If Xavi Hernandez’s side can get their noses in front early on, this should be a comfortable encounter for them.
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That was more like it. The new-look Barcelona were a huge disappointment on matchday one, as Rayo Vallecano held them to a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou. But last weekend, Xavi Hernandez’s side made an early statement of intent in the La Liga title race, which is likely to just feature the two big horses of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
A Robert Lewandowski brace and goals from Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati gave the Blaugrana a thumping 4-1 victory over Real Sociedad, one of the teams striving to be involved in the race for Champions League qualification this term. It was an impressive result, but there is certainly room for improvement as far as performance is concerned.
Three of Barcelona’s goals at the Estadio de Anoeta came in the final quarter of the match. Real Sociedad caused Barcelona several problems in the first half in particular, exploiting an unusual 3-2-4-1 formation (more on which later). But Xavi’s side took the game away from their hosts in the second period, showcasing their brilliant attacking firepower via the likes of Lewandowski, Fati and Dembele.
There is still plenty of background noise surrounding the club right now; Xavi will no doubt be looking forward to that quietening down after the transfer window closes next week. At the time of writing Barcelona have still not been able to register their summer signing Jules Kounde, and they will not be able to do so until they can prove they are in compliance with La Liga’s salary cap regulations. There will be further outgoings before the deadline, and Xavi will hope to bring in another one or two players too.
For Real Valladolid, this season’s objective is crystal clear: avoid relegation to the Segunda Division from whence they came. Promotion last season was achieved by a narrow margin, as Pacheta’s side finished a point clear of Eibar in the race for second. Outside the two automatic promotion spots heading into the final weekend, but a 3-0 victory over Huesca secured their place in La Liga.
It was always going to be important for Valladolid to bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking following relegation in 2020/21. Several former La Liga sides have become marooned in the second tier after failing to recover quickly. Valladolid are an ambitious club – Ronaldo, the Brazilian legend who represented Barcelona with distinction in the 1996/97 campaign, is their president – and they will now be looking to kick on.
Slow and steady should be the prevailing attitude at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla, though. Valladolid may have loftier ambitions over the next few years, but a 17th-place finish this season should be the target – anything more would be a bonus.
One point from six might not look like a great start on paper, but Pacheta’s charges have been dealt two tricky assignments against Villarreal and Sevilla. A 1-1 draw with the latter last time out will give the team confidence that they can achieve their aims this season, although Pacheta would no doubt have preferred an easier encounter on matchday three than this one.
Xavi opted for a 3-2-4-1 formation against Real Sociedad. Do not be fooled by the scoreline: the system was not a success. La Real overran Barcelona in the first half, and the visitors relied on goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to save them on more than one occasion. Barcelona’s attacking talent ultimately won them the match, and it was no surprise to see Xavi shift to a 4-3-3 in the closing stages. We will probably see them start in that shape here.
It is interesting to note that Barcelona’s record at the Camp Nou since the start of last season is relatively poor: five defeats in 20 matches, and victories in just over half of them (12). Real Madrid, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid all performed better than Barcelona in front of their own fans in 2021/22.
Xavi’s side were frustrated by Rayo Vallecano on matchday one, which is why an early goal on Sunday will be crucial. If Barcelona can break their opponents’ resistance inside the first 20 minutes, more space will open up and the game will become easier for them to manage. If Real Valladolid can hold out until half-time, they will start to believe they can avoid defeat.
The way Barcelona ended last weekend’s game against Real Sociedad was promising, though, and we anticipate a comfortable triumph here. Back the home team to win both halves.
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|Teams||Barcelona vs Real Valladolid|
|Location||Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 28 August 2022, 13.30 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]mMore info on Greg Lea
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