Barça continued the preseason with another penalties victory this time after a goalless draw with Manchester United in Gothenburg. The heroes of the night were undoubtedly Barça’s two goalkeeper’s Victor Valdés and José Manuel Pinto: Valdés stopped a penalty from Wayne Rooney just before half time and then Pinto saved Ashley Young’s penalty after psyching out Nani to miss another in a best-out-of-three shoot out in which Barça only needed to take two to win, excellently taken by Xavi and Piqué.
Before the game it was great to see Henrik Larsson, who had spells with both clubs, on the pitch to salute the crowd at the fine looking Ullevi Stadium. Both teams put out strong teams from the start with plenty of players who’d faced each other in the two Champions League finals between the two clubs in Rome and London.
Barça began the better team, with Iniesta getting in a shot on goal after 53 seconds before United had touched the ball. It was soon clear that Iniesta was in good form and his combinations with Messi caused the United defence plenty of problems before they were both subbed off at half time. In the fifth minute Iniesta scooped a pass into the area that Messi was a whisker away from getting his toe to, and then in the twelfth minute Messi played a wall pass off Iniesta before sending a fine pass through to Tello on the left but the youngster could only fire his shot into the side netting.
United began to appear in the game thanks mainly to vision and long passing of the veteran Paul Scholes, one ball found Rooney through the middle and an appeal for handball against Mascherano, another was well controlled on the right by Nani who then cut in before shooting just wide from the edge of the area.
The best moment from Barça came in the 23rd minute when Messi and Iniesta combined brilliantly, with Iniesta’s classy roll-back sending Messi on his way to power in a low drive that was turned round the post by De Gea’s fingertips.
The game continued at a high intensity with Barça still generally looking on top though the chances began to dry up. Messi cracked a free kick straight at the wall and Adriano had an effort go high and wide. Not long before half time Messi tried another run, getting past Anderson and Evra, but finally being stopped by Ferdinand in the area. And then practically on 45 minutes a good United build-up involving five players ended when Tello slid in on Nani, clipping the United player’s legs with his backside as he skidded on the turf, and the ref had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. Wayne Rooney shot hard to Valdés’s right but the Barça keeper read it well and made a very good save, Rooney then sliced the rebound horribly wide and the score remained goalless at half time.
As is so often the case in these preseason games the second half was somewhat disappointing. Barça brought on Pinto, Piqué, Fabregas, Xavi, Pedro and Afellay while United made two changes with Carrick and the Japanese new signing Kagawa coming on. Kagawa made an immediate impression firing in a low shot that needed a splendid save from Pinto but then there was little to speak of until the 63rd minute when Alves sent a pass through to Alexis but De Gea came out and saved, then as play continued the ball came to Alexis again who this time crossed, with the ball hitting a defender before bouncing in front of Pedro whose header was tipped round the post by De Gea.
There wasn’t much more after that, Jordi Alba came on for his debut with just over 20 minutes remaining but we saw little of him, Nani had a penalty appeal but the contact from Bartrá was too slight to merit a penalty and the ref wasn’t fooled by Nani’s fall, and Afellay had a low shot go wide. There were more substitutions but the excitement was saved for the penalty shoot out where Pinto again demonstrated he is a master of all the psychological games for these occasions. Whether or not he put Nani off is impossible to say but with the first penalty of the shoot out the United player fired his shot against the underside of the bar and the ball bounced down and out. Xavi then scored and Pinto saved the best save for Ashley Young’s low kick, diving to his right brilliantly, leaving Gerard Piqué the chance to demonstrate that he is also a very competent penalty taker.
In preseason it is all a lot of fun to see the penalties, what chance we will see the same two sides facing each other again on May 25 when the 2012/13 Champions League Final takes place again at Wembley? Having met in 2009 and 2011 there has to be a chance of it happening again in 2013. If it does happen hopefully it will be a better game, but having said that it was another promising performance from the team though the level was much better in the first half. A couple of points to note from our defensive game: despite not needing to defend too much in the first half there was one moment where Messi was back at right back chasing Evra, and another where we had everybody back except Messi. this was not something we saw very often with Pep Guardiola, and of course it may just have been a moment where things ran that way, but it might be something to watch out for in coming games. Besides that it was nice to see Tito in a suit, it is unlikely that he will ever look as elegant as Guardiola but it’s nice to see he’s making the effort. Next game is on Saturday with Dinamo Bucharest.
Barça: Valdés (Pinto m45); Alves (Montoya m67), Puyol (Piqué m45), Mascherano (Bartrá m67), Adriano (Alba m67); Sergi Roberto (Xavi m45), Busquets (Ilie Sanchez m76), Iniesta (Fabregas m45); Alexis (Rafinha m67), Messi (Afellay m45), Tello (Pedro m45).
Man Utd: De Gea; Valencia, Vidic (Carrick m45), Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson (Powell m78), Scholes, Young; Rooney (Kagawa m45), Wellbeck (Berbatov m67).
Penalties: Nani (missed (bar)), Xavi (goal), Young (save Pinto) Piqué (goal).