Champions are made of metal. Barcelona B have looked every bit like champions during this season, overcoming any kind of difficulty that has crossed their path to assert their superiority in Group 3 of the Segunda División B. So well-focused have Gerard’s players been, that they now seem to have mastered the complicated task of playing with a man down. This weekend in Sagunto, the Blaugranas played for half an hour with ten men, and still managed to pull off a seemingly unlikely comeback in the end.
The first game of 2017 was a particularly complicated one for Barcelona B. The Blaugranas, who ended 2016 on a high, being league leaders ancd clearly the best team in the league during the first half of the season, faced one of their sternest tests in the league. Atlético Saguntino, this weekend’s rival, was not exactly a promotion contender, but their home form prior to receiving Barça B was formidable to say the least. The team from the Valencian community last lost a game at home on matchday 2 of the league season, back in August, and had since remained undefeated at home for an incredible unbeaten run of 9 games. Amongst their victims at the Morvedre Stadium were Alcoyano, Barcelona B’s most potent challengers for top spot.
Apart from having to deal with a narrow pitch with an artificial grass playing surface and a team with an exceptionally strong home record, Gerard López also had to battle the absences. Starting full-backs Sergi Palencia and Moi Delgado were both out injured, along with top scorer Marc Cardona. Although midfield maestro Carles Aleñá made a more than welcome return to the match squad after overcomign his injury, the coach clearly had to make some brave decisions.
Gerard went for an atypical 4-4-2 shape with Juvenil A left-back Marc Cucurella, who has been the subject of Premier League interest as of late, taking a place in the starting XI. A previously unseen midfield trio of Sarsanedas, Fali and Gumbau and an unconventional duo up front, with wide man Jesús Alfaro partnering Dani Romera, completed Gerard’s first XI of 2017.
The match looked finally poised to offer an entertaining affair from the start. Barcelona B’s 4-4-2 shape seemed to achieve its goal of handing control of the midifield area to the Blaugranas, but during the initial stages of the match, Atlético Saguntino threatened more. The hosts’ set pieces and long balls into the box seemed to do the trick against a Barcelona B that couldn’t convert its possession into clear cut chances.
Saguntino fired a couple of warning but Barcelona B seemed to ignore the warning. Óscar López fired into the clouds from a good position inside the box on 21 minutes. 8 minutes later, José Aurelio Suárez somehow managed to keep out a header by Saguntino from point blank range, but the third stroke, the keeper was helpless. After a corner was hacked clear by the Blaugranas, Dani Gimeno fired a brilliantly angled volley at goal, and with Suárez’s view obstructed by his defenders, the fierce shot whistled into the net.
Things were about to take a turn for the worse four minutes after Saguntino’s opener. On 43 minutes, Barça B centre-back Borja López dived very late for the ball and the middle of the park, and caught his opponent with a pretty hard tackle. The referee, exhausting his strictness, issued the red card. Barcelona B were given a second-half mountain to climb.
The reaction from the visitors’ bench was instant. Gerard López boldly opted not to replace the sent-off Borja and instead brought on Carles Aleñá for right-back Nili, reverting to a back three. Aleñá’s presence on the pitch was catalyzing, with Barça B putting more and more pressure on their rivals. Gumbau narrowly missed the post with a long range free kick, but Barcelona B seemed like getting there. Gerard went even more gung-ho in his approach by leaving a back three of left-back Cucurella and two midfielders Gumbau and Fali when he brought Perea on for Marlon, and Barcelona B soon saw the balance tipped in their favour.
Over the space of two minutes, Saguntino’s Esteve somehow managed to get booked twice. He saw his second yellow on 71 minutes, and with 19 minutes remaining, the game was set for a 10 vs 10 thriller ending. Barcelona B though were determined to take all three points home. 79 minutes into the match, a well-worked set piece by the visitors saw Alberto Perea slot the ball home through a forest of bodies to score the equaliser.
Galvanised from their goal, the Blaugranas pushed on, hunrgy for more. Four minutes later, Dani Romera received a great assist from Alfaro and exhibiting an ice cool head in front of goal, dribbled past the keeper and duly completed the comeback.
The game was not quite over yet though, and Gerard once more intervened to secure the win. The late Tito’s Vilanova’s son, centre-back Adrià, came on to add some more steel to Barcelona B’s heavily altered backline. The hosts barely threatened in the closing stages, but José Suárez had to make a great stop to keep the hosts’ only chance out. His save set up a counterattack for Barcelona B which Aleñá executed to perfection before squaring the ball to Alfaro, who made it 3-1 with a cool finish. Soon the final whistle was heard. The fortress of Morverde was finally breached.
Sunday’s win was a big one for Barcelona B. Above all, Gerard’s men have shown that they can win where others lose, and that is a sign that the team must have lofty aspirations. And exactl why shouldn’t they? Barcelona B have got a varied, steady supply of goals, a defence that’s standing firm on its feet, and a coach who knows how to handle his squad. Will 2017 bring big moments for the reserves? Only time will tell, but for the time being, they are on the right track.