Good evening. Last season Jordi Alba excelled for Valencia and then starred for Spain at Euro 2012, scoring a brilliant goal in the thrashing of Italy in the final. Tonight he'll be playing for Barcelona, a situation that neatly sums up the current state of affairs in La Liga. In the last three years, Valencia have lost Alba, Juan Mata, David Silva and David Villa, a consequence partly down to their own parlous financial state but also due to the sheer lack of competitiveness at the very top in Spain, with Barcelona and Real Madrid mopping up the best of the league's talent and allowing the best of the rest to move abroad. This fixture was once played in a Champions League semi-final. It was only 12 years ago and Valencia won it 5-3 over two legs ... before losing 3-0 in the final to Real Madrid.
Valencia are a very good side. There are good sides beyond Barcelona and Madrid in Spain, as Chelsea found out against a Falcao-inspired Atletico Madrid on Friday night. There is no doubt about that. Yet you can't help feeling that there should be better sides beyond Barcelona and Madrid than there are in Spain right now, that tonight's match presents us with a glaring missed opportunity, the chance to see Silva, Mata and Villa against Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Last season Barcelona won this fixture 5-1, Messi helping himself to four; did you bat an eyelid?
There is hope for Valencia, however, that Barcelona may be tired after losing Wednesday night's Clasico in Madrid. That was a match that certainly offered a glimpse of how to attack and beat Barcelona: come roaring out of the blocks and hit them with long balls
towards Andy Carroll. But not long balls up to the big man. Long balls over the top of a high defence, a tactic Madrid used to ruthless effect for their two goals, taking advantage of the utter ineptitude of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano at the centre of Barcelona's defence. At the very least, it provided a rudimentary template even if Madrid were eventually pushed back by the 10 men of Barcelona. Which perhaps tells us something about Valencia's prospects this evening.
Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Song, Xavi, Cesc; Pedro, Messi, Alexis. Subs: Pinto, Alba, Bartra, Busquets, Iniesta, Tello, Villa.
Valencia: Alves; Pereira, Rami, Ruiz, Cissokho; Albelda, Costa; Feghouli, Jonas, Guardado; Soldado.
There's a fair old chance we're going to miss the start of the match, with Sky showing the end of Real Madrid v Granada. You'll never guess who's winning 3-0.
1 min: Valencia have kicked off against Barcelona. I'm watching Real Madrid v Granada. Oh.
2 min: I'm guessing Barcelona have the ball. Who's with me?
3 min: Barcelona still have the ball.
3 min 12sec: Valencia have the ball!
3min 15sec: Barcelona have it back.
4 min: Can anyone decipher code? "Ur bias is so obvious," says Okman Okey, who is a robot. "Pls do help us with a neutral perspective of this match. We tired of this 2 horse race of thing in La liga. What the billionaires in EPL are doing no one has cast aspersions. Give us mature report pls."
I think he's saying he wants to be my friend.
9 min: Real Madrid have won 3-0 against Granada. That means they're about to move to Barcelona v Valencia. It's still 0-0. And what do you know, Valencia have the b... oh, no, Barcelona have it.
10 min: From a ludicrous position on the right flank, Dani Alves tests Diego Alves's concentration levels with a swerving sighter. The goalkeeper, who had a stormer here last season and still conceded five goals, saves comfortably.
11 min: What an effort from Soldado. A long ball finds him one-on-one with Pique. He shifts it on to his right foot and curls a magnificent shot this far past the right post from 20 yards out. Victor Valdes didn't have a chance. That would have been a superb goal. "If you take out some of the letters from Okman Okey's e-mail, replace them with some others and re-arrange, you'll find it's actually a death threat," says Harry Crane of Mad Men. "I suggest you go into hiding right away, i'll take over the MBM, i assume Barca still have the ball?"
Barcelona have the ball. The ctrl c and v keys haven't been worked this hard since Joey Barton discovered you can find philosophers' quotes on Google.
13 min: Pique is booked for flailing an arm in the general direction of Jonas's head. That smarted. Pique wears a look of innocence on his face, but he knows.
15 min: Victor Ruiz hoofs Messi up into the air but escapes a booking. Jordi Roura, Barcelona's assistant manager, is on the touchline tonight due to Tito Vilanova's red card against Osasuna last week. Naughty Tito!
16 min: Adriano dashes to the byline and sends in a centre that the unmarked Messi nods over. It was a decent chance but, being only 4ft tall, Messi couldn't jump high enough. They could do with Andy Carroll.
19 min: For a while, Barcelona looked like they were going nowhere. Then suddenly they upped the pace, Alves found on the right. He whips another cross in and this time Messi gets his header on target, Diego Alves plunging low to his left to push the ball away. That's a good save and the first of many, no doubt. Moments later, Adriano screws a shot from long range well wide.
