Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

La Masia Win UEFA Youth League

April 19th, 2014

Munir El Haddadi

The first team might be in crisis, but all is not lost this season for FC Barcelona. The inaugural UEFA Youth League, pitted the best U-19 youth teams of the 32 clubs qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League against each other.

The league was formed in response to the success that the innovative NextGen Series tournament had last season. The efficacy of the Spanish youth system was proven yet again with each Spanish team in the competition topping their respective groups. FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad combined for a record of 15 wins, 5 draws and 4 losses in the group stages with FC Barcelona scoring 20 and only conceding 5 in their first 6 matches.

FC Barcelona proceeded to march on in the competition, defeating, Arsenal, Schalke and Kobenhavn on their way to the final in Nyon where they unceremoniously disposed of Portuguese side Benfica, winning 3-0.

Highlight of the tournament for the Catalan club comes in the form of tournament top scorer Munir El Haddadi. The 18 year old Spaniard made the tournament look easy, finishing top of the goals and assists category. Haddadi scored five more goals than anyone else in the competition, including two goals in the final, one of which was a stunning lob from behind the half-way line.

The tournament was proof that the production line at La Masia is as strong as ever and the post tournament interviews with the young superstars shows that not only are the future generations top talents, but they maintain the humility and character we have come to expect of Spanish youngsters.

Munir El Haddadi:

“It was a great performance. We worked well as a team and everyone was desperate to achieve this success. It is a reward for the work we have put in. It is a very special honour [to win the trophy] and we deserved it. I wanted to pass to my team-mate [for the third goal], but then I saw the goalkeeper off his line so I tried to lob him and it went in. We have great players in our team with great qualities and that helps us to win trophies.”

Vicente del Bosque’s Spain

July 2nd, 2013
An unfamiliar experience for the Spaniards.

An unfamiliar experience for the Spaniards.

Let me preface everything I’m about to say with the fact that Spain had another fantastic tournament. Losing in a final is tough but the fact that La Roja found themselves in another final is a feat that cannot be taken lightly. I am not one of those calling this the end of Tiki Taka and Spain’s dominance but I hope to lay out the issues as I see them as well as a few solutions to Spain’s, and Barcelona’s recent malaise.

There are those of you who are already raging at my last sentence but the fact is that Barcelona were utterly dominated by Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League Semi-Final and Spain were similarly disposed of by Brazil yesterday. Those who thought that the Champions League was a fluke or just a blip in the success of Spanish football have to be wondering after the Confederation Cup Final where the experience and world class talent of the Spanish side was dominated by a young Brazilian side (albeit with an entire country behind them).

Xavi & Torres are both past their prime yet remain as undisputed starters.

Xavi & Torres are both past their prime yet remain as undisputed starters.

There are two major areas of concern and they are consistent across the national team and FC Barcelona. One is the efficacy of starting Xavi at the end of another marathon season and the other is the questions about Pique’s defensive abilities. No one respects and loves Xavi more than me but the fact is that he is 33 years old now and his body is not what it used to be. In the last three years since his thirtieth birthday, the midfield maestro has played 172 games, that is a game every six days on a body that is past its prime and he is expected to set the pace for Spain and Barcelona’s possession game and high pressure off the ball. Iniesta, his partner in crime, seems to be improving from year to year, leading La Liga in assists this campaign and being honored as the second best player in the Confederations Cup.

It is safe to say that Gerard Pique misses Carles Puyol. The charismatic cave-man leader has been out injured the majority of this season and his absence was felt keenly in both the Champions League Semi-Final and the Confederation Cup Final. Pique’s distribution and ability on the ball is as good as it’s ever been, but when Spain are not at their dynamic, possession-keeping best he and his teammates have been found wanting.

