NextGen Series: Celtic 1-3 FC Barcelona
Celtic avoid Catalan catastrophe but are defeated by Barça in the NextGen Series.
Celtic’s under-19’s slumped to a 3-1 defeat last night in their first home game of the NextGen Series.
The game was a much tighter affair than many had anticipated, though ultimately the Barcelona youths had too much for the Parkhead side.
The Barcelona under-19’s proved to be a faithful representation of the familiar Barça philosophy, with much of their best play coming from smart midfield moves in tight spaces.
Even in the warm-up, the youths were using the same techniques as their Camp Nou superiors. Players took part in rondos, a type of piggy in the middle that encourages one touch passing and defensive positioning.
This training method in particular has become synonymous with Pep Guardiola’s era at the Camp Nou, and despite its simplicity, is often credited with helping the team to develop their patented brand of football.
Celtic coach John Kennedy highlighted the seemingly simple Barça approach, and noted that “they do nothing fancy, and it’s effective. We need to aspire to be there and I think we’re more than capable.”
The match started with some uncharacteristically hurried distribution from the Barça players. Celtic’s early pressure meant the Barcelona backline were regularly forced to commit a Camp Nou no-no and play the ball in the air out of danger.
The Catalans have yet to begin their season, perhaps accounting for their lack of sharpness in the early minutes. They soon settled however, and much like their famous superiors, it was their midfielders who began to shine.
Number six Patricio Gabarron started to win the ball back regularly, and his calm passing was often at the heart of Barca’s most threatening moves in the first half.
The opening goal came from a different Barça star however, number seven Ernesto Cornejo calmly cushioned the ball into the back of the net after an excellent low cross from the right.
Cornejo was named "Best Striker" at the PSV Eindhoven tournament in early August, and he grew in stature as the game progressed. His intelligent runs and quick feet often caused the Celtic defence problems, forcing several corners throughout the game.
Celtic responded well to the Barça goal. Number 10 Filip Twardzik wriggled his way out of pressure from the Barcelona forwards, and his excellent cross field pass was picked up by number nine Anthony Watt. Watt fooled several defenders before thundering the ball into the Barça net to level the tie.
As the half-time whistle went, Celtic would have been happy with their timely equaliser. Barça coach Oscar Garcia obviously said something to his players during the break however, as they began the second half at a much higher tempo than the first.
Barça were soon in front after the Celtic defenders failed to clear a seemingly harmless low cross into their box. Sloppy errors like this prove costly in European ties, and Celtic will be disappointed to concede in such an easy manner.
The third came soon after, when Barca’s Jean Marie Dongou fired home from the left of the box. The striker was later substituted to thunderous applause, with the Parkhead crowd showing class in their appreciation of the hard working forward.
After the third Barcelona were happy to control the tie by keeping the ball to themselves, though in truth there wasn’t a huge gulf in quality between the two sides on the night.
It is worth noting that several star players from last year’s Barça side have now been moved up to the club's B team. Indeed, exciting fifteen year old leftback Alejandro Grimaldo was originally billed to appear at the tournament, though it appears that he will no longer feature due to being promoted to Barça B last week. The lack of cohesion sometimes displayed in the Barça defence may be accounted for by such losses of important players.
Despite the defeat, Celtic will be encouraged by the willingness of their players to move the ball along the ground. They often looked equal to their opponents and the two sides were only separated by moments of real quality in the end.
FC Barcelona will be thrilled that their next generation of players seem to have a clear understanding of the philosophy of the club. With Pep Guardiola’s unashamed love of midfielders, the young stars in the centre of the park will set their ambitions high over the next few years.