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Barça continued their preparations with the second friendly of the preseason at Nice on Saturday night. They travelled there straight from Birmingham, and there were plenty of signs that things are coming together in the wonderful Allianz Riviera. They were always in control, and despite going down to a first half penalty, they drew level in the second, also from the spot, and could easily have gone on to win the game, had there been a little more luck on their side.
Ten of the starting eleven were first team players, including debutants Mathieu and Rafinha. Adama was the only Barça B player on the pitch.
And from the outset, FCB controlled the possession in their time-honoured fashion, with Luis Enrique opting for a 4-3-3 system, and Olympique happy just keeping things tight at the back and letting their visitors take the initiative. But the home side still managed to get the first shot in, a 6th minute free kick that brought out the best in Ter Stegen.
There were signs of what the squad has been working on at St George’s Park, such as getting the ball out of defence through the goalkeeper and centre backs, applying pressure as soon as they lost the ball, and always looking for the killer pass to the forwards.
But it was Nice who took the lead through Cvitanich, who had been the victim of a Piqué push (min 20). The well-ordered French outfit clearly intended to do something more than be a sparring partner for the Catalans, and the goal inflated their confidence.
An Iniesta free kick on the half-hour was the first clear-cut chance for FCB, followed by Jordi Alba hitting the bar with what looked more like a cross. There was a major setback when Montoya hobbled off with a hurt ankle, but with Adama having a terrific half on the right, Barça were well in command, and with a little more accuracy in front of goal, would not have been trailing at the break.
Luis Enrique made seven changes at half-time, with Rakitic coming on for his debut and Xavi fitting in just behind the attacking threesome of Halilovic, Munir and Deulofeu. But Nice continued to defend strongly, with Hassen on fine form in goal until he had to leave through injury after 62 minutes. One of the first things his replacement Yohann Cardinale did was pick the ball out of the back of the net. Munir had gone down in the area, and Xavi made no mistake from the spot.
Olympique were out of fuel. It was all Barça for the last half hour, with Samper, Xavi and Rakitic combining well in the middle. Sandro also had a lively half, and hit the post with eight minutes to go, while Bartra went on a spectacular last minute run, but didn’t find the target with his shot.
And so it ended all square. Barça can return from their trip to England and France knowing that at this stage of the preseason, and with several players yet to return from holiday, things are coming together nicely.
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