélé from behind as the Frenchman attempted to muscle his way though the Real Valladolid defence. To the utter disbelief of the Pucela players and coaching staff, Plano was shown the red card. In the aftermath, a member of the staff was also dismissed from the technical area by Latre.
Marcos André was guilty of a wasteful effort, driving a long-range angled effort into the side netting when he had support moving forward with him.
Kodro made way for Waldo in his first appearance since February’s loss at Deportivo Alavés when he featured in the final eleven minutes.
Barcelona issued a warning shot in the 89th minute when substitute Ilaix Moriba headed a cross into Masip’s side-netting as the goalkeeper appeared in two minds as to whether or not the cross was going out of play. However, worse was to follow moments later in an almost carbon copy delivery from de Jong was contested between Bruno and substitute Ronald Araujo. The ball fell to Dembélé at the back post and he cracked a left-footed shot from close range which beat Masip despite the goalkeeper getting a leg to it.
This was the breakthrough Barcelona needed to take the three points and Sergio’s disgust at conceding the late goal earned him a yellow card from referee Latre who will certainly not have won many friends in Valladolid for his performance.
After late goals conceded in recent matches against Celta, Sevilla and now Barcelona, Real Valladolid remain in 16th place but find themselves sitting three points ahead of the drop zone with a difficult visit of Granada next on the schedule.
F.C. BARCELONA (3-4-2-1): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Clement Lenglet, Frenkie de Jong, Oscar Mingueza, Jordi Alba, Pedri (Ilaix Moriba 77’), Sergio Busquets (Martin Braithwaite 64’), Sergiño Dest (Riqui Puig 87’), Antoine Griezmann (Trincão 64’), Lionel Messi (Capt.), Ousmane Dembélé.
Subs unused: Iñaki Peña, Arnau Tenas; Ronald Araujo, Samuel Umtiti, Junior Firpo, Miralem Pjanic, Matheus Fernandes, Konrad de la Fuente.
REAL VALLADOLID (3-5-2): Jordi Masip; Lucas Olaza, Bruno González, Javi Sánchez, Nacho Martínez, Rubén Alcaraz, Óscar Plano, Roque Mesa, Saidy Janko (Pablo Hervías 65’), Kenan Kodro (Waldo Rubio 85’), Sergi Guardiola (Marcos André 77’).
Subs unused: Samuel Pérez;, Oriol Rey, Miguel Rubio, Toni Villa, Kuki Zalazar, Francisco Álvarez, Moha.