El Centrocampista

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED – Barça edge tricky L’Hospitalet encounter

By Lee Roden

FC Barcelona managed to claim a hard fought victory against a stubborn L’Hospitalet side in the Copa Del Rey last night.

It was a game that played out much like most encounters of minnow vs. might in cup football, with the home side forming a defensive wall and receiving wave after wave of Barcelona attack. In the end, it was inevitable that one bullet would pierce the armour, and Iniesta took the shot.

For those of you unaware, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat is a small city adjoined to Barcelona. Blink and you might miss it however, as it’s easy to mistake the area for a part of the Barcelona city itself, and indeed the two areas have long overlapped through the expansion of the Catalan capital.

Our readers will perhaps be most familiar with the area if they have ever visited the Camp Nou, as the Collblanc metro station closest to the Barça stadium is actually in L’Hospitalet.

It was a short journey for Guardiola’s men then, in fact, they probably could have walked. Let’s not get bogged down in transport though, as the important fact made evident by the Barça arrival at L’Hospitalet was the strength of the squad they chose to bring: Iniesta, Pique, Puyol, Fabregas, Villa, Xavi, all were present in the initial squad.

Indeed, Gerard Pique was due to be on the bench, but due to an administration error, at the last minute the referee informed the teams that the squad should be made up of 16, not 18 players as initially suggested. Pique was given the night off as a result. Maybe he walked home?

To return to the match itself, the first half was typical of many a Barcelona cup outing against opposition of this stature. L’Hospitalet chose to sit deep and defend, and they done it well for the most part. With Cesc Fabregas playing in the Messi-esque false 9 role, the job of taking the majority of the shots on goal fell to David Villa, and he forced keeper Moragon into several saved in the first 45, and indeed in the ding minutes of the second half too.

Barça were knocking on the door more and more, and had changed tactics in favour of shooting from distance, after persisting initially with close football in the box. There was nothing brutish about the goal that eventually broke the deadlock; Andres Iniesta received the ball with his back to goal at the edge of the box and had soon wheeled away in celebration.

After picking up the ball, Iniesta turned quickly, showed some quick feet, then delivered a beautiful strike into the top corner of the net. The wall was broken, and broken by a thing of beauty.

And so with Barça one up there was unlikely to be a way back for the smaller team. They did have a few attempts on the counter-attack in the second half, but were largely wasteful and never managed to cause real danger (though they did draw a photo-op moment from Pinto, who acrobatically dove to force a shot from distance over the bar).

Barça did what Barça always do, and perhaps the quality found in their line-up caught the opposition by surprise, who may have been expecting a team more like Barça B (though Barça’s B team still reside one division above L’Hospitalet).

One B team member who did feature prominently was youngster Tello. In handing the youth a start, Guardiola gave his 20h first team debut to a Barça youngster in his time at the club. Remarkable. But what’s even more remarkable is that the 21st, Thiago Alcantara’s younger brother Rafinha, was also given his debut in the same game.

And there ends anything spectacular about this game. Iniesta’s strike and some historical facts aside, it was relatively uninspiring and not one for the archives. Perhaps the biggest question will be over David Villa, who despite working hard and showing some good touches throughout, still didn’t look quite up to scratch.

Perhaps we should play devil’s advocate here and ask the question: is the small injury Guardiola told the media that Villa is carrying really enough to even mention, or is it a clever tactic by Barcelona in an attempt to justify or indeed mask the player’s lack of confidence at the moment? Ultimately, we’ll probably never find out, especially if the ban on personal interviews with Barcelona players continues.



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