During the international break, attention usually swings away from club football. For Barcelona B though, the weekend was not the time for switching off. Gerard López and his charges hosted Villarreal B, one of the promotion contenders this weekend, in a match the coach conceded last week would be one of the toughest for the team in the first round of the league season. The Blaugranas though, riding the wave of positivity that has been carrying them for the past two weeks, managed to sink the Yellow Submarine and take a win that installed them as the sole league leaders. To get there though, the reserves had to suffer.
Gerard began the match with his most trusted XI, going by the mantra that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The back four of Nili, Martínez, Tarín, and captain Sergi Palencia kept their spots, as did Fali, who once again lined up as a midfield destroyer behind Kaptoum and Aleñà. Up front, Alfaro, Alberto Perea, and top gun Marc Cardona also got the nod from the coach, who is depositing his trust in the trio after Juan Cámara, arguably the team’s most talented player, was loaned to Girona on transfer deadline day in order for his talent not to be wasted in the Spanish third tier.
Against Aitor Cantalapiedra’s Villarreal B, Gerard’s men would have to give their all. The visitors dealt an early blow that could have seriously disorientated Barça B, and they did so after losing forward Carlos López to injury just three minutes after kick-off. Straight after the substitution, the visitors took advantage of Barça B’s glaring weakness at defending set pieces. A corner was delivered to the near post, where goalkeeper José Suárez’s indecision with regards to going for the ball allowed Villarreal B’s Pau to head home. The hosts complained of a foul on their keeper, but Suárez really should have done better.
The visitors’ early goal allowed them to keep the match under their control, as it took Barça B some time to react. For the first 20 minutes, Villarreal B were the team dominating proceedings at the Miniestadi, and although Alfaro and Cardona wasted half chances for the hosts, the visitors managed to come close to doubling their lead when Carlos Martínez drew a world class save from José Suárez. Seeing that a reaction from his team was looking more and more improbable, Gerard López stepped in and corrected lots of wrongs with a couple of smart but subtle tactical tweaks from the bench. The coach first ordered his wingers to switch flanks, so that the always lively Alberto Perea could keep Villarreal B’s left back busy, thus reducing the threat posed by the visitors left wing, where an impressive Aitor Cantalapiedra was causing significant problems. Next, Gerard pushed Nili Pedromo into midfield, at the same time pulling Fali back into defence.
The latter move seemed to pay dividends for the Blaugranas, as the Canary Islander scored the equaliser. In a move he started himself, the Barcelona B fullback took advantage of a save from the hosts’ keeper Cantero to fire home from close range and ensure that the first half ended with the two teams on level terms.
The second half was a much interesting story than the first. It was a 45-minute story of intense combat during which neither of the two rivals gave up on the match, and which saw the hosts have the last laugh. No team managed to impose itself, and so an air of uncertainty with regards to the winner of the match came to fill the atmosphere. The groguets wasted a great chance to retake the lead through Carlos Martínez, but minute and a half later , Marc Cardona gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the match with his fifth goal of the season. Fali assisted the forward with a low ball across goal, and Cardona moved ahead of the defender to push the ball home.
The reserves’ joy after Cardona put them ahead on 56 minutes was however short lived. Cardona had to leave his place to Rafa Mújica after he felt something was wrong with his knee, and then, Carlos Martinez wasn’t very forgiving on 66 minutes, and during a melee in the Barça B box, the lively Villarreal B man fired a shot through Suárez’s legs and into the net to make it 2-2.
With the scores tied, and both teams wary of giving the opposition space, the match went down a spiral dynamic of errors and inaccuracies where neither side managed to really threaten the opposition’s goal. It seemed that the three points could go either way, and the hosts were the ones to smile in the end. A sustained period of pressure right at the death saw Barça B get rewarded for their efforts. Xemi, who had entered for the wholly anonymous Kaptoum, instinctively headed home a corner booted by Alfaro, with the ball looping past Cantero with just a minute left on the clock. It was a grandstand finish to blockbuster match.
After another dramatic win, Barça B can only feel that they are doing things right. Their win put them alone on the top of the table after Valencia Mestalla somehow managed to blow a three-goal lead at home on Saturday. Most importantly though, and despite their obvious weaknesses at the back, Gerard’s boys showed that this year, they are more ready to match those teams pushing for promotion. Two consecutive wins against real promotion contenders is a real mental boost.
Speaking after the match to vavel.com, golden goal scorer Xemi talked of a goal that came at the right time. “I’ve been looking to score for some time now, the ball wouldn’t go in, but it’s finally gone in on the best day,” said the midfielder, who added that the team still has “a long way to go” before celebrating.
His words largely echoed those of his coach, Gerard López. The coach said that he’s “very satisfied” with the way his team “wouldn’t allow themselves to lose the match.” Gerard also spoke on the decision to let Cámara leave on loan, saying that the decision was joint one between the player and the club. On the issue of Gerard Gumbau’s absence from the match squad, Gerard said that “there is no problem with player,” of whom he asks “patience and hard work.”
With Gerard obviously calmer and more settled this season, Barcelona B have made a great start. The coach knows what his team’s strengths and weaknesses are, and up to now, his choices have proved him right. it will be interesting though to see, how long can Barça B, a team with so many ups and downs last season, keep their form up for.