Barcelona B kicked off their 2016-17 season on Saturday, and after last season’s disappointment, Gerard López’s men did what they had to do to start their season on high note. In front of just 850 spectators at the Miniestadi, the reserves began their quest to come from the ‘well’ (a name for the Segunda División B due to the complexity of its promotion system) against tiny Atlético Saguntino, who just gained promotion to Spain’s third tier after negotiating the way up from the Tercera División. Gerard’s side dominated the match from start to end, but once again the team’s defensive frailties meant the match went for a grandstand finish, with MVP Marc Cardona sealing the win and three points for the reserves in stoppage time.
Season openers are of course tricky for any team, let alone for Barça B, who have lost some key men during the summer. The most important departure was that of Sergi Samper. The midfielder, who has been promoted to the first team and whose future is currently under consideration, was a pillar for the entire functioning of the reserve side last season. All of the B team coaches since 2013 have based the side’s game and tactics on Samper’s particular abilities, and Gerard López has had to redesign Barça B’s tactics to suit the players he has. On Saturday, for the first time since Ilie Sánchez departed, lined up with a pure midfield destroyer in Fali. The former Nàstic man is the purest of his kind, and his focus is genuinely on destroying the opposition’s build-up play. Therefore, with an increased set of responsibilities left for the two central midfielders in the team’s trademark 4-3-3 shape, Gerard opted for the most creative men in his squad. 18-year-old Carles Aleñà and Xemi were chosen for the role, and the truth is that the hosts functioned perfectly well.
From the word go, Barcelona B made it crystal clear for their opponents that they would not see much of the ball. With possession figures racing into the 80s, the hosts sought to spread their play to the wings, where Alberto Perea, and to a lesser extent, new signing Alejandro Alfaro, tried to create problems for the opposing full backs. Perea had the game’s first chance early on, and on ten minutes he was involved in the play that saw Cardona open the scoring. The newly signed Barça B forward expertly positioned himself in the box to receive an incoming cross, and in a true poacher’s fashion, bulleted a header into the net to put his team in front.
The goal did nothing towards changing the pattern of play; Barcelona B kept pushing hard for goals and the visitors tried to good advantage of any chances for a counterattack and of any set pieces. 20 minutes in, Cardona doubled his personal account, as well as the team’s account, with a fierce shot from the edge of the box after receiving the ball from midfield. With a 2-0 scoreline, the hosts seemed to be free of any nerves, and before halftime, Palencia, Xemi, Aleñà and Cardona himself had decent chances to add to their team’s lead. At the stroke of halftime though, the Miniestadi faithful witnessed an all too familiar scene. From a corner, the visitors, pulled one back, without even remotely deserving it. The reason? Yet again, the Blaugranas simply got their marking terribly wrong. From nowhere, Saguntino were given a lifeline.
After the restart, the visitors, buoyed by their late first half goal, managed to create some threat for a seemingly distracted home side, who took longer than 15 minutes to rediscover a way to control a lion’s share of possession. Even when the reserves did reassert their dominance, their passing was lacking a cutting edge, with every move ending with the ball being played to the opposing defenders.
Gerard reacted to his team’s apparent lack of ideas by bringing on Rafa Mújica. The Canary Islander, who got a goal for the senior team in the very first friendly against Celtic, proved to be a real threat for the visitors, while Carles Aleñà also came very close to putting an end to all worries with a brilliant solo run that saw him finish just wide of the post.
Saguntino did press in the final part of the match, and goalkeeper José Aurelio Suárez, who finally seems set for a starting role, had to get his pants dirty to keep the visitors out. A schoolboy error from Rodri Tarín almost assisted the visitors’ Javi Serra for the equaliser, but Suárez sniffed out the danger and came off his line quickly to prevent a heartbreak for his team. With Saguntino camping in the Blaugranas’ half, Marc Cardona creatively finished a rapid counterattack deep in stoppage time to seal the win.
It was unnecessary drama for Barça B, but in the end, and for any team in Barcelona B’s situation, winning starts are priceless. Gerard has plenty of work to do towards blending old and new squad members, and generally, the Barça B universe is worth keeping an eye on.
Keep tuned as more Barça B content is coming!