FC Barcelona slumped to a shock draw in their second fixture of preseason, as a second-half penalty from Xavi cancelled out a first-half penalty from Dario Cvitanich. Overall, this is unlikely to go down as a vintage display from Barça, but it wasn’t without its positives. Xavi looked great, Gerard Deulofeu and Alen Halilovic were bright, and ultimately, we still have a long way to go until the start of the season anyway. We might as well get nights like this out our system sooner rather than later.
In stark contrast to two weeks ago, Luis Enrique selected a strong starting line-up for the trip to OGC Nice, handing a debut to central defensive signing Jeremy Mathieu and a preseason debut to a number of FC Barcelona’s FIFA World Cup stars. Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez and Andrés Iniesta returned to the starting XI, with Adama Traore the only B team representative. Would this strong selection be enough to earn the Blaugrana a second successive win, or would Nice finally turn their preseason around with a shock result at the Allianz Riviera?
Barça started the match slowly; it was certainly evident which club had played five friendlies anyway, as Barcelona struggled to retain possession and generally looked a step or two off the pace. Consequently, Marc-André ter Stegen was arguably the Blaugrana’s brightest player in the opening ten minutes as he twice sprung low to his left to deny a couple of decent Nice efforts, including a swerving free-kick conceded by a shaky Jeremy Mathieu.
Barcelona weren’t themselves, at least not yet, prompting Luis Enrique to emerge from the dugout to prowl the touchline. Sporting a Barça polo shirt and a pensive expression, Lucho wasn’t particularly vocal but the few ideas he did communicate obviously made a difference. Barcelona picked up the tempo, adopting a more active approach in terms of pressing the Nice midfield and attempting to probe and carve their way through a disciplined backline. Their rewards weren’t especially noteworthy to begin with – just a solitary corner-kick to show for their troubles but it was an improvement.
However, as was so often the case last season, the improvement wasn’t enough to mask the defensive frailties and Barcelona conceded a penalty. Dario Cvitanich was adjudged to have been pushed by Gerard Piqué, so the Argentine forward stepped up and placed his penalty right into the left-hand corner of the goal, just clear of the outstretched right-hand of Marc-André ter Stegen. New season, new goalkeeper, new coach; same old Barça.
The visitors weren’t that active in searching for a response either; at least not initially. It was almost as if the goal had temporarily stunned them; but when Barça did regain some composure, the bulk of their threat was coming from the left-wing. Jordi Alba was threatening on the overlap, Pedro was dangerous as an inside forward and Rafinha was troubling the Nice defense on the rare occasions he drifted from his central role. Andrés Iniesta however was quiet – the Blaugrana needed someone to step up as at present, it wasn’t looking very promising at all.
Lucho was forced into one first half substitution, as Martin Montoya picked up a knock in a heavy challenge on the right-wing and was promptly replaced by Patric.
With Nice still leading by a solitary goal, Enrique made six more changes at the break, replacing Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Andrés Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Adama Traore and Rafinha with Marc Bartra, Sergi Samper, Gerard Deulofeu, Xavi, Alen Halilovic, Munir el Haddadi and Ivan Rakitić respectively. Courtesy of a mistake from the Nice defense, Munir nearly equalised in the early stages of the second-half, but he was ably denied by a great save from the goalkeeper.
Certainly, this set the tone for the second-half in general as Xavi (a timeless influence in the centre of midfield) threaded through a jaw-dropping pass to find the run of Gerard Deulofeu, only for the talented Catalan to be denied by a last-ditch challenge from the defense. Something similar happened moments later as Xavi again caught the eye with an inhuman pass to find Deulo in space – but the goalkeeper tracked his movements all the way through and claimed the ball from his feet.
Did I mention that Xavi is awesome?
Xavi’s awesomeness aside, Barcelona were still struggling and Lucho made a couple more changes to try and inspire the team to an equaliser. The only trouble was that the changes were made at the back; Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu departed with Edgar Ie and Alejandro Grimaldo entering the action.
Coincidentally, Barça actually grabbed an equaliser just seven minutes after the latest batch of changes. Nice failed to clear their lines from a set-piece and conceded the second penalty of the game for a trip on Munir and now it was Xavi’s turn to step up and try his luck from the spot. Naturally, Xavi made no mistake and Barcelona were finally level.
Sandro replaced Munir as Lucho pressed forward in search of a winner, and the young Catalan forward very nearly grabbed the winner – but as Nice again struggled to clear their lines, Sandro’s shot rebounded off the post. Barça were picking up the pace; Halilovic was impressing once again, Deulofeu’s direct dribbling was causing the Nice defense all manner of problems, but still the hosts held firm to earn a well-deserved draw.
Next up, FC Barcelona travel to Geneva where they will square off against Rafa Benitez’ Napoli, but until then, Visca el Barça!
|Roll Call Info
|Anders Thomassen, Artemis11, Barcacatalunya, Bostjan Cernensek, Catalan_Blood, Daxterflames, Dios, Eddie Pundell, FCB4Ever, FCBMo, First_Cule, Harshiv, Henry Tiago, JBeck12, KiwiBarca, Lapulga, NoImagination90, Nox_Caelum, Outsmash, Ragnar_Lothbrok, Renato Goncalves, Ruy Diaz, Scratch and Snif, Som-i-Serem, Team Rocket, Tokjee, ViscaViscaBarca, craig00000, gimme alredy, hobo_barca, kenyanbarcafan, robyn_bird96, sudama.baraily, syredeathtrooper, tilak
|Scratch and Snif
- Preseason Friendly: OGC Nice vs FC Barcelona: Live Game Thread
- Predict the Score: FC Barcelona vs OGC Nice
- Preseason Friendly: FC Barcelona vs OGC Nice: Full Match Coverage
- FC Barcelona News: 2 August 2014; Josep Maria Bartomeu Hints at More Moves, Training Camp in England Ends
- Video: Jordi Alba and Rafinha Alcântara Practice Penalty-Kicks with Big Balls