Barcelona B went into the second leg of their promotion playoff against Cartagena defending a valuable 2-1 lead from the first leg away from home. In the previous round, the Blaugranas suffered a damaging home defeat against Cultural, and this time round, they wouldn’t let it slip. On Sunday, Cartagena managed to become one of the few teams which beat Barcelona B at the Miniestadi this season, but their 1-0 win was in vain, as the Barça reserves scraped their way to the final whistle to earn a hard-fought ticket for the final on away goals.
Throughout the week, there was one thing which reverberated around the Barça B dressing room: Cartagena weren’t finished. Last week at the Cartagonova, the reserves didn’t play very well, certainly not better than their rivals, but they still earned a priceless lead. Gerard López set up his team to defend that lead.
Uncharacteristically for a Barça coach, Gerard opted for a narrow 4-4-2 rhombus shape that has never been seen before. In his attempt to crowd out his rivals in midfield, the coach opted to line up three defensive midfielders in the middle of the park, with Carles Aleñá at the tip of the rhombus. Up front, Alberto Perea and Marc Cardona lined up as the striker duo. Between the sticks, with Alberto Varo being unavailable due to illness, José Aurelio Suárez, who only resumed full intensity training next week after a length injury layoff, made his return.
Both teams seemed to adopt a rather cautious approach at the start, wary of not presenting too many spaces to the opposition. Cartagena came out slightly livelier in the final third, but Barcelona B overall enjoyed more of the ball. Eight minutes, Barça B goalkeeper Suárez had a nervy moment when he failed to block a seemingly harmless shot first time, but fortunately managed to block before a Cartagena player could get to the ball.
The first chance for the hosts came when Cartagena goalkeeper Limones failed to block Gumbau’s volleyed effort from distance from Gumbau, presenting Marc Cardona with a chance from the loose ball. The striker though, in a poor run of form lately, only managed to send his effort straight at the keeper. 26 minutes in, Perea sent an effort narrowly wide, while six minutes later Sergi Palencia put in a crucial block to deny Cartagena. From the resulting corner, Aleñá got Barça B on the counter and squared the ball to Perea, but the winger’s lobbed attempt was disappointing.
Sooner than everybody could realise it, the referee signalled the end of the first half with few clear goal chances of goal.
Half time changes
Gerard brought on Romera for Perea at halftime, after his hybrid front duo clearly failed to work during the first half. The manager’s plans were further complicated when Cardona experienced some discomfort in his thigh, and Carbonell came on to replace him.
Controversy sets up Hitchcockian finish
After a highly uneventful second half, on 78 minutes there was a massively controversial play that changed the face of the game. Cartagena’s Sergio García was in the box, and on the face of it, wasn’t going anywhere while under the pressure of Marlon and Palencia. The two defenders combined to steal the ball and the Cartagena man went down after clearly tangling his trailing leg with Palencia’s. Incredibly, the referee pointed to the spot. Barcelona B players and the Miniestadi crowds protested en masse, but the referee would have none of it. Sergio García took charge of the spot kick, and despite Suárez making a right guess, the forward’s shot found its way to the back of the net.
After the goal, Cartagena coach Alberto Monteagudo brought on more firepower to search for the second goal. Under suffocating pressure from the visitors, Gerard López hastily brought on Martínez for Aleñá to fortify his backline. Cartagena threatened for the last time with a header by Moisés which sailed well over the bar.
In the seven minutes of extra time, Cartagena floated tens of balls into the Barça B box but these were cleared easily by the home defence. The hosts worked the clock down, and in the end the referee’s final whistle found them celebrating their win on away goals.
The feelings in the end were ones of relief. Barcelona B suffered a lot more than they expected against Cartagena, and in the second leg they pretty much ended up betraying their core principles by opting to defend deep. The players themselves admitted that they were never comfortable during the second leg, and Carles Aleñá made the frankest assessment. “It is a moment for reflection. We have to go back to being the Barça B everybody recognises.”
In spite of all of this, Barcelona B “have earned,” (per Gerard López) their chance for a second shot at promotion. Now a double header against Racing Santander awaits, with the first leg on Sunday at the Sardinero. The winner takes it all. Força Barça!