Valdés the Star at the Calderon

February 27, 2012

A magical late free-kick by Lionel Messi won all three points for Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday night, as Barcelona battled to a 2-1 victory. Víctor Valdés made some important saves and interceptions to keep the home team at bay.

The first half was a competitive and feisty affair. As is always the case, Barcelona took the initiative, while Los Rojiblancos appeared intent to sit back, remaining compact and deep throughout, and looking to burst forward on the rare occasions they could wrest possession from Barça.

This time Barcelona started brightly – after seven minutes Messi bustled through three challenges and had the ball in the net, only to see the goal ruled out harshly for a handball.

Xavi then went close, forcing an acrobatic save from Courtois from a free-kick 30 yards out. Atlético responded with a couple of dangerous breaks, with Falcao central to their attacking threat. Mascherano kept the Colombian striker out with a perfectly timed tackle in the box, and then Valdés came off his line in flash to cut out a through-ball.

Some full-blooded challenges added an edge to the match, with the home team picking up a succession of borderline dangerous tackles. But Barcelona gradually found some composure, and their goal came from the best move of the half.

Messi worked some space on the edge of the box as the team broke forward. He fed Cesc down the left, who produced a perfectly-weighted first-time cross low for Dani Alves to finish at the back post.

Valdés had to be sharp once again, bravely denying Falcao as he bore down on goal. And on the stroke of half-time Cesc responded with a rugged tackle of his own, taking Juanfran out as the full-back tried to shield the ball by the corner flag.

Atlético pushed forward early in the second half, and within minutes of the restart they had pulled a goal back. A corner from the right was deflected across goal and Falcao arrived at the back post to volley home first-time.

From there it was an even contest, with Barcelona controlling possession but Atlético driving forward with increasing menace. Still, it was the away side that game closest to taking the lead. Mid-way through the second half Alves got the ball down the right and flashed in a teasing cross that just evaded Messi’s lunge but was met by Alexis at the back-post, who headed agonisingly over.

Then, a defensive mix-up by Barça let Falcao in, but once again Valdés read the danger and managed to palm away the striker’s attempted lob. With time running out for Barcelona, it was Messi who made the difference. After a largely indifferent performance the Argentine took a quick free-kick from the left angle of the area that beat the wall and swirled over Courtois’ head and into the top corner.

Barcelona then had to defend some tricky situations, by Valdés was brave in making some important catches from set-pieces.

0-1 Dani Alves (min 35)
1-1 Falcao (min 49)
1-2 Messi (min 81)

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