Barcelona B, leaders of Group 3 of the Segunda División B, continued their impressive march towards clinching top spot with a narrow but immensely valuable 1-0 win over Catalan neighbors Lleida. Gerard’s team was pressed hard by the visitors at the Miniestadi, but an impressive start and some desperate defending in the closing stages was enough to seal the win. The Blaugranas march on unimpeded towards the big goal of promotion.
Gerard’s starting XI for the Lleida match was, quite surprisingly, short of surprises, with the coach opting to maintain a familiar shape as far as possible. With a more conservative midfield trio of Gumbau, Fali and Kaptoum, the coach was probably aiming to match Lleida’s tough tackling midfield and win the midfield battle against a side that is renowned for its aggression.
Much of that planning was made redundant though as Barcelona B got off to dream start. Just three minutes into the match, the hosts opened the scoring in style with a trademark Barça move. Some great midfield play saw Alfaro release Marc Cucurella into the left channel, with the left-back laying a sweet ball across goal for Kaptoum to finish emphatically. It was yet another assist for the flying fullback, who has gone from being the next Puyol out of La Masia, to an emergency left-back for Barça and now to an undisputed starter.
Blaugranas continue to dominate
Barcelona B continued to dominate even after the opener, and the crossbar got in their way as they pushed hard to double their lead. Mercurial winger Alberto Perea left his marker behind and finished well, only to see his effort come off the frame of the goal.
The visiting team only found a way to match the hosts in the later stages of the first half. Casares was the main threat for the team from Lérida, yet his timid efforts presented no trouble for goalkeeper Alberto Varo. The visitors did however managed to pin Barcelona B back into their own half of the pitch. The Miniestadi witnessed the unusual sight of Barcelona B reduced to a passive role, but in reality, all Lleida managed to do was to have long, yet unfruitful spells in possession.
Hosts suffer at the back
The second half though, was a different story. Lleida came out firing on all cylinders, and the images of the first half were repeated, only with the visitors this time producing some genuine chances. The clearest of them all was spurned by Xavi Quintillà, who is on loan at Lleida from Barcelona. The left-back only managed to find the side netting after a really sloppy clearance by the hosts’ defence.
Seeing his team clearly outpowered in the midfield battle, Gerard hastily made his first substitution, bringing on Carbonell for Kaptoum in an attempt to rejuvenate Barça B. Lleida kept trying undeterred , and the visitors continued getting more and more dangerous, especially down the wings. Gerard then brought on Xemi in a second attempt to shore up his midfield.
Three minutes from time, Lleida had their biggest chance of the match. Varo produced a great save from a long-range effort, and then bravely threw himself at the legs of Quintillà to prevent the left-back from firing home the rebound. The hosts held on for three minutes of stoppage time, and the final whistle was music to their ears.
Barça B dreaming big
With the win against Lleida, Barça B went into celebratory mood. Saturday’s result marked their 10th consecutive game without defeat and their fifth win in a row. After mathematically securing their presence in their promotion playoff with last week’s win over Badalona, this week’s win against an equally tough rival leaves the Blaugranas finally poised to secure top spot in the group mathematically. In the remaining four matches, Barcelona B need 3 points to check their ticket for the champions’ path in the promotion playoff. With a match against relegation threatened Hospitalet next up, the Blaugranas may as well start thinking about the playoffs.
Securing one of the four prized berths in the champions’ path is of paramount importance for any team dreaming of promotion. Promotion via this path is very simple, with two promotion spots contested between the four group champions over two, 2-legged knockout rounds. Those who make it into the final are guaranteed promotion and the only thing at stake is the Segunda B overall champion honour. If Barcelona B do clinch top spot, they will be a couple of matches away from promotion. If things go awry, as a champion you get a second chance via the league path.
The league path is a very complicated tournament consisting of 12 teams initially contesting three rounds. Defeated champions path semi-finalists enter the second round, from which tie winners enter two separate finals each granting one promotion spot. Barcelona B were promoted this way in 2010 under the guidance of Luis Enrique, but Gerard’s team only need a win next week to guarantee their peace of mind. Let’s go boys!