Tito Vilanova’s reign as Barça’s first team coach began with a 1-2 victory in Germany over the Bundesliga team Hamburg SV. As is customary in the first preseason games Barça played two almost completely different lineups in the two halves and it was in the first half with a much stronger XI that Dani Alves and Gerard Deulofeu scored the goals. However, there was a sour taste as Marc Muniesa had to be taken off in the second half with what seems to be a bad knee injury.
Right from the kick off it was clear that not much has changed in Barça’s way of playing football, the shape of the team continues with a 4-3-3 with two wide forwards and – despite Leo Messi’s late withdrawal from the game due to a minor injury – with a false nine, the passing philosophy is the same with emphasis put on keeping possession, and there was aggressive pressing from the team when we lost the ball. There was no sign that we have lost any of that competitive attitude instilled by Pep Guardiola,
With all the Spanish internationals still on holiday the most notable lack of first team players was seen in midfield where we started with Johnathan Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto and Javier Espinosa. In the fourth minute Dos Santos played a swift ball out to Gerard Deulofeu on the left, and the youngster dribbled into the area, winning a corner. When the ball came in it went over everybody except for Alexis who controlled the ball before knocking it back into the path of Dani Alves who blasted a shot past Hamburg’s keeper Adler from just inside the area.
Deulofeu had a low shot saved by Adler in the 17th minute but the Germans pulled level soon after. Espinosa lost the ball in the centre circle and a swift attack left the Barça defence exposed, first a shot was fired against the bar and then Arslan reacted quickest to smash home the rebound.
Despite the German goal Barça continued to look the better team, Alexis forced a couple more saves from Adler, and Alves had a 30-yard free kick go not far over. Then in the 37th minute Alves robbed the ball just inside the Hamburg half, prodding it forward to Afellay who turned and made a strong run into the area before firing a powerful angled shot that Adler could only parry into the path of Deulofeu who dashed in from the left to force home his first goal for the first team. Hamburg reacted with a couple of efforts from captain Westermann but Pinto was looking in confident mood.
The second half was more or less a run out for Barça B though Pinto continued in goal for twenty-five more minutes before making way for Oier, and Muniesa now has a first team contract. The injury Muniesa picked up in the 57th minute is terrible luck for a player with a history of knee problems, and I imagine that the recent interest shown by Ajax in signing him will also now be put on hold.
There was little action in the second half with Barça’s best two efforts from Cristian Lobato. However, despite the lack of goal chances the performances from the youngsters against a Bundesliga team playing its 8th preseason game, was creditable. Admitably Hamburg struggled against relegation last season but our youngsters are only just beginning in the Spanish second division and they held their own well.
Four years ago today Barça played the first game of Pep Guardiola’s era, beating Hibs 0-6 in Scotland. Today’s game was not quite so impressive, but four years ago the contrast in the attitude shown compared to what had come at the end of Frank Rijkaard’s reign was very noticeable. The fact that there was basically no difference today to what we have become used to in the last four years is definitely very good news. Tito’s reign begins with a win. Here’s to there being many many more.
Barça first half: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Sergi Roberto, Dos Santos, Espinosa; Alexis, Afellay, Deulofeu.
Barça second half: Pinto (Oier m71); Balliu, Sergi Gomez, Muniesa (Bartra m63), Planas; Sergi Roberto, Ilie Sanchez, Patri; Rafinha, Lobato, Joan Angel Roman.
Goals: m5 Alves, m20 Arslan, m37 Deulofeu.