1. After 705 matches, this is Marcelino’s first final of his career - though it almost never happened with rumors of him getting fired five months ago, but saved by the support of his players and chairman. In a nod toward continuity, Valencia ended up in the Champions League anyway, thus coming into this final with no pressure. Saying that most managers don’t know how to stop Messi, Marcelino detailed his gameplan to stop the Argentine, which was to “try to get him to participate less in the key areas of the pitch.” That’s one of those things that seems to be easier said on a whiteboard than actually achieved in practice.
  2. Speaking of managers in controversy, Ernesto Valverde is caught in a transitional state where he is safe for next season but under a lot of pressure. He certainly has the backing of the most important voice in Messi. Messi said that he wants Valverde to continue as manager, saying outside of the “two games” he’s lost, “the rest was good.” President Josep Bartomeu said that Valverde is “the coach we want,” highlighting the long-term project he is in charge of. And Barcelona have won two trophies already this season.
  3. Of course, those “two matches” that Messi speaks of happen to be two historic collapses in the Champions League. Messi admitted that the loss to Liverpool “left a huge stain” on their season. Beyond that, Valverde’s lack of tactical direction as Barcelona were losing those matches lead a fanbase to turn against his conservative approach. There are peacetime managers and wartime managers, with Valverde falling firmly into the former.
  4. Barcelona have also unlocked a new existential soccer question: can a manager, and a team, win a treble and still have that season be considered a failure?
  5. Jasper Cillessen in goal with Sergi Roberto in the front three are the two surprises for the Barcelona lineup. Valencia come out in their 4-4-2. We know how this match will shape: Barcelona in possession, Valencia looking to counter.
  6. Messi kicks off to Sergio Busquets. Barcelona predictably dictate possession early, spreading the ball from side to side. Nelson Semedo makes a driving run into Valencia’s box from the right back position. That extra directness is his defining feature over Roberto. Roberto is coming inside to overload Valencia in the middle, giving Semedo space wide. The right side is an attacking focus for Barcelona early.
  7. That said, with Coutinho, Roberto, and Messi as Barcelona’s front line, they have no attackers making threatening runs inside the box while they have possession.
  8. It took Valencia four and a half minutes to have their first meaningful spell with the ball and counter attack. Clement Lenglet tackled the ball right into Rodrigo’s path, who was cleared off the line by Pique.
  9. Barcelona finally have some thrust in the final third with Alba hitting an early cross, but again, they have no runners threatening inside the penalty box. The intricacies of Barcelona’s attack is coming from Coutinho and Messi interchanging positions, but does it matter without a striker threatening inside the box? This lineup has no verticality to give Barcelona playmakers room to operate and is adding a lot of stress to Coutinho and Messi to create out of nothing.
  10. Valencia’s first spell of possession, 10 minutes in, ended up a wayward long ball. This is not the side for intricate play.
  11. Semedo has been the most positive, direct player for Barcelona on the day.
  12. It’s difficult for Valencia to begin counters as Barcelona immediately press with 2 or 3 players surrounding the player with the ball.
  13. Valencia are containing with two banks of 4, though Barcelona’s side to side possession in the final third is playing in their hands. They can pass the ball back and forth all day but who is going to finish these sequences?
  14. Messi finally found space for a shot through a transition with Valencia giving the ball away and Barcelona counterpressing. With Valencia so organized, that’s how Barcelona will need to score.
  15. Valencia, on the other hand, are relying on their strikers to get on second balls off clearances.
  16. Gabriel Paulista played a beautiful ball over the top of Barcelona’s defense to left back Jose Gaya, who found Kevin Gameiro inside the box for the game’s opening goal. That sequence of baiting the defense out of position to attack them with a long ball is an idea of what Barcelona could do to unlock Valencia.
  17. One final note of that goal: Semedo was caught to the middle to challenge Gaya.
  18. There were two sequences within minutes that ended with Jordi Alba crossing the ball to Coutinho and Semedo receiving the ball into space, but with only Roberto in the box. Does Valverde really have no other options at wing?
  19. Valencia go up 2-0 with another beautiful counter attack. Dani Parejo holds possession while Goncalo Guedes makes a third man run. He plays Carlos Soler into space, who beats Alba in a foot race and plays in Rodrigo for a header. That goal was pure physicality and athleticism.
  20. Barcelona were having trouble breaking Valencia down already, this is going to be impossible now that their opponents have no reason to come out of their shape.
  21. Arturo Vidal is warming up.
  22. My favorite stat of the match so far: Cillessen made 0 saves in the first half but got scored on twice. That’s perfect counter attacking from Valencia.
  23. Valverde gets the message and subs on Vidal and Malcolm at half. 45 minutes is a long time to pull back at least one goal and test Valencia late.
  24. Gaya gets a yellow card for a challenge on Malcolm. Malcolm’s directness on the wing is at least making Gaya have to exert his pace on the other end, which will also have an effect on Valencia attack.
  25. Messi plays a give and go with Malcolm that ends with him hitting the cross. This is already positive as Malcolm and Vidal are giving Barcelona a presence inside the box to make Valencia defenders have to cover that space.
  26. This feels like a dumb statement to make of a team that scored almost 30 more goals than any other team in La Liga, but are Barcelona really this thin at the striker position?
  27. Parejo gets taken off with a calf injury, with Geoffrey Kondogbia coming on. Kondogbia and Francis Coquelin is a lot of muscle to get through up the middle for Barcelona.
  28. Coutinho earns a corner kick. Lenglet gets his header saved, but Messi reacts first and pounces on a goal. We’ll see if Barca’s desperation combined with Valencia’s tiredness can create another goal scoring chance.
  29. Barcelona are finishing this match, chasing a goal in a cup final, sending crosses into Gerard Pique and Vidal as strikers.
  30. Though Barcelona’s possession is giving Valencia room to counter attack late in the match. Guedes had a chance where he was 1 v 1 with the keeper in the 93rd minute and blew it wide. A minute later, Guedes literally missed another open net with Cillessen  having gone up on a corner kick. A couple of his teammates seem to be laughing at him in the background. He looks exhausted.
  31. The final whistle blows. Valencia win the cup without Barcelona getting one last final chance of goal.
  32. It would have been considered an underwhelming season for Barcelona even had Valverde won the final, but losing it in this fashion - with the onus on how he set his team up in the first half - is a disaster for Valverde. Putting Coutinho and Roberto on the wings to control the midfield seemed good in theory, but their lack of pace made it too easy for Valencia to soak up pressure and counter attack. A double should still be considered an excellent season, but Valverde has created an environment where only winning the Champions League - along with the league - will satiate skeptics.
  33. Meanwhile, that trophy caps off a great season for Valencia. On a big picture level, having Valencia back amongst Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid adds another layer of nuance to the league. We haven’t seen a good Valencia side in the social media era as Atleti have taken over the role as the alternative to the top-2. Their approach as a foil, with their own form of a well-drilled counter attack with pace, is exhilarating when in form.