FC Barcelona will be disappointed to leave Tarragona tonight on the losing side, as despite dominating possession against their local rivals, RCD Espanyol escaped with the Catalan Super Cup, courtesy of an early goal from Felipe Caicedo. Quique Sanchez Flores will be pleased with the victory, but there are question marks over how his side could allow themselves to be dominated by what was effectively a second-string Barcelona line-up.
While the move might land the club in a little bit of hot water with the Catalan Football Federation, Luis Enrique only named six first team players in his squad for the match – and all six started against a very strong Espanyol side. Andre Gomes featured at pivote, while Arda Turan started on the right-hand side of attack – as Luis Enrique looked to experiment with this relatively inexperienced squad.
The Blaugrana started the match positively and in typical Barça fashion; they monopolised possession from the outset and they were winning the territorial battle too, forcing Espanyol deep into their own half. At face value, it appeared to be a positive start – but with so many experienced faces in the Espanyol line-up, the danger was that this played right into Quique Sanchez Flores’ gameplan.
Espanyol seemed content to sit back, absorb the pressure and try their luck on the counter – and on their very first attack of the game, that approach paid dividends. Ecuadorian striker, Felipe Caicedo, was simply too powerful and quick for this makeshift Barcelona defense, and after displaying great composure to escape the challenge of goalkeeper, Jordi Masip, he slotted the ball into the empty net to hand his side the lead.
Barcelona’s best chance of the first half also came on the counter; Denis Suarez found space to burst in behind the retreating Espanyol defense, but his shot was ably stopped by Roberto. Summer signing, Paco Alcacer, was largely disappointing and for a period the former Valencia man dropped into midfield with Denis assuming a false nine position at times – you question whether this was intentional from Enrique, or merely a response to the struggles we were experiencing in breaking Espanyol down.
In many ways, if you ignore the scoreline, this was your quintessential Catalan derby; Barcelona were dominating almost every statistic, Espanyol were often a little close to the line with their physical play – and the chances were coming at a premium. This was a close game, even in spite of the gulf in experience between the two line-ups – and certainly through the first half of action, this was much more than a friendly match.
As the second half kicked off, there was little change in the flow and style of the game, almost as if the half-time break had never happened. Barcelona continued to boss possession, and Espanyol continued to frustrate them as soon as they entered the final third. In truth, there wasn’t a lot to report back about in the early stage. A brief error from the TV3 crew was perhaps the most noteworthy moment as Felipe Caicedo was momentarily sent off by the TV director – even if he only received a yellow from the referee.
Around the hour mark, we started to see a few glimpses of action; Barcelona finally created another chance with a low cross into the area but Paco Alcacer squandered it with a rushed finish. His connection was below par, and the chance went begging as a result.
Nili drove a fierce effort just wide of the post a few minutes later, before Enrique took the opportunity to rotate in some other members of the B team. Jesus Alfaro replaced Arda Turan, leaving Denis, Gomes and Alcacer as the only remaining outfield senior team members.
In particular, Denis should be singled out for prasie for his performance today as he looked sharp and was often at the forefront of our brightest attacking moments — forcing perhaps the most uncomfortable save of the evening from Roberto, with his awkward bouncing effort. In any case, this simply wasn't Barcelona's night, and Espanyol will be pleased to be able to claim some silverware after such a mediocre start to their La Liga campaign.
Barcelona: Masip | Nili, Marlon, Mathieu (Martinez), Moises (Palencia) | Gomes, Alena, Denis | Arda (Alfaro), Alcacer, Carbonell
Espanyol: Roberto | Alvarez, Demichelis, D. Reyes, Duarte | Melendo, Roca (Fuego) | J.A. Reyes (Sanchez), Sevilla, Jurado | Caicedo (Moreno)
Goals: Caicedo (9’)