Sandwiched in between two matches against Liverpool, and the La Liga title secured, the match-up against Celta Vigo wasn’t going to matter much to the Catalans – and that was indeed the case. A different Barcelona team was overpowered by Celta who saw second half goals from Maxi Gomez and Iago Aspas drastically improve their La Liga survival hopes.
With most of the usual starters not even making the trip to Galicia, a completely revamped XI was expected – and that was indeed the case. Moussa Wagué and Jean-Clair Todibo joined senior players Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen in defense, in front of Jasper Cillessen. Riqui Puig, Arthur and Carles Alena manned the midfield while the front three featured Ousmane Dembele, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Malcom.
Even with the newly formed team, Barcelona threatened almost immediately, winning a corner kick that was flicked on by Alena to the far post, but the ball was cleared away just before Boateng could tap it in. From the eleven Barcelona players on the pitch, only two had any chance of featuring at Anfield against Liverpool, but in the 5th minute, one of them, Dembele, was forced off with an apparent hamstring issue. He was replaced quickly by Álex Collado, who was able to mark his Barcelona debut.
Deeply involved in a relegation battle, Celta had plenty to play for, while Barcelona, despite Ernesto Valverde’s assurances that motivation wasn’t lacking, had nothing to play for. But the reserves and B team players were auditioning for the next season, and the new-look Barcelona were having some success in midfield to control the game, but to say the Catalans were threatening would be a stretch.
Celta were comfortable in defense, limiting Barcelona to the outside, but despite needing points, they weren’t showing much in attack. But the hosts were slowly showing more attacking ambition, especially after the 25th minute, starting a sequence in which Okay Yokuşlu fired the first shot on goal for either side, but was saved by Cillessen.
While Barcelona were in control of possession, it were the hosts who had shown more in attack. The usually sure-footed Arhtur was also having some difficulties in possession due to Celta’s press. But Barcelona would get their first shot in the 41st minute, when Puig created a good opportunity which was taken by Wague. The young Senegalese defender fired a good shot on target, but saw it saved by Rubén Blanco. Celta quickly launched a counter attack, but two of their attempts were blocked by Umtiti, while another was easily saved.
Due to the Dembele injury the first half was extended by one minute, but the two sides would go into the break scoreless.
Barcelona started the second half brightly, with Wague launching a quick attack down the right wing sending a good low ball into the middle, but Collado’s shot from a good spot was blocked. Celta, however, would threaten next, winning a corner kick in the 50th minute. The kick was swung in and Gustavo Cabral won the duel easily, but Cillessen made a strong save. The rebound fell to Néstor Araujo who buried it to score the opening goal. But VAR would take a look and after a lengthy review it would be determined the Mexican defender was just offside, negating the goal.
Buoyed by the disallowed goal, Celta attacked with even more conviction, creating a couple half-chances in quick succession, but Cillessen went untested. Barcelona remained in control of the ball, but Celta remained the more dangerous side. Just after the one-hour mark, Arturo Vidal replaced Arthur. In the 64th minute the hosts looked destined to take the lead (again), but Maxi’s close range header went right at Cillessen.
Moments later Barcelona suffered another injury, this time Todibo being forced off. Valverde took his time making the change, and while playing shorthanded Maxi excellently redirected Sofiane Boufal cross just inside the post to deservedly put the hosts in front. Another two minutes would go by before Jeison Murillo was brought on in place of Todibo.
Barcelona’s response to the goal wasn’t ideal as they couldn’t get anything going. With ease Celta controlled the game, even when Barcelona were in possession. The Catalans launched a couple attacks, but Ruben was largely a spectator throughout. Celta were on the verge of three hugely important points in securing top flight status for next season, and when VAR awarded a penalty kick to the hosts in the 87th minute, their status appeared even safer. Aspas stepped up to take it and calmly powered it into the back of the net for the win.
The remaining time, including the five minutes of added time, were a mere formality, though Celta continued to push in an effort to pad the score. But the score would not chance and the mid-season friendly – for Barcelona at least – ended in a loss for the Catalans, their third of the season. The score, in the grand scheme of things, matters little, the injury to Dembele, however, does matter and the Frenchman will have more tests done tomorrow, but his involvement against Liverpool, at least, is right now in serious doubt. Liverpool up next, on Tuesday.