Barça’s third preseason game ended with a victory on penalties after a hard-fought 2-2 draw against this summer’s big spenders Paris Saint Germain whose starting XI included ex-blaugranas Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Maxwell Andrade. Thiago Alcantara’s “little” brother Rafinha and Leo Messi from the penalty spot had given Barça a 0-2 lead early in the second half but another penalty, this time converted by Ibrahimovic for PSG, and a goal eight minutes from time by Camara earned a draw for the home team.
Before the game there was a great moment as an elegantly dressed Eric Abidal came out to make the honorific kick-off as the crowd chanted his name. Barça played for the first time in the away strip that looks like a drink you might find at a tropical beach bar, (at least they’ll have no problem seeing each other if there is ever a floodlight failure). The team got off to a good start and took the lead after just six minutes, Alexis squared from the right of the area, PSG defender Alex tried to clear but only succeeded in making a slight deflection and the ball hit Rafinha, falling kindly for him to shoot past keeper Douchez from ten yards. PSG offered little in response and it was great to see Carles Puyol back after injury forming a solid partnership with Mascherano at the back, the ball rarely came into Barça’s half without one of the two anticipating the danger and winning the ball back. Ibrahimovic hardly had a touch and he also took a painful whack on the knee on one of the occasions that Mascherano, legally, robbed him of the ball.
Going forward Messi showed touches of his class which had the Parisian crowd purring in appreciation but only one of his four first-half shots went between the post and Douchez made an easy save. the contribution of the youngsters Carles Planas, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha was generally very promising, and Rafinha looked especially good, no doubt with the goal giving him the boost in confidence.
Barça brought on Pinto, Bartrá, Montoya and Dos Santos at half time and the second half continued with a good high rhythm for a preseason game but now with a heavy shower to make the surface a little slippery. Barça went further ahead after the referee erroneously signaled a penalty when Alexis went down under the speed of his own turn, the French crowd, with the instant video replay shown in the stadium, roared their disapproval, but Messi was unruffled and he calmly rolled in the penalty as Douchez dived in the opposite direction.
It was not long after that PSG won a penalty back, this time correctly seen by the official, after Montoya caught a forward swinging a leg up towards a shoulder-high ball. Ibra’s penalty was crisp and low and just out of Pinto’s reach. There followed a massive substitute change with PSG bringing on four subs while Fabregas, Xavi, Piqué, Iniesta and Pedro came on for Barça. One might have expected that five such excellent players could only improve things for Barça but the reality was our level dropped towards the end.
Fabregas had one effort saved and soon after he had the ball in the net only to be ruled offside while our best chance of the last twenty minutes fell to Tello who had just come on as another sub, but he ballooned his shot high and wide after Messi’s assist. As we entered the final ten minutes Pinto had to make one double-save at the near post that was more the type of goalkeeping you’d expect to see in handball. However, from the resulting corner Bartrá missed his header and Camara was free to head cleanly past Pinto.
There was one more drive from 25 yards from Fabregas that Douchez beat away for a corner but at the end is was down to Pinto in the penalty shoot out to earn the victory. Pinto saved PSG’s first two penalties, both with spectacular dives to his right, to prove what a specialist he is in these situations. Messi, Xavi, Cesc and Piqué all scored with well-taken kicks.
Of the performance today I was very happy with the first half, my only problem is a little bit with Afellay who I’m afraid I think is not going to get too many chances once the official games begin. He really needs to make the most of these games and he is still not doing enough. The defence in the second half may have suffered due to all the changes but it is a little worrying that the two PSG goals came from two of our youngsters who have recently been promoted to the first team. If no more signings arrive, will they offer adequate cover in the really big games?
The early signs with Tito Vilanova are generally very good. With the foundations so well placed there may be some who will say that Vilanova has an easy job. He doesn’t. Replacing Guardiola would be tough for anyone. Nobody could say that Guardiola never made a mistake but he had a pretty high percentage for getting things right. As the season progresses many important decisions will have to be made and it will be Tito, not Pep, making them. The playing style and philosophy remain the same, which is great, but the decisions Tito makes may well be the difference between success and failure. So far it’s looking pretty good. Next up is a game with Manchester United in Gothenburg on Wednesday
Barça: Valdés (Pinto m45), Alves (Tello m78), Puyol (Bartrá m45), Mascherano (Piqué m62), Planas (Montoya m45); Busquets (Dos Santos m45), Sergi Roberto (Xavi m62), Rafinha (Fabregas m62); Alexis (Pedro m62), Messi, Afellay (Iniesta m62).
Goals: 0-1 Rafinha m6, 0-2 Messi (pen) m53, 1-2 Ibrahimovic (pen) m60, 2-2 Camara m82