“Well begun is half done,” said the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. There can’t be a better way to highlight the importance of having a good start to your league season than the wise old man’s words. When you are talking about footballers, a good start is enough to propel them until Christmas, at least. Look at Leicester City’s Premier League winning season if you are not convinced. Barcelona B, on their part, seem to have taken full notice of Aristotle’s quote. Gerard’s boys managed to record a second consecutive win with a 3-1 defeat of Hércules away from home, made it two out of two against a direct rival, but above all, they managed to take advantage of their momentum, something that had started to prove elusive for the team in recent seasons.
The talk of momentum is all so relevant when a team takes the lead 23 seconds into a match. The fans at the José Rico Pérez stadium in Alicante barely had time to settle in their seats when Barça B managed to take the lead. The exact same starting XI that Gerard López fielded against Atlético Saguntino took to the pitch on Saturday, and it took them less than half a minute to score. This year’s reserve team seems to specialise in fast starts, but the one in Alicante is of course a hard one to match. The opener seemed ridiculously simple at first, but credit has to go to the creator, La Masia wonderkid Carles Aleñà, for being alert and picking out Marc Cardona with a wonderful assist. The scorer of a hat-trick last week though still had work to do, and he did that with aplomb. A Luis Suárez-style, outside-of-the-boot finish was the perfect way to open the scoring.
The promising start to the match carried on, and with no time for either of the teams to adapt to the new situation, the referee pointed to the spot after Tarín clearly tugged his opponent’s shirt in the box. The hosts’ Miñano made no mistake against José Suárez and restored parity six minutes after kick off.
The fact that the match saw two goals inside six minutes was the peak of the early action in Alicante; both sides wanted to keep possession and control the tempo of the game, and ended up sharing dominant spells, a pattern that kept repeating itself, throughout the first half. Things could have been entirely different though had Alberto Perea scored from the spot on 15 minutes.
From the winger’s penalty miss onwards, the match tempo dropped slightly, but still none of the two teams relinquished possession to the opponent. Equally as much though, both teams seemed wary of the threat carried by the opposition, and thus purposeful attacks became a less common occurrence. The hosts seemed to fancy their chances on the counter, trying to break at pace whenever Barça B pushed a lot of men forward, but all their attempts were sniffed out by the Blaugranas. In general, the rest of the first half was a rather quiet period for the two goalkeepers.
The restart saw Barça B add a renewed sense of purpose to their game, and with the passing of time, Gerard’s men seemed to grow more and more confident and assertive on the pitch Their passing became more fluid and they tried to press the hosts high up the pitch. This choice paid off almost instantly, as Barça B managed to retake the lead on the first occasion on which they properly tried to suffocate Hércules as they tried to play out from the back. Goalkeeper Chema made a bad clearance, and with the ball falling to Alberto Perea, the winger made amends for his penalty miss with a sweet dribbling move and a smart right-footed finish to put the Blaugranas back into the lead on 53 minutes.
Barcelona B’s second sent the game into a new chaotic state, that most seemed to affect the hosts. For some reason, Hércules went desperate, seemed terribly devoid of any ideas when going forward and started being incredibly imprecise with their passing. Hércules coach Luis Tevenet reacted very quickly by bringing on two forwards in Mainz and Gaspar, while Gerard López try to add some more steel to his midfield by bringing on Xemi for winger Alfaro. Tevenet’s tactics seemed to work, and step by step, the visitors were being pegged back into their own half.
The closest the hosts ever seemed to get to an equaliser in terms of genuine goalscoring opportunities came from a set piece. Set pieces are widely known for being the team’s Achilles’ heel defensively, and on Saturday, things were no different, with José Suárez literally having to push the ball over the line after some lax defending allowed the hosts a free shot. The hosts kept pushing hard after that, but the visitors held on. Gerard freshened up his team by giving Juvenil A player Ferran Sarsanedas his debut in midfiled, but the match headed for a grandstand finish.
The doubts with regards to the winner of the match were dispelled for good two minutes from time. Yet another counter was meant to seal the three points, just as on matchday one. Rafa Mújica, who had come on for Perea during the second half, provided an expert finish to a quick fire counter led by Marc Cardona to secure the win for the Blaugrana reserves.
The general feeling after the final whistle though was one of great satisfaction. Barça B seem to have finally done away with one of their demons of recent years, and the good start to the season will certainly do the team a world of good. Against Hércules, as Gerard very correctly pointed out, the team presented its credentials as a promotion contender. At one of the most difficult stadiums to play at in the divisions, the reserves won cleanly because they outplayed the opponent, a direct rival for promotion. Gerard had every reason to be as “happy as a man can be” with his team’s showing, because they did exactly what they had been asked to do. The coach did though say the obvious: with a hard series of matches coming up, the team must go step by step.