20 min: "The message could not have been sent by a robot, Jacob," says William Macpherson. "The grammar is appalling. I would expect robotic grammar to be exquisite. Incidentally, do you enjoy watching Big Sam's West Ham (which rhymes nicely), or would you prefer something less painful?" What's painful about winning 3-0?
22 min: Messi's piledriver from distance is deflected behind by Rami."Joey Barton's located Google Translate now," sighs Phillippa Booth. "Only one big screw-up so far. This is going to be a weird year in Ligue 1. PS - the robot guy. Who can't be arsed to write 'please' in full but uses words like 'perspective' and 'aspersions'? Tht mks n sns."
GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Valencia (Adriano, 23 min): Adriano gives Barcelona the lead with an absolutely stunning goal, Diego Alves given no chance whatsoever. The corner was taken short and worked back to the left-back, who took a touch and then absolutely battered an absurd shot with his right foot into the top-right corner from 25 yards out, the ball whizzing past a flabberghasted Alves.
24 min: Having taken the lead, Barcelona want to wrap this up now. Xavi plays a peach of a pass in behind Cissokho and although it looks like it's a touch heavy for Pedro, he nearly catches out Alves by sliding and hooking a volley goalwards. Alves is alert though, reacting expertly to push it away.
26 min: Needless self-indulgence from Cesc Fabregas stops Barcelona from doubling their lead. He was played through on goal by Messi but instead of just calmly slotting it past Alves, he delayed for too long before finally deciding to dink the ball over the goalkeeper. He managed that part, but not the most important bit, the ball clipping the outside of the left post and going behind. It was that sort of chicanery which saw Barcelona get knocked out of Europe by Chelsea, Fabregas particularly culpable.
30 min: Dani Alves flashes a cross-shot wide from a tight angle, no one able to get a telling touch in the middle. Guardado has been booked for Valencia by the way. That's about all they're contributing to the game at the moment.
31 min: By playing Song and Fabregas in midfield, Barcelona now have two-thirds of the Arsenal side that beat them at the Emirates in February 2011. I see Barcelona's game.
33 min: Soldado tries to get Pique a second yellow card, going down under a flimsy aerial challenge. He'll need to try a bit harder than that.
35 min: This is flat. Valencia are offering nothing, Barcelona are snoozing, comfortable in the knowledge that they can probably score as and when they fancy it.
38 min: What this match needs is some slapstick defending, as we saw in The Best League In The World this afternoon.
39 min: A chance for Valencia to get back into it, a free-kick just inside Barcelona's half. The cross is half-cleared but Feghouli surges on to it, bursts into the area and reaches the byline, before slamming a shot high and wide. Dearie me, what an appalling waste that was. In the six-yard box, Soldado stands there with his arms outstretched and steam coming out of his ears. He's not best pleased, basically.
42 min: The Fabregas chance aside, Barcelona haven't been able to pierce the Valencia defence so they'll be grateful for that moment of brilliance from Adriano, a source as unlikely as they come.
45 min: Valencia tentatively edge their way back into the game and Pereira snatches possession off the dawdling Sanchez, before starting a raid down the right. Jonas wheeches into the area but once again the final ball is lacking, drifting out harmlessly for a goal-kick with two Valencia players waiting in the middle. There will be one minute of stoppage time.
45 min+2: A Barcelona corner. It's played all the way back to Dani Alves, 30 yards from goal, and in turn he slices a pass into the area for Messi, who twists and turns before seeing his shot blocked behind by Cissokho. And that's that for the first half.
Half time: Barcelona 1-0 Valencia. It's all very lacklustre.
46 min: Off we go again. Jordi Alba has replaced Dani Alves, who was struggling with a knock. That could make Barcelona more vertical on the left. They were quite horizontal otherwise. "Can you tell me why Sky shows every Real Madrid and Barcelona game every weekend?" says Joe Balfour. "I am just wondering why I can see nearly every game of these two, but not of other Spanish teams. Is this to do with a television deal? I know Real and Barca have a different deal to the rest of La Liga, just wondering why it applies over here." Because it's what people want to watch.
47 min: Though perhaps being horizontal isn't all bad. Maybe the best thing to be is vertizontal. Valencia have started this half well and Valdes has to be quick off his line to reach a loose ball before Feghouli, before they win a corner on the right.
48 min: Pique inadvertently heads the corner back towards Ruiz and Sanchez has to be stay awake to hook it behind before the defender can equalise. The following corner is cleared.
49 min: Adriano tries to repeat the trick from the first half but this time, cutting in from the right flank, he smashes a shot way over the bar.
