I was able to watch the Valerenga match today and I have just a few thoughts on it:
Bojan being captain was both chuckle-worthy and wonderful to see. I have this overblown sense of what a “captain” looks like–big, commanding, not 12–so Bojan wearing the armband over Milito, while it made sense, definitely caused me to say “aww” at the sweet little tyke getting honored by Pep for 45 minutes. And he scored! Wait, no, that was the other Bojan. My bad.
Because I watched without commentary (thanks for the links, Jnice), the second half was confusing. There were no graphics about who had been subbed on, so I had to listen to the PA announcer in the background and then guess who was who. Around minute 75 I got bored with it and checked the final score and team sheets. Sure enough no one scored again and I was able to figure out that Nolito wasn’t Sergi Roberto and Edu Oriol wasn’t Nolito, so I had to change some of my match notes.
B-teamers that impressed me:
Nolito. #22. He was quick and incisive with the ball, though I didn’t see a whole lot of him on the defensive end. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it (I only watched once), but he certainly stood out offensively and made me nod in appreciation every now and then.
Benja. #14. I’ll admit I’ve never heard of this guy before. I mean, I heard the name a few weeks ago, but had never seen him play and still know virtually nothing about him. His goal was nice, but it was his work rate and skill at slipping in behind defenses (which opened up space for Edu Oriol–#17–on the other side even when Benja himself didn’t get the ball) that most impressed me. He used the space created by Ibra’s much deeper positioning very intelligently and was a constant goal threat. His footskills were impressive as well.
Riverola. #8. The first half was a more dominate display, but felt less so a lot of the time because the tempo wasn’t quite right. Riverola played pretty much box-to-box and he worked hard throughout on both the offensive and defensive ends. He was constantly moving around and either freeing up or clogging up the passing lanes, depending on what was more beneficial.
Players that I was surprised not to be as impressed by:
Jonathan dos Santos: #4. Most regular readers will know that I have a burgeoning mancrush on JDS, but this was a game in which he failed a little at maintaining the tempo. He was the one playing the Xavi role, so to speak (though without a true DM it’s a bit of a different role), but he pushed the ball forward too quickly sometimes. That was my criticism of Oriol Romeu in the Spain-England U19 semifinal and it holds true here too. I think that is more a function of the need to mature and get more comfortable with the increased speed of the game and gaining some of the natural rhythm that comes with practice. It should be noted though that Xavi, of course, is very much in form now and he’s 10 years JDS’s senior. I don’t expect JDS to ever become as good as Xavi, but I still think he’ll be capable of controlling the midfield for years to come. Thiago has looked the better player recently (perhaps against worse competition), but fortunately they’re complimentary rather than working for the same spot.
Marc Muniesa: #5. He was caught out a couple of times by his own positioning and he almost cost us a goal with a poor outlet ball (and really, a poor decision to attempt that side pass) that was intercepted. For a kid that I’ve seen good things from in the past (his appearance with the first team counts as that and a couple of his B matches last year), I was surprised to see him be a little flat-footed. He’ll grow into it and, really, defenders usually take a bit longer than Pique to come to mature (in one very strict sense of the word, of course).
Albert Dalmau: #12. I thought I’d notice Dalmau a lot more than I did. It might be a function of having just spent an entire World Cup focusing on wingbacks that made me not notice him so much or it may be that I was just too focused on our left wing and watching Adriano to take notice of his solid play. He was burned a couple of times by Luton Shelton, but Guardiola did leave him a bit stranded out there with his formation and expected him to forward constantly, which he did until Bojan Zajić came on and necessitated a slight change in the approach. So perhaps he actually did really well, but I didn’t notice it.
There’s a lot more to discuss, but that’s my brief take on things.