El Centrocampista

Copa del Rey encounter allows Barcelona’s fringe players to stake their claim

Photo: Albert Olivé – EFE

FC Barcelona defeated Spanish third division side Alaves 3-1 at the Camp Nou tonight in a largely subdued affair, with the most excitement on offer coming from the fringe players using the tie as an opportunity to remind Tito Vilanova of their qualities

Thiago Alcantara started the tie as a false number nine in a move Pep Guardiola had toyed with during his last year in charge, and the attacker looked assured and threatening throughout. Though Thiago didn’t register on the score sheet, his range of passing, composure on the ball and skill in tight situations was excellent, and he showed a strong understanding of his role as a false nine, bringing Barcelona’s other forwards into play frequently.

Thiago’s position in the forward line left extra space in the midfield for two players further down the pecking order at the Camp Nou, Sergi Roberto and Jonathan Dos Santos. Roberto is currently straddling the line between the B team and first team at Barcelona, and, like every other opportunity he has had with the senior side to date, he looked comfortable in the company of his superiors, using the ball well and recycling possession efficiently

For his part, Dos Santos was largely unspectacular, losing a few unnecessary balls in the first half but steadily growing into the game. Tonight’s display done little to dispel the growing feeling that the Mexican is no longer a feasible part of future plans at the Camp Nou in the long-term however, as admirable as his dogged determination to break into the first team is

It’s easy to forget just how high a level players must achieve in order to stake their claim at Barcelona, particularly in the midfield where competition is fierce and consistently brilliant, and the younger Dos Santos brother has now had several opportunities to attempt to catch the eye with the first team since his debut in 2010. The squat midfielder is undoubtedly a talented player, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has the talent to play in midfield for FC Barcelona, and tonight’s outing further supported that argument

Elsewhere, there was a brief cameo for Gerard Deulofeu, though Tito Vilanova waited until late into the second half to give him his run out, despite the growing excitement over the cocky forward. Notably, Vilanova had strong words for Deulofeu in his pre-match press conference, commenting that he needs to learn to focus less on himself as an individual on the pitch and more in the collective effort of his team.

The Barcelona coach comes across as a no-nonsense kind of guy, and his decision to ignore the euphoria around Deulofeu and omit him from the starting lineup could be seen an attempt to remind the youngster of his standing at the club in comparison to the multiple trophy winners currently gracing the first team. Deulofeu’s inflated self-importance is perhaps the one stumbling block that could prevent him from achieving the success his talent deserves, so the dose of realism sent towards him by Vilanova should serve him well if he chooses to pay attention.

It seems Barcelona games can no longer pass without a new landmark being achieved, and there was one such moment of note late into tonight’s tie. In bringing on Barça B’s Carles Planas for Adriano in the second half, Tito Vilanova handed out his first senior debut to a Barcelona academy player in his time in charge of the Catalans. Taking a glance at Barça B and even their Juvenil A side and beyond, the tradition of churning out young talent by the bucket looks unlikely to change in the near future, and Planas will no doubt prove to be the first of many academy graduates to fulfil their dream at the Camp Nou under Vilanova. Long may it continue.

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