The Tito Vilanova era has arrived. The new manager and his team have started strong with a 2-1 win away over SV Hamburg in the first of their five summer European friendlies. In his first game at the Barça helm, Vilanova sent out all eight of his available first-team players - Pinto, Alves, Mascherano, Bartra, Adriano, Dos Santos, Alexis and Afellay- and a compliment of Barça B players - Deulofeu, Espinosa and Sergi Roberto . The manager’s game plan proved effective and Alves hammered home the first goal of the night on five minutes. Arslan brought his team level shortly after but the youngster, Deulofeu, grabbed what turned out to be the winning goal minutes later.
After the restart, Tito made as many as nine changes, and also gave Oier some time in goal towards the end, meaning that all 21 of the players that travelled to Germany got to play. But it was not all good news. Marc Muniesa suffered an injury to his right knee. The team will now return to Barcelona for training ahead of the next friendly, in Morocco on Saturday night.
Alves early doors
Vilanova opted for a 4-3-3 system with Deulofeu and Alexis out wide and Afellay acting a ‘false centre forward’. Despite the change of manager, the summer break and the absence of so many regular first-team members, Barça have clearly not lost any of their shape, and from the start dominated the possession and threaded an impressive arrays of passes together. It only took five minutes for the deadlock to be broken. From Barça’s very first corner, the ball was slipped back by Alexis to Alves, and the Brazilian sent a thunderbolt of a shot flying past a hapless Adler. The perfect start.
End to end
When the first goal went in, Hamburg had barely touched the ball, but the Bundesliga outfit soon regrouped and were able to get things back on level terms after 20 minutes. Berg’s initial strike hit the crossbar, but Arslan was there to convert the rebound and make it 1-1. The goal did nothing to dent the Barça spirit, who in Alves had the commanding figure in an experimental XI bereft of all of the Spanish internationals
Moments after the referee had correctly disallowed an Alexis goal, it was the full back who won the ball that led to Barça’s second, converted by Deulofeu after Adler had failed to deal cleanly with a previous Afellay shot.
Nine changes at half time
Vilanova made nine changes to his team after the break, with only Pinto and Sergi Roberto still on the field. The half commenced with the most negative moment of the night for FC Barcelona. Marc Muniesa, during a move down the left wing, injured his right knee and was replaced by Bartra – an unusual circumstance because the substitute had already played in the first half!
Oier relieved Pinto in goal to towards the end of the game, meaning the entire bench got a run-out, and the action ended with Barça furiously searching for their third. Lobato came closest, when he had done the most difficult thing by beating Adler but then missed the shot. But it never really looked like there was going to be anything other than an away win in this match. It may have been a bit if a dampener for Hamburg’s 125th anniversary celebrations, but the performance meant Barça could leave the Imtech Arena with plenty of positive feelings.