Barcelona welcomed a new generation into their starting XI on Saturday.
Ernesto Valverde rested the first-team against Huesca to have them fresh for the crucial Champions League quarter-final tie against Manchester United. Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto were omitted from the squad whereas Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez served suspension.
This meant that some of the youth players from Barcelona B were presented an opportunity to prove their worth in a La Liga game.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the only sure-fire starter who was named in the first XI. Barcelona B players Riqui Puig, Moussa Wague and Jean-Clair Todibo made their La Liga debut on Saturday. We take a look at how they performed.
Passes (Success rate): 48 (92%)
A good interpretation of space is clearly one of the best attributes of Puig’s game. The diminutive figure in Barcelona’s midfield was attracting the press, then setting team-mates into the clear with well-judged passes throughout the game. The 19-year-old completed 44 of the 48 passes he attempted, most of which were vertical in nature.
Puig’s small frame automatically makes him vulnerable in a physical duel. But physicality is secondary when you are technically gifted. Players like Andres Iniesta and Messi have dominated the game despite their relatively small frame.
But Puig’s physicality is such a huge disadvantage that it does not allow him to spread his wings in midfield. The youngster was unable to finish off promising runs as he was constantly bullied off the ball. This is something Puig must work on to improve his game.
Moment of the game
Puig set up Ousmane Dembele with a peach of a pass that would have made Iniesta proud. However, the Frenchman failed to capitalise.
Passes (Success rate): 49 (88%)
Successful dribbles: 3
Tackles won: 2
Moussa Wague did not commit any mistakes in defence and looked solid throughout. He linked up well in attack and caused threat on the wing.
The right-back, who played as a wing-back, has the potential to be a starter for Barcelona in two seasons or so and despite his quality, Nelson Semedo should consider his position to be under threat.
At times the Nigeria international showed lack of confidence going forward, especially in the first half. Although the 20-year-old impressed with his dribbles, he could have done a lot better had he trusted himself rather than opting for the safe option.
Wague does have the quality to take players on the wing and should do it more often.
Moment of the game
Ezequiel Avila was through on Barcelona’s goal in the dying moments of the game and Wague – who was always second favourite to the ball given Avila’s head-start – managed to nick the ball with an inch-perfect last-ditch tackle.
Passes (Success rate): 68 (96%)
Tackles won: 8
Aerials won: 2
Todibo was one of the best players on the pitch on Saturday. The 19-year-old was rock solid in defence and prevented Ter Stegen from being called into action very often.
The Frenchman won all the eight tackles he attempted and was not once dribbled past. David Ferreiro and Moi Gomez had a tough time dealing with Todibo and he really could be battling for a spot in the squad in the next couple of seasons. A good game against Huesca may not convince Barca to abandon their pursuit of Matthijs de Ligt, but may give them pause for thought.
Todibo hardly put a foot wrong and didn’t display any clear signs of weaknesses. But if one were to raise the bar and nit-pick, it would be in regards to his decision-making.
At times Todibo was caught out of position as he tried to venture forward. Jeison Murillo covered for the Frenchman and ensured that any danger was steered clear of Barcelona’s area.
This, however, should not present huge concern and Todibo can comfortably master the positioning aspect of his game once he enjoys more minutes.
Moment of the game
Todibo did not have any particular stand-out moment on the game, but the defender was solid throughout the 90 minutes and put in a shift he should be proud of.
Calling out the youngsters for not getting the job done at Huesca would be harsh as they did put in good shifts and had impressive debuts. In fact, veteran attacker Kevin-Prince Boateng deserves the majority of the blame as he was plain awful.
Despite the draw, the fixture worked in Barcelona’s favour as they got to rest tired legs for the United clash and provided the youngsters with a morale booster.
Barcelona youngster Riqui Puig wants to continue growing at Barcelona and stay at the club for a long time.
The 19-year-old started in his team’s 0-0 draw against Huesca on Saturday and put in a promising performance.
Puig was happy with the opportunity and is hopeful of many more chances to come in the future. “I only want to stay here,” he said after the game, according to Marca.
“It’s my team, it’s my parents’ team and I’ve been here since I was a child. If it’s up to me, I’ll stay.
“I think I have to play more with Barcelona B and take advantage of chances whenever I get one.”
He has featured for Barca in the Copa del Rey regularly, but the midfielder was particularly delighted when he had a chance to represent the club in a La Liga fixture.
“La Liga Santander is much more special than the Copa del Rey,” he admitted.
“Few youth players have the chance to play in the league. I’m happy and it’s a very special day for me.”
Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal admitted that their Champions League quarter-final fixture against Manchester United on Tuesday is priority, as the Catalan giants settled for a goal-less draw against bottom placed Huesca.
The Chilean lauded the efforts of Barcelona’s youngsters after Ernesto Valverde fielded their youngest starting line-up of the season.
Vidal accepted the draw to be a fair result and was satisfied about the fact that they avoided defeat.
“It was a different Barcelona, the younger ones played today and they did quite well, it was very difficult, it was an intense match and I think the draw is fair,” Vidal said, according to beIN Sports.
“We had never played these three midfielders, everything was different and the ball did not run much, the field was dry, but the important thing is that we didn’t lose.
“All of us who are here and those who did not come are thinking about Tuesday’s game, we want the League and it is close but the Champions is a dream.
“There are many matches left and they are all difficult.”