51 min: Another corner for Valencia. It's cleared but hey've been much more progressive in this half. Barcelona need to step it up.
54 min: Can anyone explain why the outstanding Jordi Alba has been starting on the bench? He is so good.
54 min, the sequel: Cesckey does it again. Sanchez somehow squirms away from his marker when it seemed there was no space, like a small child wriggling out of a parent's grasp, and cuts it back to Fabregas, who clunks it over from six yards out. He was under pressure, and yet.
57 min: The silence in the Nou Camp is quite something. That coupled with the Barcelona passing has an almost hypnotic effect.
59 min: Adriano plays a one-two with Pedro before cracking a firm drive straight at Alves from the edge of the area.
60 min: Here's the wake-up call Barcelona needed. From the right flank, Guardado curled a tempting free-kick into the area. With the Barcelona defence all over the place, Ruiz bundled it past Valdes from close range - but he was offside by a matter of inches. The right call, but the linesman could so easily have missed it because it was very close.
64 min: The cavalry's coming: Andres Iniesta is going to be introduced for Cesc Fabregas. The difference between him and Fabregas has been stark tonight. "I presume Jordi Alba has been benched so often because of his busy summer schedule," says Saurav Samaddar. "He played both the Euros and the Olympics and joined the team for the first time only three days before the start of the season. He hasn't had an off-season, let alone a pre-season."
66 min: Barcelona need more from last summer's big signings Fabregas and Sanchez, don't they? You'd think Fabregas would look more at home given that this is, er, home.
69 min: Sorry for the slow updates - as with the Southampton v Manchester United mbm earlier, the system is ... let's say it's frustrating.
70 min: This is one of the most boring Barcelona matches I've ever seen. There's not enough urgency. And yet no real suggestion they're going to be punished. "If Cesc doesn't pull his finger out he's going to be on the receiving end of an old fashioned Nou Camp xiulada (Lots of whistling)," says Anna Pons. "Lets hope Song is finally a good buy from Arsenal."
72 min: Now here's a suggestion they could be punished. Valencia try to spring Soldado clear through the middle and Pique, usually as quick as this MBM, sprints across to mop up. Excellent defending.
74 min: Real Madrid and Valencia have both handled Messi quite well in the last two games - a sign that the best teams might be getting to grips with his role as a false nine? He's had very little space to work in although Barcelona can't simply look to him, there needs to be better contributions from the supporting cast.
76 min: Guardado whips another free-kick into the box and Mascherano ends up with an ouchy nose after a collision with Jonas. Barcelona survive.
77 min: Valencia bring on Jonathan Viera for Guardado and Fernando Gago for David Albelda.
79 min: The stadium is so quiet you can every shout by Victor Valdes. "I assume you'll get twos of more readers now that La Liga is not shown on cable in the US," says Rai Skrupskis. "It's only available on one satellite provider now - some Qatari company paid outrageous money for the rights. Now they are eyeing up the Premier League. You may be the only game in town..." That's pressure.
81 min: Valencia are caught on the break by Leo Messi. For most defending sides, having a three-on-two advantage would be most acceptable but not when Messi has the ball and in the end Rami brings him down 25 yards out. Before the free-kick can be taken Nelson Valdez, who scored twice in Hercules' 2-0 win here in September 2010, replaces Feghouli.
82 min: Messi clips a rubbish free-kick straight at the wall.
84 min: Messi skedaddles into the area and sees his improvised toe-poke blocked by Cissokho. He's scored in every game this season so far, but it doesn't look like he will tonight. He's in crisis.
86 min: Alexis Sanchez is woefully short on confidence.
87 min: Valdez loses the flight of the ball from a Valencia corner and is fortunate that Adriano is the man behind him, there to head away. This is getting edgy. And this is telling: Barcelona's final change is to bring on Sergio Busquets for Alexis Sanchez, who looks thoroughly fed up. This has not been their finest night.
90 min: Soldado crosses. Pique blocks. It's a corner. A last-minute corner for Valencia, with the score delicately poised at 1-0. It's curved in, Valdez gets nowhere near it and from three yards out Victor Ruiz heads over the empty net! What a miss! What an escape for Barcelona. That had been coming, but the finish was lacking.
90 min+1: Valencia sense an equaliser could be on the cards, but they might just have left it too late. From 30 yards out, Jonas goes for the spectacular, a looping volley that has Valdez worried and drops on to the top of the net.
Full time: Barcelona 1-0 Valencia. It wasn't a vintage display but once Barcelona glance at the league table and see that they are five points ahead of Real Madrid, maybe they won't be so bothered after all. Thanks for reading. Bye.