So what to do? My biggest criticism of Vicente del Bosque has been how predictable his squads have been over the last four plus years. His teams have rarely varied further than his group of fourteen favored players which include: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Puyol, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, Villa, Torres, Navas, and Fabregas. The likes of Silva, Cazorla, Mata and Javi Martinez have been fringe players for a while now. Brazil beat Spain on Sunday with a squad that did not include any of their senior players (Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho were not even in the squad).

The next generation of Spaniards are ready to contribute.

The next generation of Spaniards are ready to contribute.

Some new blood is needed in the national team, and luckily no country has more young talent then Spain. Two players that are ready to make the leap to the first team have tasted international success already this summer. Isco Alarcon and Thiago Alcantara led the Spanish U21 side to European Championship glory this summer and look ready to add a new dynamic to the national team. Thiago can provide the metronome passing that Spain have come to expect, taking some of the pressure off of Xavi and brings more flair and creativity to the table than the thirty-three year old. Having Isco and running at opposition defenses will give Iniesta a dynamic threat to work with and create more opportunities for La Roja.

There are more youngsters rocketing through the youth ranks, watch for Martin Montoya and Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal to challenge Alvaro Arbeloa for his spot, a spot which should have been contested long before now. Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez maybe a few years away but both could provide a nice alternative to Spain’s striking conundrum at the moment. Inigo Martinez could slot in at centre back sooner or later as well, the youngster plays in a similar style to Carles Puyol. Regardless the future is bright for La Roja, hopefully Vicente del Bosque sees this too.

A yellow MiniEstadi sees Villarreal’s men put three past Barça’s kids (0-3)

June 3rd, 2013


“Benviendos al Madrigal” (Welcome to Madrigal) read a banner at MiniEstadi and this afternoon the Barça B-teams home stadium did feel more like El Madrigal, the home stadium of Villarreal. Over 10,000 Villarreal fans had travelled to Barcelona and MiniEstadi, who normally sees around 4,000 spectators a game, to see their team fight for promotion to the first division. As the teams walked out it was more or less impossible to hear the Barça hymn that was played as the cheers from the Villarreal fans was louder. A strange feeling for the Barça boys, playing at home but surrounded by opponents fans. However the Catalans wouldn’t give up just because of that and would create the first chance of the game. In a first half that saw very entertaining football with the ball going back and forth with both teams getting close to take the lead. Standing out was Barça defender Edgar lé who time after time interrupted Villarreal’s chances with a fantastic defensive work. Deulofeu on the other side of the pitch made a few runs into the box and was only millimeters from giving his team the lead. For Villarreal it was Pereira who stood for most of the chances and he would also be the one putting the visitors ahead just before halftime.

In the second half Villarreal started to take over just as much as they had in the stands, and it was mostly thanks to Edgar lé and Oier that the numbers on the score-board in the end didn’t get bigger than 3-0. The 2-0 goal saw Perbet with a fantastic cross finding Bruno in the penalty box who easy could put the ball past a chance less Oier. Shortly after that it was Perbet himself who put the ball past Oier but not after the Barça keeper had made a great save on his first attempt. With Oier down Perbet put the ball in the goal on the rebound and let MiniEstadi, which for this special afternoon was renamed the El Madrigal. Barça B couldn’t find their way back after that even if Edgar lé kept on impressing in the Catalan defense. In the later part of the game Villarreal brought on Olof Mellberg and Marcos Senna and the game was now literately between men and kids. Especially when Barça put on Dongou who went up against Mellberg, a battle with 18 years age difference. And this evening the kids were just not good enough to prevent the men from winning relatively easily 3-0. For Barça B the loss mean that they drop in the table to a 9th spot as RM Castilla passes them. For Villarreal the win means that next home game vs Almeria, who also won, will decide which of the two wins direct promotion to the first division

Line ups

Barça B:

Oier, Balliu, Ilie, Lombán (Joan Román ’60), Deulofeu (Agostinho ’82), Espinosa, Sergio Roberto, Rafinha, Edgar lé, Muniesa and Araujo (Dongou ’72)

