Xavi penalty earns 1-1 draw in Nice

Nice 1-1 Barcelona Xavi penalty 2014Barça’s second preseason friendly under Luis Enriqué ended in a 1-1 draw against OGC Nice in France tonight. Dario Cvitanich fired the French side in front with a penalty after Gerard Piqué was penalised for a push on the Argentinian striker in the 20th minute. Xavi Hernández who was so close to leaving the club this summer, equalized with another spot kick halfway through the second half after Munir El-Haddadi had been floored in the area.

Team photo Barça Nice 2014As Barça prepared this week in England there have been various stories about possible tactical changes that might be used this season with particular emphasis on a possible three-man defence, but it was 4-3-3 as usual with Jeremy Mathieu fitting in alongside Piqué at the back with Martin Montoya and Jordi Alba as full backs.

There were positive signs early on as Barça played a hungry pressing game with forwards Adama, Rafinha and Pedro chasing hard as soon as the ball was lost. However, Nice proved to be more advanced in their preseason preparation and their well organised 4-5-1 allowed Barça few opportunities. Eric Bautheac and Valentin Eysseric caused Barça some problems and Piqué and Sergi Roberto were both caught in possession.

Barça were lacking a pause on the ball, and the pressing was not always accompanied by good positioning when Nice gained possession. In the 20th minute a quick series of passes between Nice players in space led to a cross from the left and Piqué was adjudged to have pushed Cvitanich with the ball nowhere near. The referee pointed to the spot and Cvitanich fired the ball home despite Ter Stegen diving the right way.

Barça began to look more dangerous but Pedro failed to control Alba’s cross then Iniesta’s free kick was deflected straight at Nice keeper Hassen. Alba’s shot was blocked after a good cross from Adama then Pedro’s cross took a deflection before looping over the keeper and off the top of the crossbar. Montoya was injured and replaced by Patric then in the 40th minute a tremendous 50-yard run from Adama ended with a foul near the area. From the free kick Pedro feigned to shoot before sending a quick pass to Alba whose shot was saved by the diving Hassen.

Barça made seven half time changes and improved in the second half thanks mainly to the introduction of Xavi, Rakitic and Deulofeu. Xavi looked highly motivated and sent two excellent early passes for Deulofeo and Halilovic who both failed to get a shot in. Barça were more controlled but despite this only Deulofeu tested Hassen after a run and shot from the left.

Eventually Barça got the break. Xavi floated a free kick into the box which after a poor defensive header saw the ball bounce off another Nice defender to Munir who controlled the ball before another Nice defender made a clumsy challenge from behind and the ref pointed to the spot. Xavi took the responsibility and sent Nice substitute keeper Yoan Cardinale the wrong way from the spot.

Barça pushed for a winner and might have found it in the 82nd minute but Sandro Ramirez’s shot came out off the far post. then right at the end Bartra made a tremendous run through the middle to create an excellent scoring chance for himself but with just the keeper to beat he sent his 20-yard shot a yard wide of the post.

Ter stegen Barça Nice 2014The result was not great but there were plenty of positives to take from tonight starting with the players attitude, there was a renewed desire to chase opponents that has been decreasing in recent years. Débutantes Ter Stegen and Rakitic both had good games while Mathieu was generally solid apart from one moment in the 39th minute when he lost his man and needed to be bailed out by Alba. Xavi showed he still has plenty to offer while Deulofeu is looking like the most in-form player at this stage of the preseason. Bartra and Alba look in good shape while there were positive showings from youngsters Adama, Halilovic, Munir and Grimaldo but probably the most impressive of the Barça B boys was Sergi Samper who looked very composed in the defensive midfield role. Not so great were the performances from Piqué, Busquets, and Iniesta who could all still be suffering World Cup hangovers while Rafinha found little involvement playing the false nine role and Sergi Roberto had a disappointing 45 minutes in midfield. Now that Xavi has decided to play, it could well be Sergi Roberto who suffers the most as a consequence as he now has to compete with Xavi, Iniesta and Rakitic for a place in the team. The player has declared he has no thoughts about leaving but a loan move would surely be better for his development right now.

Barça: Ter Stegen; Montoya (Patric m38), Piqué (Bartra h/t), Mathieu (Ié m61), Alba (Grimaldo m61); Sergi Roberto (Xavi h/t), Busquets (Samper h/t), Iniesta (Rakitic h/t); Adama (Halilovic h/t), Rafinha (Munir h/t – (Sandro m76) ), Pedro (Deulofeu h/t).

Goals: m21 Cvitanich (pen) 1-0, m68 Xavi (pen) 1-1.

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