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Red Bull Salzburg provided an extremely competitive preseason test for FC Barcelona on Wednesday, and ended up inflicting the first defeat of the preseason on the Catalans - the winner coming with practically the last kick of the game.
It was such an intense game of football that it was sometimes hard to remember it was ‘just’ a friendly, and despite the result, it was precisely the kind of game that the team needed at this stage of their preparations.
What's more, it was also the first Barça game in almost a year and a half that was played in front of a packed stadium. The Red Bull Arena was packed to the rafters, and the pouring rain was going to do nothing to dampen the spirits of the 30,000+ crowd.
It was beautifully refreshing, and hopefully it won’t be long before we are able to enjoy similar scenes in Catalonia.
Red Bull show their wings
Ronald Koeman opted for a similar line-up to the one that opened against Stuttgart, with Gavi and Nico joining Sergio Busquets in midfield.
Barça started brightly. Memphis was especially lively up front, and Ronald Araujo was particularly rock-like at the back, but Salzburg didn’t take long to get into the game and did so with greater and greater intensity as the first half progressed.
They’re a team that is already two games into their league season, while Barça are still experimenting as they warm up for bigger things to come, and that sometimes showed.
Noah Okafor squandered a couple of excellent chances before Luka Sucic (a Barça fan, curiously enough) finally put the home side in the lead with an absolute howitzer of a strike from outside the area. The deflection off De Jong did nothing to make the task any easier for Neto, and the Austrians led 1-0 at the interval.
This was certainly proving to be the biggest test of the preseason so far, and after the break Salzburg continued to cause problems. The shot count was roughly equal but wasn’t telling the full story. The most dangerous of those chances were falling to the hosts.
Barça finally equalised with nine minutes to go, and in the most bizarre of fashions. Sergiño Dest struck from long range and the ball bounced first off a defender and then off Martin Braithwaite and into the goal.
His first game back after the break and the Dane had scored – albeit not entirely intentionally!
Final second woe
But just when it looked like the spoils were to be shared, Salzburg produced a winner with the final move of the game. After Chukwubuike Adamu’s initial shot was rifled onto the post, US international Brenden Aaronson was quickest to the rebound and that was a 2-1 win.
This may have only been a friendly, but the stadium celebrated as if it had been a Champions League win. To get the real thing this season, Salzburg still have to negotiate their way past Brondby and on the strength of what we saw today, they have every chance of doing so.
They gave certainly FC Barcelona a fabulous preseason test today. Next up for the blaugrana is Juventus in the Joan Gamper Trophy on Sunday.
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