Bench: Masip, S.Gómez, Patric, Agostinho, Gus Ledes, Joan Román and Dongou

Villarreal: Juan Carlos, Mario, Musacchio, Perbet (Senna ’77), Uche (Gómez ’19), Cani, Manu Trigueros, Juame Costa, Bruno, Pereira and Íñiguez (Mellberg ’65)

Bench: Mariño, Joan Oriol, Mellberg, Javi Venta, Marcos Senna, Moi Gómez and Gerard Moreno


Barça B: Araujo ’59
Villarreal: Mussacchio ’19, Mario ’37, Gómez ’67, Costa ’82, Mellberg ’84 and Senna ’86

Goals: (0-3)

Barça B: -
Villarreal: Pereira ’45, Bruno ’52 and Perbet ’56.

Spectators: 13, 826 (Best of the season at MiniEstadi)

Another draw for Barça B

May 6th, 2013


After a bittersweet draw away to Real Murcia, Barcelona B took on Lugo at home at the MiniEstadi this past Saturday afternoon. The first minutes of the game did not see too much action with the Barça boys controlling most of the ball. In the 8th minute however the first chance arrived after a great run from Planas and Espinosa made it 1-0 for the home team. Espinosa who would keep on impressing in one of his best games this season and later also winning his side a penalty, showed up great skills of technique as well as an eye for goal. Another Barça youngster who impressed was Sergi Roberto who created quite a few great chances but got to see the ball go just wide more than once. However the Barça boys would extend their lead in the 22th minute as Espinosa was brought down in the penalty box. Defender Lombán did not disappoint from the spot and it was 2-0. It looked like there were good odds for a comfortable win with Unibet, thanks to Edgar lé’s impressive performance in the Barça defense. However as the Barça boys relaxed a bit to much in the end of the first half, Lugo player Victor Díaz decided to make it 2-1 with a header in the 44th minute of the first half.

As the 2nd half started, Barça B decided to replace Sergi Roberto with Luis Alberto, who started very alert, creating a dangerous chance in his first minute on the pitch. But the game kept on in a very calm manner with the home team controlling most things but lacking a killer final pass. Although without creating to many chances in the second half, it did feel like MiniEstadi would finally witness a win this evening. The two giants on the pitch being Espinosa and Edgar lé, two players that haven’t seen a lot of playing time this season. Both showing why they should be starters with their performances. But just as FC Barcelona B have been doing more or less the entire season they relaxed to much and with one minute to go Lugo’s Óscar Díaz was left to free outside of the penalty box and with a perfect shot leaving Masip chance less the visitors in the end came away with a point and Barça keeps on having trouble winning.

Line ups 

Barça B:

Masip, Balliu, Ilie, Planas, Lombán, Espinosa (Lobato m.70), Sergi Roberto (Luis Alberto m.46), Rafinha, Kiko (Joan Román m.82), Edgar lé and Araujo

Bench: Bañuz, Sergi Gómez, Luis Alberto, Patric, Lobato, Gus Ledes and Joan Román

CD Lugo: José Juan, V.Marco, C.Pita, Javi Rey, Airam (Óscar Díaz m.55), Manu, Victor Díaz, Diego Tonetto (Iago Díaz m.82), R. Durán (Héctor Font m.60), M. Pavón and Iván Pérez

Bench: Joel, Fran Pérez, Óscar Díaz, Héctor Front, Melli Belfortti, Iago Díaz and Tena


Barça B: Planas ’65, Luis Alberto ’70
CD Lugo:  Javi Rey (m.38), Pita (m.48) and Tonetto (m.67).

Spectators: 3.585

Late Bellerin goals hands Arsenal win over Wolves

May 4th, 2013


Arsenal 2 – 1 Wolves

Hector Bellerin was the hero as Arsenal U21s came from behind to beat Wolves U21s at Underhill on Tuesday.

As the match seemed to be heading for a draw, Bellerin took matters into his own hands in the 88th minute and scored a superb solo goal, securing three points for the Gunners.

