Unbeaten runs, no matter how impressive they get, have a beginning and an end. Our friends in Madrid saw their bubble burst last week, but Barcelona’s reserve team didn’t seem to take notice. After beating Hércules last week, a rival with similar ambitions, Barcelona B wanted to further extend their seven-match unbeaten run against another high-flying rival, Villarreal B. The hurdle proved a little too high for the Blaugranas though, whose meaningless dominance of possession was no much for the Yellow Submarine’s effectiveness.
With almost the full squad available, given that only the injured Cardona, Tarín and Martínez, as well as Paik, who is away with the South Korean U-20 side, Gerard López could not complain that his options were limited, as in recent weeks. The coach, although last week’s team selection worked well against Hércules at the Miniestadi, opted for a couple of changes in the starting XI. Surprisingly, Wilfrid Kaptoum was picked ahead of Xemi in midfield, with Marlon also making his return to the starting lineup at the detriment of Ferran Sarsanedas.
Barcelona looked to acquire a lion’s share of possession right from the word go, but the feeling was thsat the Blaugranas weren’t made to work too hard to retain the ball. Villarreal B, strangely seemed content to let their visitors have the ball. The Yellow Submarine defended in an orderly and extremely organised manner, their defence forming a near impenetrable wall in front of goalkeeper’s Cantero’s goal. Although this approach had tinges of conservatism, it clearly seemed to work against Gerard’s charges.
Barcelona’s only proper early chance came from a combination between Alfaro and Perea, with the latter having a shot blocked. The Blaugranas also had other shots well off target, but the hosts seemed to be more focused on their goal. With what was basically their first real attack, Villarreal B managed to score. The Yellows pounced on what is generally accepted to be this Barcelona B team’s Achilles’ heel: defending set pieces. From a free kick sent in from the flank, Pau took advantage of José Suárez’s indecisiveness in coming out for the ball to head the ball home. Villarreal B were ahead with just 15 minutes played.
Despite conceding an early goal, the Blaugranas continued to push on through their possession-based game, true to their principles. If anything has characterized the Catalan side this season, it is their patience and fighting spirit. Aleñá missed a unique chance to find an immediate reply for the visitors just minutes after the opener. After being assisted by captain Sergi Palencia, the midfielder had all the time and space in the world to place his shot while one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but ended up shooting narrowly wide. A couple of minutes later, Dani Romera menacingly entered the box, but could only aim his shot straight at Cantero.
In the closing stages of the first half, the goalkeepers on either side took centre stage. Suárez gave a sample of his immense agility to parry a shot by Felipe, and down the other end, Cantero twice denied Barça B an equaliser. First he saved a shot by Alfaro, who had received another incisive ball by the lively Sergi Palencia, and then bravely collected a very dangerous ball by Perea. With this lockdown, the teams went to the dressing rooms for halftime with the scores at 1-0.
In one of the first plays of the second half, Sergi Palencia, who was clearly in the mood on Saturday, went down the entire length of the right wing with a great solo run before assisting Aleñá, yet the mdifielder’s shot was rather weak and was easily blocked by Cantero. Nonetheless this served as an early statement of intent from the visitors, who showed that that wouldn’t go down without a fight. Villarreal’s Ramiro soon replied, taking out two defenders, but making the completely wrong decision when it came to the final ball.
With Barça B not getting much from their wingers, the Blaugranas’ relied heavily on their box-to-box midfielders for inspiration. With Carles Aleñá consistently a thorn in the hosts’ side, Kaptoum also seemed to step up in the second half. The Cameroonian, who hasn’t exactly had the easiest of seasons, with his playing time restricted by the sheer competition for places, almost equalised with an Iniesta-like play. He first expertly dribbled past his marker and then unleashed a fierce shot from distance that missed the top corner by inches.
Gerard López soon brought on Rafa Mújica on for Perea, who was having an off day, and the Canary Islander quickly put himself at the forefront of Barça B’s efforts. Alongside Aleñá and Romera, the youngster threatened the hosts’ goal, but accuracy was lacking. Villarreal B coach Paco López freshened up his side at a time they seemed to taper off in terms of intensity and the hosts quickly reaped the benefits. Substitute Lazo forced the tired Moi Delgaro into committing an avoidable penalty. Veteran striker Carlos Martínez made no mistake from the spot to put the Yellow Submarine two ahead with his 14th goal of the season.
With barely five minutes left to play, Barcelona B clearly had little chance of a comeback, even when Juan Ibiza left Villarreal B a man down. Their efforts trying to get the equaliser had emptied them physically and mentally, and inevitably they slipped to their fifth defeat of the season.
Of course, Barcelona B should quickly pull themselves up. A defeat is by no means a disaster, and champions need to be able to deal with defeat as well. The reserves did not play badly in Villarreal, but they seemed to lack that extra something that would have given them all three points from a very difficult away game. There is however no time for lament; runners-up Alcoyano have been snapping at the Blaugranas’ heels for a long time now and next week they will get their ultimate chance to conquer the top. Next Sunday, at 18:00 CET it’s first versus second at the Miniestadi, and a lot will be at stake. Barcelona B have to make they turn up.