What better way to start the season than with a manita?
Trofeo Joan Gamper: the annual glorified friendly that kicks off our season. The stadium is always guaranteed to be full and there are pre-match festivities to keep the fans entertained before the players are presented, we lay a beatdown on whoever decides to come, and everyone goes home happy. So, essentially, it’s just one giant party; hence the reason it is often referred to as ‘La Fiesta del Gamper.’
Napoli did their part to keep the party atmosphere going by showing up not really match fit and playing the part of the poor victim. They are still in preseason, Napoli, so not much can be read into this match, but a few conclusions into how Pep will play some players can be reached. (Euler will probably go more into detail sometime).
We kicked off the match with Pinto in goal, Montoya – Pique – Fontas – Adriano at the back, Thiago – Keita – Iniesta in the midfield, and Kiko – Fabregas – Villa up front.
From the kickoff, Barcelona immediately got into their groove, calmly passing the ball around the pitch, looking to get themselves comfortable while also looking for openings in the compact Napoli defense.
The first major action came on 8 minutes against the run of play, when Copa America winner Edison Cavani thought he scored an incredible overhead kick. Replay showed Slovakian sensation Marek Hamsik was in an offside position when heading the ball into Cavani’s path, and the goal was disallowed for offside. It was one of those goals where you almost wish the linesman had gotten wrong (as opposted to when he gives the benefit of the doubt for pretty crap goals to be scored), but alas he didn’t and the goal was chalked off.
Barcelona kept the pressure on the Napoli defense, and almost got their reward on 18 minutes when Iniesta threaded a gorgeous through ball for David Villa to dummy for Cesc Fabregas, who decided to give his loyal fans in Row Z a nice present.
The goal finally arrived on 26 minutes when Iniesta slips a ball to Adriano on the left wing, who quickly uses a step over to misfoot the defender, runs to the byline and lays a perfect cross into the area for Fabregas to tap in. He immediately gives credit to Adriano for the set up which was very nice to see. 1-0 Barcelona.
It was 2-0 Barcelona shortly after as Iniesta chipped a beautiful ball for Keita to head in. The excellent Adriano almost set up Villa for the third, but De Santis made the stop. Villa would get another chance to make it 3-0 before half-time, but centerback Aranda cleared it off the line.
The Post-Hitting Chronicles: Story of the Second Half.
Pep rolled out almost a new lineup with Cuenca, Pedro!, Sergi Roberto, Bartra and JDS coming in.
Barcelona immediately picked up where they left off: assaulting the Napoli goal. Less than 5 minutes into the second half, Barcelona should have been at least 3-0 up. Fabregas played a nice ball out wide for Pedro! to curl onto the far post. Seconds later, Cuenca took a pop and hit the other post, before Pedro! smacked the rebound against the crossbar. Still only 2-0.
Messi and Xavi replaced Cesc and Thiago respectively and joined in the fray. After being fouled, Messi takes the free-kick and De Stantis makes a pretty amazing save, pushing it against the post. Fortunately for us, Pedro! was being his opportunistic self and was there to head it in. 3-0 Barcelona.
The best goal of the night followed four minutes later, which could only be properly appreciated when watched.
Messi to Xavi to Pedro! to Messi to goal. Wonderful and it was 4-0 Barcelona with 65 minutes gone in the game.
Messi made it a manita on 77 minutes. A mistake in the Napoli defense leaves Messi in space to smash the ball far post, after being played through by Abidal. Pedro! missed some chances later on, the most glaring one being when he was through on goal and messed up the chip.
Still, the off the ball movement and link-up play was better in the second half. That was helped by Napoli tiring. You almost had to feel sorry for them. The team looks fit and ready for some Supercup action. Yes.
Some thoughts on the players:
Pinto: did the fans throw you some tapas and Chupa Chups while you stood there doing next to nothing? Didn’t stop the Cavani shot, but then, what keeper in the world could? You were solid off your line and made some easy stops.
Montoya: solid. Very solid. Kept pace with the Napoli LW and joined in on the attack but you did look a bit unsure at times, kind of like you were thinking, “Whoa, I’m actually up here. Okay, now what do I do?” Good job on maintaining width and giving the opposing LB’s something to think about.
Pique: You had some hiccups, and nearly got kicked in the head by Cavani. I’m surprised you didn’t start bleeding. A lot of good to great interventions, helped by some pretty poor Napoli passing. Your reading of the game is quite outstanding, and your presence will be missed for the next 3 weeks. Your lack of pace, though not your fault, won’t be.
Fontas: you were Fontastique! (Sorry, pun had to happen). Alert, read the game well, and kept up with Lavezzi quite well. You even berated a linesman on a call which in England, is the sign of a true leader and captain. Thumbs up.
Adriano: so, uh, have you apologized to Maxwell yet? Because if you keep this up, he’ll be sold as quick as the new Fabregas jerseys in Barcelona. Very nice in attack, setting up Fabregas’ first goal, and you had Lavezzi in your back pocket. If you and Alves both play on Friday against Porto in the Supercup, and that looks to be the case with Pique’s injury, we’re looking at two attacking wingbacks! When was the last time that happened?