The 18-year-old, who also scored a late winner against Manchester United U21s last month, will surely have forced his way into Arsene Wenger’s thoughts as he plans for next season, and how he’ll cope with the likely departure of Bacary Sagna.

Bellerin was the only Spaniard in the squad, with Jon Toral still missing through injury and Ignasi Miquel not being named in Steve Gatting’s side.

With neither side having anything to play for, the game took a while to get going. It wasn’t until the 26th minute that the home side had a shot on target, with Sanchez Watt firing straight at Aljaz Cotman and Nico Yennaris going close shortly afterwards.

The rest of the opening period saw few chances of note created by either side, but the game exploded into life just after half time when Jake Cassidy headed home a Sam WInnall cross to put the visitors ahead.

Josh Vickers, making his debut in goal for Arsenal U21s, was forced into action immediately after the goal and made a superb stop to keep out Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s header.

Arsenal gradually started to impose themselves on the game and were rewarded in the 54th minute when Chuba Akpom tapped home from four yards after good link up play between Jermaine Meade and Sanchez Watt.

Both sides seemed content to play out a draw. Bellerin had other ideas though, and when Nico Yennaris found the Spaniard after Wolves had failed to deal properly with a cross, he burst into the area and smashed the ball into the top corner of the goal.

Although there is no chance for the Gunners to finish in a play-off position, they will be looking to finish the season on a high when they take on Liverpool in their final match on Friday.

Suso comes out on top in battle of the Spaniards at Anfield

April 16th, 2013


Liverpool U21s 3 – 2 Arsenal U21s

Liverpool U21s defeated Arsenal U21s 3-2 in an enthralling encounter at Anfield on Monday night, with Suso and Hector Bellerin both putting in displays that will enhance their bids for first team action at their respective clubs.

The home side’s win moves them closer to the top three places in the elite group that would secure qualification for the end-of-season play offs while all but killing off Arsenal’s chances of doing the same.

The match was played at a ferocious pace in one of the world’s most iconic stadiums and those in attendance were also lucky enough to see some top quality finishing from both sides.

Liverpool started brightly and were keen to stamp their authority on the game, with Cadiz-born midfielder Suso firing an effort just wide of Wojciech Szczesny’s post.  Not to be outdone though, fellow Spaniard Hector Bellerin went down the other end in one of his forays forward and had the ball in the back of the net but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Liverpool continued to apply the pressure and were eventually rewarded midway through the first half when Jordan Ibe raced clear of Bellerin on the left and crossed low for Morgan to sweep home.

The lead did not last long though and the Gunners were level within 100 seconds when a Thomas Eisfeld free-kick was not dealt with properly by the Liverpool defence and Chuba Akpom was on hand to poke the ball into the net past Danny Ward.

Both sides had more chances to score before the break, with Suso’s trickery causing all sorts of problems and Bellerin almost getting onto the end of a cross after good work by Kris Olsson.

The Gunners came out of the blocks quickest after the interval and had three chances to take the lead, while Liverpool seemed to have a legitimate penalty claim turned down after Akpom looked to have handled Suso’s corner. It mattered little though as the home side went ahead when Krisztian Adorjan sent an unstoppable effort from distance past a helpless Szczesny.

Again Arsenal reacted quickly to the setback and within three minutes found themselves level. Serge Gnabry bought himself a yard of space with a lovely drag back at the edge of the area and before looping his shot over the keeper’s head into the top corner.

Chances continued to be carved out for both sides throughout the second half and Suso was a menace for the Arsenal back line, his movement and creativity allowing Morgan and Adorjan to test the Gunners. It was indeed those two who settled the match in the 76th minute, with Morgan converting an inviting cross by Adorjan in the six yard box.

Unlike on the previous two occasions, Liverpool got men behind the ball and saw out the win to grab the vital three points.

