It was all shaping up so well for Barcelona B. The reserves majestically clinched top spot in their Segunda B group to secure a place in the group winners playoff. They received Cultural Leonesa at the Miniestadi on Saturday with all the excitement in the world, but it was not enough. The team from Castilla y León proved to be no pushovers, and although Barcelona B had the most chances, the visitors took home a commanding 2-0 lead ahead of the next week’s return leg at the Estadio Reino de León. Barcelona B will be needing a minor miracle if they are to secure the ticket to the Segunda A from next week, but if anything, the first lef does leave room for optimism despite the result.
Gerard López opted for slight changes to the setup behind his team’s magnificent late run in the regular league season for the encounter with Cultural. Carles Aleñá’s return to the team after a lengthy spell with the seniors toggled the manager’s team selection, with Gerard opting for a 4-3-3 with Sarsanedas, Gumbau and Aleñá as the midfield trio. At the back, captain Sergi Palencia and Marc Cucurella filled the fullback positions, with Fali and Joé Antonio Martínez at the heart of defence. Up front, the coach went for a trio made up of Alfaro, Perea and Marc Cardona.
FC Barcelona came out for the win from the very first minute, and this showed in the early balance of play. Barcelona B wasted a massive early chance when Gerard Gumbau headed an assist to Marc Cardona from the edge of the box, yet the forward’s volleyed effort was well blocked by the goalkeeper. A few minutes later, a low inviting cross by Marc Cucurella across the face of goal, surprisingly sailed wide after scraping the far post, as neither goalkeeper Palatsi, nor the lunging Marc Cardona could make contact.
Cultural stun the Miniestadi
It all looked so promising for the hosts, but it only took a string of unfortunate occurrences in quick succession for the Blaugranas’ match to take a turn for the worse 20 minutes into the match. In what was Cultural’s first chance, Gallar fired a left-footed effort towards goall. The ball ricocheted off Sergi Palencia and took a strange path spiralling away from Alberto Varo’s dive. The goalkeeper did his best to get to the ball, and it initially looked as if he had pulled off a seemingly impossible save to claw the ball away. Unfortunately, the linesman saw the whole of the ball go in in a genuine borderline call, and Cultural suddenly saw themselves grab an early lead in the tie.
La Cultural was expecting FC Barcelona in their own pitch hoping to make quick transitions while Gerard López’s players were putting their stakes on a patient build-up game based on possession. Cultural had another chance with Toni hitting the side netting from an indirect free kick, while down the other end, Cardona received yet another ball behind enemy lines but finished high and wide.
With Barcelona B lacking intensity in their game, Perea tried to bend one in from the inside the ‘D’. Aleñá was able get a foot to the ball that once again landed at Cardona’s feet via a lucky deflection. The forward, who was slightly offside, once again failed to beat Palatsi while one-on-one. The referee’s final whistle for the first half found Cultural the happier of the two sides.
Barça B improve
After running out of ideas in the first half, Gerard’s side came out with a renewed sense of urgency after the restart. Sergi Palencia produced a venomous cross from the right but Gumbau could only fire wide from point blank range under pressure from a defender.
In the next play, Toni unforgivingly galloped down an avenue of space in front of Barça B’s box, and unleashed a fierce effort into the top corner that left Alberto Varo with no chance. At a time when the hosts were piling up the pressure and making the visitors uncomfortable, came the second goal for Cultural.
After the goal, coach Gerard had already had enough. He replaced the out of sorts Sarsanedas with Dani Romera, in an attempt to bag the goal that would get his team back into the game
Wasteful Barça B go close
After the change, Barcelona B upped the gear. Aleñá served Alfaro who cut from the left inwards but his shot went narrowly wide of the right post. Perea sent an inviting free kick into the box, but Romera fired wide. In all, Barcelona B had failed to genuinely test Palatsi, in a match that looked a lot like the first team’s Champions League quarter final second leg against Juventus. A catalogue of chances, but few efforts finding the target.
Gumbau did find the target a little later with a bullet of a shot from distance, but there was Palatsi with a brilliant fingertip save to tip the ball wide for a corner. Gerard made one more chang, bringing on Xemi for Perea who was off in the second half. From the ensuing corner corner, Fali’s header narrowly missed the far post.
In the 75th minute came the best chance for the hosts. A long ball would end up was missed by the defence, allowing Cardona to bring it down. His effort on goal was blocked by Palatsi though, who also managed to block Cardona’s follow-up. The forward, uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal, started to show signs of desperation.
Things started to get heated on the Miniestadi pitch as the match edged closer and closer towards its end. Gerard made his final move too late, bringing on Kaptoum for Aleñá, yet the Cameroonian still managed to make an impact, threatening Palatsi with a headed effort. In the end, though, it wasn’t meant to be. After four minutes of added time, the referee blew his whistle for the last time.
Is there still hope?
On the Miniestadi pitch, a few perplexed faces could be seen. But the general mood amongst Barça B players wasn’t one of disappointment, but rather one of belief. This was reflected in the players’ post-match comments. Captain Sergi Palencia’s words to the rest of the team said it all. “We have been infinitely superior,” claimed the right back. “But in León, we will work harder, play with the ball, and press against a rival that will come out to play football. We are going to come back.”
Palencia’s talk, although bold, isn’t far off from the real scope of things. Saturday’s match was a strange one, no doubt. We have not seen Marc Cardona miss so many sitters in a single match before, and it is highly unlikely that we will see him make the same mistakes this coming weekend. As Gerard López said, “with a little more care in front of goal, everything is possible.”
People do believe in Barça B. All those personalities who were at the Miniestadi on Saturday, Jordi Alba, Juan Carlos Unzué, Sergi Samper, Migueli and José Mari Bakero were there because they have faith in the team. The dream may not be dead, just yet.