Thiago: you were good defensively, pressed well and high. Offensively though, you tended to be a little too fancy when the simpler would have been better and easier. Some passes went astray here and there as a result, and consequentially Napoli started some counterattacks. (It’s the curse of the 11 shirt! Jeffren must have to put a hex on it when taking all the hair gel to Portugal). Still, you more than held your own against a senor Napoli side that qualified directly for the CL this season, and that should be said. Eventually, in the first half, you seemed to play a bit higher than Fabregas, and looked more comfortable there than deeper in the midfield.
Keita: not bad. Not bad at all. For all the flak you’ve gotten in this position, this was a good performance after a slow start. You even scored a goal! One thing you have to remember is that you’re not a box-to-box midfielder anymore, and so you should curb that instinctual tendency to crash the box. You’re the last line before the defense, when you’re crashing the box, no-one is there to harry the forward in the event of a counterattack. Remember that. But good job, Keiteeee!
Iniesta: you are amazing, dear boy. A beast of the highest footballing order. Those chipped over the defense passes you are wont to do are exquisite. Continue on, manchego, continue on!
Kiko: Mr. Stoned Surfer! You looked uncomfortable, and the hesitancy in your play showed. I can understand, since it is your first match with first team in the Camp Nou, so you’re bound to be nervous. The other B-teamers fit in like a glove, so you stood out as a result, but the truth is you weren’t that bad. Linked up well enough with Montoya and Thiago. You don’t know the system as well so sometimes you were in no mans land positionally speaking. The pressing was not that bad, though Thiago sometimes covered for you. You’re quite the asset for the B-team!
Fabregas: A lot of people speculated you’d be on the bench, or would play DM to see some time in the starting XI. The truth is, you look set to be playing the false 9 role everyone else thought Sanchez would be playing. You put what you learned at Arsenal to good use with a strong attacking performance. Although you were playing false 9, you were taking the role with more of a midfielder mindset than a forward one (like Messi). That’s not necessarily a criticism. Just saying. You’re melting ice-cold hearts with every outing, Cesc. And you got your own allasFCB2 compilation to boot.
Villa: lots of moaning about your hair, but you looked good today and are improving with every match. The dummied move for the Fabregas chance was pretty awesome. That being said, you gotta finish your chances! I know you know that or else you wouldn’t have abused the advertising board. Made some great runs, too. Just a question though, Dahveed: were you born offside like Pippo Inzaghi?
Cuenca (for Kiko): Me gusta. Me gusta mucho. No-one really knew about you before this preseason, but man are you making them notice! Another very impressive outing, Ivan. You are most definitely making the most of the chances Pep is giving you. One caveat: gain some weight please!
Pedro! (for Villa): Oh me, oh my. Competition is good for you, eh? Looked hungrier and sharper, and bagged yourself a nice headed goal off a rebound. Off the ball movement was excellent, good sir. Think you’ve contracted Villa’s palo-hitting disease when you subbed in for him though. You might want to get that checked out.
Sergi Roberto (for Iniesta): Back from Colombia, and back doing what he does best: impressing everyone. I facepalm every time I think of the Spain U-20 coach benching you in favor of Koke. /facepalm
Bartra (for Pique): Ah, Marc. I’ve got a soft spot for this boy. Fit so seamlessly at the back, I almost didn’t notice the difference between you and Pique.
JDS (for Montoya): I know we’re still not sure what exactly to do with you, but at RB, you weren’t that bad. More offensive than Montoya, and had some good passes out of the back. Get ’em with the B-team, Jonathan.
Messi (for Fabregas): well, Messi is Messi. Had one stray pass I notice (where it failed to connect with Xavi) but that really is nitpicking. Freekicks have been getting better and better. As usual, interplay and off-the-ball movement was superb. Started and finished a fantastic team goal, and scored a nice goal for the manita. Good day at the office, Leo.
Xavi (for Thiago): the maestro. Midfield looked more stable when he came in. Interplay with Messi is so nice to watch.
Abidal (for Adriano): Continued where Adriano left off. Got a good run about, and assisted Messi’s manita goal.
Busi (for Keita): there’s a reason why you’re first choice DM, Busi. A solid outing without much to do since Napoli was pretty much outta gas at that point.
Mascherano (for Fontas): Looks like you’re Puyi’s replacement at the back. Ditto Busi re: defensive contributions.
Three things we’ve learned
— Keita is going to be our backup DM for sure. Jnice goes off to cry into his Cheerios, and plead for The Yaya to come back.
— It’s a shame Alexis was injured for this match as I’d like to have seen where he played. It looks like Fabregas will be playing the false 9, which is interesting. We’ll see how he adapts.
— The B-team is so stacked. Admittedly, nothing we didn’t already know, but still. Wow. Liga Adelante, here we come!