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Albanian striker Rey Manaj scored a second half hat-trick as FC Barcelona beat fellow Catalan outfit Gimnàstic Tarragona 4-0 at the Estadi Johan Cruyff in the first game back after the summer break. Alex Collado scored the other in a much tougher challenge than the scoreline might suggest, with three of the four goals coming in the last five minutes.
With the beautiful sight of fans being allowed to attend a game for the first time since lockdown, the game largely served as a chance for the players to get back into their rhythm. But particularly in the second half, Ronald Koeman also used it as a chance to get a closer look at some of the options available to him in the B squad.
And judging by some of the performances, he’s going to have a lot of things to ponder – and they’re all good things.
Experienced starting line-up
Other than Alejandro Balde making his first team debut at left back, the Dutch boss started the game with a largely familiar defence and midfield.
Neto was in goal, with Sergiño Dest, Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti completing the back line. In midfield, Sergi Roberto, in his first game back from injury, was joined by Miralem Pjanic and Riqui Puig.
It was up front where the team looked most unfamiliar. Peke Polo, back with Barça B after a loan year at UD Poblense, Jordi Escobar, on loan from Almeria, and the new Austrian signing from Rapid Vienna, Yusuf Demir, were all playing Barça first team football for the first time ever.
Nástic down to ten
The game itself was largely one-way traffic from the word go. But the man of the half was Tarragona keeper Manu García with a string of superb saves. The one that denied Sergi Roberto particularly stood out.
The visitors were reduced to ten men just before the break when Quintanilla hacked down Riqui Puig. A reckless tackle it was, although even the Barça players looked surprised to see the referee pull out the red.
Koeman sent out a totally different eleven for the second half, with Alex Collado the only player with a competitive game for Barça under his belt, and goalkeeper Iñaki Peña and Japanese winger Hiroki Abe the only others who had even played a friendly.
Arnau Comas, Nils Mortimer and Gavi are three players who grew up at La Masia. Later arrivals at the club were Argentine defender Ramos Mingo, Brazilians Igor Gomes and Matheus Pereira, Senegalese centre back Moussa Ndiaye and Albanian international Rey Manaj.
For all of them 21 July 2021 will be a very memorable day. At least some of them are sure to be names we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future. Watch this space.
As Barça piled forward, it was Manaj who finally broke the deadlock with an unstoppable turn and smash from a tight angle. Not only the first Albanian to play for Barça, but also the first to score! And after very nearly getting a second from a fine header, he did clinch another when he chested in a sweet assist from Hiroki Abe.
That goal made it 3-0, Collado having extended Barça’s lead with a long-range strike and a touch of fortune as it took a deflection to confound the goalkeeper.
Barça were on a roll, and so was Rey Manaj. Ndiaye was brought down in the box and the Albanian converted the penalty to round off a spectacular hat-trick.
Barça are back in action at the same time, same place on Saturday against Girona before they head off to Germany
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