FC Barcelona came from behind to defeat Segunda Division B side FC Cartagena 4-1 on Friday evening in the first-leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 32 tie. Fernando had gifted the hosts a shock lead after 16 minutes, but Barcelona fought back and restored normality with a quick-fire double before half-time, securing their win in style with a further double after the break.
Gerardo Martino made six changes to the side that slumped to 1-0 defeat against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, but surprisingly opted to field a relatively strong line-up in spite of the perceived vast gulf in quality between the La Liga leaders and their hosts. Sergio Busquets remained at pivote, Cesc Fàbregas continued at false nine and Alexis Sánchez started on the wing while there was no place in the starting line-up for either Adama Traore or Jean-Marie Dongou. Would this experienced Barcelona line-up take a huge step towards booking their place in the Round of 16, or would FC Cartagena upset the odds by securing a memorable result?
Almost immediately, Barcelona took the game to their lowly rivals and could have opened the scoring after less than 60 seconds as in-form Chilean forward Alexis Sánchez sent a low shot inches wide of the post. It was a good effort and one could be forgiven for expecting more to follow; Barcelona were the better side after all, and while it was a given that Cartagena would put up a fight, it was also anticipated that their best simply wouldn’t be good enough.
However, with a vociferous capacity crowd behind them, the Murcian outfit were more than prepared to show the world just what they could offer. A couple of encouraging attacks set the scene before a mistake in midfield allowed Cartagena to counter-attack, and they wasted no time in feeding their top-scorer Fernando with a delightful through ball to chase onto – and the 26 year-old striker raced clear of Barcelona’s captain Carles Puyol to finish this golden chance with aplomb.
Against all the odds, FC Cartagena were a goal to the good against the reigning La Liga champions.
After falling to two successive defeats, Barcelona could have easily let their heads drop; or they could have panicked and over-reached in an attempt to get back on level terms, but to their credit, they remained patient. Even when possible chances went begging, Barça kept plodding on, chipping away at the Cartagena defense – and that approach finally paid dividends in the 36th minute.
Heavily criticised by some Culés for their start to the game and indeed their performances over the past few weeks, it was fitting that Cesc Fàbregas and Pedro would combine to create the equaliser, as the former supplied the latter with a defense-splitting pass to set up a glorious one-on-one, which Pedro duly finished in a composed fashion. Despite their best efforts, Cartagena were simply not strong enough to keep the Blaugrana at bay.
And soon enough, Barcelona compounded that fact by scoring their second goal of the game, as Cesc Fàbregas completed this quick-fire turnaround with a well-taken volley. Normality was restored at the Estadio Cartagonova.
Neither manager made a substitution at the break; for Gerardo Martino, there was no real need – his system was working, the stars were delivering after a somewhat shaky start and even then, Barcelona’s next game is a dead-rubber UEFA Champions League clash with Celtic. It’s reasonable to think that the youngsters will get an extended run out then, just because Jean-Marie Dongou and/or Adama Traore was available, it doesn’t mean that he has to play.
On the contrary, Adama can both now feature against Sabadell tomorrow for the B team in the first of this season’s mini-Catalan derbies – a far more productive use of their time than a short run-out in this fixture.
Much like the first 45 minutes, Barcelona created chances in the second period, but often failed to capitalise – although again, they were creating so many chances that eventually, their quality shone through. A powerful run from Alexis Sánchez had the Cartagena backline at sixes and sevens, allowing Pedro to ghost in behind the last line of defense, and the Chilean fortuitously picked him out with a nice pass. For the second time tonight, Pedro was one-on-one with the keeper and with a swerve of the hips, the keeper dived to the turf, gifting Pedro an easy second goal, completing his brace.
With that two-goal cushion now secure, Martino set about rotating his squad, handing a cameo appearance to Jean-Marie Dongou, and giving Jordi Alba some well-deserved rest in his triumphant return from injury. Pre-season gave us a taste of things to come with regards to Dongou’s goal-scoring potential – and even in this cameo, the Cameroonian handed us yet another goal, popping up in the right place at the right time to poke the rebound from Pedro’s shot into the back of the net.
Next up, Barcelona host Celtic on Wednesday in the final match of the 2013 UEFA Champions League group stage, but until then, Visca el Barça!
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