€12 million signing Claudio Bravo made an unfortunate start to his Barça career tonight when his mistake cost Barça a 1-0 defeat to Napoli in Geneva. Bravo had performed well, making one spectacular first-half save to deny Marek Hamsik, but in the 80th minute his poor kick fell to Blerim Dzemaili who fired the ball straight back from 30 yards and the Barça keeper allowed the ball to squirm through his hands for the only goal of the game.
This was the third of only five preparation games before La Liga starts with Elche’s visit to Camp Nou on August 24, and almost certainly the toughest opponent. Luis Enriqué stuck to the 4-3-3 formation, putting out a strong side with only one Barça B player, Munir, in a starting XI of Bravo, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Munir, Rafinha and Pedro.
Barça generally looked in control from the start but there were still a couple of early lapses from Piqué in defence, both times from Napoli free kicks. The first time the Barça defender failed to cut out a cross and Insigne might have done more if he had reacted more quickly, then from Callejon’s cross, Hamsik was allowed space to send a powerful header which Bravo did well to tip round the post.
Despite Barça gaining around 68% of the first half possession there was a lack of inspiration going forward. Rakitic continued to look very good in midfield but Iniesta was missing his final pass, and the forwards, despite working hard and often changing positions, failed to make a decent chance until the 32nd minute when Rakitic slipped a pass through to Munir but the Napoli keeper Rafael Cabral was out quickly to block the youngster’s shot. Rafinha was again a little disappointing in the false nine role but in the 39th minute he made a good turn and pass into the area for Munir who was again thwarted by the advancing Cabral.
Luis Enrique kept the same XI for the start of the second half and Barça responded with the most promising 15 minutes of the game. Rafinha tested Cabral after cutting in from the right while Pedro had three shots narrowly off target, the best chance coming after Piqué’s long ball found Alba on the left and the full-back pulled the ball back for the Canarian who shot just past the near post from ten yards.
On the hour Luis Enrique made six changes, bringing on Edgar Ié, Grimaldo, Samper, Halilovic, Sergi Roberto and Sandro in place of Piqué, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta and Munir. There was the usual difficulties after making so many changes but the youngsters generally did well with especially promising performances again from Sergi Samper and Alen Halilovic.
However, there was a failure to penetrate the Napoli defence and despite the late introduction of Gerard Deulofeu, Adama Traore and Frank Bagnack the game seem to be heading for a goalless draw. Then Bravo took a touch too many controlling a back pass and was pressed into a poor clearance, Dzemaili’s drive swerved away from the Barça keeper who despite getting his hands to the ball only succeeded to deflecting it into the net.
It was Napoli’s first shot of the second half and it caught Bravo cold. It is very unfortunate for him to make a mistake like this in his first game but he will now learn quickly about the pressure of keeping goal for Barça. It will be a good test of character but he has the experience to get over it.
Deulofeu provided a lift to the attack at the end and he nearly grabbed an equalizer after finding a gap between the defenders but Cabral reacted to make a good diving save. In the final minute Deulofeu fired a free kick from the left which forced a poor punch from Cabral but Sandro wasn’t quick enough to latch onto the chance.
The result is disappointing but Barça probably deserved more. As against Nice on Saturday, we again faced an opponent that is slightly more advanced in its preparation. The team again showed a good attitude and a willingness to work hard that is encouraging though the attack obviously lacked some ideas. Obviously we can expect that to improve in the coming weeks with the return of Messi, Neymar and Suarez.
Barça: Bravo; Montoya, Piqué (Ié m61), Bartra (Bagnack m76), Alba (Grimaldo m61); Rakitic (Halilovic m61), Busquets (Samper m61), Iniesta (Sergi Roberto m61); Munir (Sandro m61), Rafinha (Deulofeu m76), Pedro (Adama m76).
Goal: m80 Dzemaili m80 0-1.