Any doubt about Barça’s strength in depth was dispelled tonight as the young talent of Football Club Barcelona put on a show to beat BATE Borisov. For some the game had little meaning apart from the €800,000 prize money for the points, and with the top position in Group H already secured and with El Clásico just four days away it was normal that Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to give some of our more promising youngsters another taste of first team football, and perhaps the biggest attraction tonight was the chance to see Rafa Alcantara starting a game for the first time with the added bonus of having his brother Thiago also in the side. Gerard Piqué was left out tonight which suggest he could well be included in the Bernabeu XI despite suggestions that Guardiola was going to “punish” him for the yellow card against Rayo. Pedro and Cuenca started up front with Rafinha which may mean they have fewer possibilities of starting on Saturday with the competition for places high, however, they both had good games and will have made Guardiola’s decision even more difficult. If we play 4-3-3 and Xavi and Messi are sure starters that means we have Busquets, Keita, Iniesta, Cesc, Alexis, Villa, Pedro, Thiago and Cuenca competing for four places.
BATE offered little resistance to our youngsters and concentrated only on trying to keep the score down. Early on Rafinha looked lively and forced a save from Hutor in the second minute, however our finishing was pretty poor with Thiago, Cuenca and Thiago all failing to find the target with their shots. The game followed a typical pattern of a very high possession for Barça, though our passing wasn’t always so accurate, while our pressing whenever we lost the ball meant we often won it back very quickly. We started turning up the tempo after half an hour and Rafinha was again denied by Hutor after a good turn. In the 33rd minute Cuenca combined with Montoya on the right but Sergi Roberto stretching could only prod Montoya’s low centre wide of the far post. However, a couple of minutes later Roberto made up for the miss with the opening goal. Thiago tried to thread the ball through to Pedro but a defender got a foot to the ball leaving it nicely for Roberto to side foot firmly home from just inside the area.
The second half was even more one-sided than the first with Pinto having very little involvement in Barça’s goal. Cuenca really came to life in the second half though Rafinha suffered by being moved to the left where he was less effective. On the hour Montoya who had an excellent game at right back got forward a la Dani Alves to finish after Cuenca’s turn and pass. Soon after Cuenca again provided after combining with Montoya, and Pedro flicked through his own legs at the near post for our third.
We got another chance to see talents such as Gerard Deulofeu and Marc Muniesa, and Marti Riverola became the night’s only debutant near the end, but it was Cuenca again who was instrumental in our last goal as he tricked an opponent into kicking him on the edge of the area. Pedro took the responsibility to send the keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot.
The game turned out to be much more enjoyable than I had thought it would be. Some of our youngsters may still need a bit of polishing up before they become finished products but we have an enormous amount of talent coming through. They may not all rise to the levels of Xavi, Messi or Puyol but the work being done by the Barça school of football is second to none. The example of Marc Bartra audaciously flicking the ball over an opponent’s head inside our penalty area shows how our players are encouraged to express and believe in themselves. I can imagine there would be thousands of coaches around the world who would reprimand a defender for such a risky action in front of his own goal. But at Barça a bit of style and panache is encouraged and in a game like tonight’s entertaining the public was rightly given importance.
We now go to Madrid for an enormous game on Saturday. There’ll be more on the blog before then with a Talking Barça Clásico Special hopefully ready for Thursday.
Barça: Pinto 6.5; Montoya 7.5, Bartra 7, Fontás 6.5, Maxwell 6.5; Sergi Roberto 7 (Riverola m79, –), Dos Santos 6.5 (Muniesa m58, 6), Thiago 7; Cuenca 8, Rafinha 6.5 (Deulofeu m70, 6), Pedro 7.
Goals: m35 Sergi Roberto 1-0, m60 Montoya 2-0, m63 Pedro 3-0, m88 Pedro (pen) 4-0
No Barça yellow cards