Guardiola rolled out a singularly awesome B lineup (plus Abidal and Valdes) that I sort of predicted (except I got like half of them wrong) and which I think was only appropriate given the condensed and packed calendar over the last couple of months. Not that Depor, coming needing points like I need chocolate to write these posts, actually cared to do anything other than possibly, hopefully manage to steal a point. I think we had 100% possession, but I haven’t checked the official stats so I could be a smidge off.
The lineup: Valdes, Bartra, Fontas, Abidal, Mascherano, Keita, Thiago, Jonathan, Afellay, Bojan, Jeffren.
The most notable of these inclusions was, for me, Jonathan dos Santos, though Bartra coming in for Montoya thanks to the latter’s injury was also pretty cool. Little Two Saints was played as a wide midfielder, a position he was obviously uncomfortable in. When he was switched to the middle he immediately blossomed and the team got much better. Part of that was the reversion from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3, to be sure, but he did a great job in the middle. He showed some good positional sense and has obviously made strides in his rhythm, though he’s still not ready to be a regular first teamer.
Thiago is obviously ready. I think we all knew that, though. And then there’s little Banjo Crickets. What oh what to do with the guy? He showed some absolutely lovely skill, but was otherwise relegated to the sideline (pretty much literally) and never really came into the game. He’s a brilliant support striker, but not a line-leader. He could be Fernando Torres’ best friend, but he’s not playing with El Niño; he could be the next Raul, but he’s not playing in a system where predatory instincts for the space behind the striker helps the cause. And yet he was millimeters from scoring. Okay, maybe inches, but for him it would have been a major coup and a much needed confidence boost.
Alves’ introduction was a huge boost, as you’d expect, but it wasn’t enough to free up Afellay in the middle for more than a few seconds. Still, how awesome was the Dutchman? Ibi was thrillingly direct whenever he got the least amount of space. He goes down easily, but was fouled on each of those occasions and stayed on his feet several times when there was a chance he’d get to the ball. He was even smacked in the face a couple of times and got on with his game pretty quickly. Awesome. We’ll go ahead and give him Man of the Match even though Eric Abidal was on the field and I feel like a traitor giving it to anyone else.
Jeffren is also one of those players that failed to produce, but he was also unlucky a couple of times and could have had some extra chances if it weren’t for poor crosses or good, last-ditch defending. And make no mistake, Depor defended well. Very well, in fact. They were negative and it nearly cost them a couple of times, but they were playing for a point at the Camp Nou and it’s hard to really blame them. Real Madrid forgot to defend and that was a 5-0, if I might remind you. So Depor, needing points to survive, got what could be the most precious point of the season, depending on next week’s results, or it could be the great disaster that sends them down. It all depends on what happens against Valencia at the Riazor or in Zaragoza’s match.
As suspected, there’s just 1 relegation spot in play. With Hercules going down now and Almeria long confirmed, Depor really needed to get 3 points. By that showing, Barça B would stay up in the Primera, which is either a ringing endorsement of the filial or a damning demonstration of Depor’s fall from grace. Juan Carlos Valerón is still full of genius, but his legs seem full of lead; he’s no longer able to command a midfield like the man Xavi has said he learned so much from.
And so this is clear: I’m happy with our performance. Obviously I wanted something more from the game, but the kids were solid and showed flashes of what we can expect in the future. Afellay is the real deal, which is great news for next season’s squad depth. Guardiola looked pleased as well, though interested in what he’s doing wrong with the middle of the field. Why is there no more room, why so many defenders packed into the middle and yet so little space down the wings? These questions will be answered, I think, over Memorial Day weekend here in the US on our trip to England.
More later today as the rest of the Busquets information becomes available and we come up with things to say. For now, how about you shush it up and enjoy this here review? Yeah, okay, deal.