Suso, who has already made 12 first team appearances for his club, will be happy with his effort, while Bellerin was once again one of the stand out performers in the Arsenal side, providing an attacking outlet throughout yet never shirking his defensive responsibilities.

FC Barcelona Continue to Write the Future

April 7th, 2013

On Saturday FC Barcelona played one of the best games I have seen from them this year. It was absolutely tremendous having Tito Vilanova back on the sidelines and the players responded brilliantly considering Messi, Xavi, Puyol, Mascherano and Busquets were all off of the pitch. The boss’ return, coupled by the fact that the League title is all but won by the Blaugrana meant that some of the youngsters received significant minutes and impressed. From the sixty-fifth minute when Gerard Deulofeu came on for hat-trick hero Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona played with four twenty-one year olds, one twenty-two year old, and one nineteen year old on the pitch, all six players coming from La Masia’s hallowed halls.

Yes, the headlines will be focused on Fabregas and Sanchez’s return to form and the fantastic return of Eric Abidal to the Camp Nou but neither story should overshadow the young players who ran circles around Mallorca. We were watching the future of this great club and to a large extent of Spain (five of the six youngsters were Spanish). Let’s see how they did.

Bartra vs Mallorca

Bartra is starting to get more chances with the first team and with Mascherano and Puyol out for an extended period he will continue to receive opportunities. He and Pique made for a solid pairing on Saturday and the twenty-one year old hardly put a foot wrong. He is strong in the air and took a couple opportunities to run up the pitch and join the attack, something I like to see from Barca center-backs. It will be interesting to see whether his performance is enough to earn him a starting spot against PSG this week.

Deulofeu vs Mallorca

The nineteen year old came on in the sixty-fifth minute and was suitably impressive. He seemed to make a concerted effort to pass where maybe he would have dribbled in Liga Adelante. He did run at defenders a few times though and won three corners while he was on from running to the end line and trying to deke past. Some might be disappointed by the performance but Deulofeu was composed and smart with the ball and it is something to build off of for the rest of the season.

Montoya vs Mallorca

Martin Montoya was on his wrong side, deferring to Dani Alves, but the twenty-one year old Spaniard was solid again in defense, proving yet again that there is life after the Brazilian full back leaves. He does not dazzle but he makes clever runs and provides a more reliable defensive option for Barca.

Tello vs Mallorca

I have no idea whether Tello will still be with FC Barcelona at this point next season, but if the Spaniard tests the transfer market he will have suitors lining up down the block. His pace is impressive enough but couple that with his technical skill and footballing intelligence and you have a player who could be better then Theo Walcott in the right system.

Thiago vs Mallorca

What can be said that hasn’t already been on this site? Thiago is one of my favorite players within the Spanish system and his performances this season should have reassured Cules that there is life after Xavi and Iniesta. He and Iniesta bossed the midfield against Mallorca and he continues to show his steel going into tackles. I’m so happy that Barcelona have kept him.

Barça B out of the losing streak (1-1)

April 7th, 2013


After three consecutive losses Barça B drew 1-1 against Mirandés on Saturday afternoon. The crowd at a sunny miniestadi got to see Barça B starting out strong, controlling the game. In the 14th minute Dongou would find the cross bar after an fantastic curve shot from outside the box. But that was as close as Barça B would come during the first half that mainly saw the both teams battling for the ball around the midfield. Mirandés however got closest before halftime as an error from Ilie saw Mujika run through coming one on one with Masip. But Sergi Gómez would come to the rescue running back to save the ball on the goal-line. Before the end of the first half MiniEstadi would also see Kiko get injured after a tackle and be replaced by Joan Román. Muneta was awarded a yellow card after a nasty tackle on Rafinha.

Barça B started the second half alert with Dongou getting through the Mirandés defense only to see his shot saved to a corner by the Mirandés keeper Goitia. And only two minutes later Luis Alberto gave the home team the lead with his 11th goal of the season after an incredible free-kick. It looked like Barça finally had control of the game and chance after chance gave the feeling that a second goal was on the way. However Mirandés did not give up and when given the chance they took it. As in the 61th minute Mujika found the goal after a corner. The goal gave more power to the visitors who almost took the lead a couple minutes later but good goalkeeping work from Masip kept the game level. The end of the game saw more Barça dominance and the blaugranas had a few chance through mainly Luis Alberto and Joan Román but the result would stay 1-1 until the final whistle.

Line ups 

Barça B: Masip, Balliu, Sergi Gómez, llie, Planas, Luis Alberto, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Kiko F, Muniesa and Dongou

Bench: Bañuz, Lombán, Espinosa, Edgar lé, Gus Ledes, Araujo and Joan Román

Mirandés: Goitia, Garmendia, Koikili, César Caneda, Martínez, Muneta, Alain, Mujika, Álvaro Corral, Díaz de Cerio and Ruper

Bench: Dani Jiménez, I. Agustín, Goiria, Pablo Infante, Luis Morán, Iribas and Aitor


FC Barcelona: Joan Román –> Kiko ‘40min, Gus Ledes –> llie ’67 min, Dongou –> Araujo ’81min

Mirandés: Muneta -> Infante ‘67min, Alain –> Agustín ’79 min, Mujika -> Iribas ’85 min


Barça B: Planas ’65, Luis Alberto ’70
Mirandés: Muneta ’43, Alain ’75, Martínez ’90+

Spectators: 3.870 

Southampton snatch win to end Arsenal run

April 6th, 2013


Southampton U21s 2 – 1 Arsenal U21s

A weakened Arsenal U21 side, captained by Spanish defender Ignasi Miquel, slipped to a 2-1 defeat away to Southampton on Thursday night – the Gunners first defeat in five elite group matches.

Manager Steve Gatting made six changes from the side that beat Manchester United last time out, with many U21 regulars, including Hector Bellerin, rested following their exertions in the NextGen Series in Lake Como last week.

Arsenal were quickest out of the blocks at the Silverlake Stadium with Zak Ansah and Sanchez Watt both going close with their efforts.

The Gunners were rewarded for their positive start in the 16th minute when Conor Henderson’s free-kick was only half cleared and fell nicely to Craig Eastmond. The midfielder unleashed an unstoppable effort past Paolo Gazzaniga from 14 yards.

The goal seemed to spark Southampton into life and Miquel was called into action to make an important block to prevent Lloyd Isgrove equalising.

The Saints drew level though after 26 minutes when Damien Martinez failed to hold onto a Harrison Reed effort and Jake Sinclair was on hand to sweep home.

The teams went into the break all square, which was probably a fair result for the first period. But the hosts started the second half quickly and went ahead in the 49th minute when Harrison Reed finished neatly from just outside the box.

The Gunners brought on Nico Yennaris and Kristoffer Olsson to add some spark into the midfield, but the Saints managed to shut out the visitors and hang on for the win.

Speaking about his decision to rest a number of regulars such as Bellerin, Steve Gatting told “The NextGen boys went to Lake Como and played two games in three days. We’ve got a game at Liverpool on Monday so this was about giving them a rest and giving some of the older boys some time on the pitch.”

Bellerin belter sees Arsenal grab last minute win over United

March 21st, 2013


Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester United

Hector Bellerin scored a sensational goal in the 90th minute as Arsenal U21s came from behind to beat Manchester United 2-1 at Underhill on Thursday.

The game was a largely scrappy affair with few clear cut chances for both sides but was lit up the quality of the finishing for the goals.

Steve Gatting made five changes to the team that drew with West Ham last time out, with French U21 international Francis Coquelin being given the opportunity to work on his match fitness. Midfielder Craig Eastmond was named on the bench after recovering from a foot injury sustained while on loan at Colchester United.

United, who hadn’t conceded a goal in five matches going into the match, were without Nick Powell, who scored for the Red Devils in the 2-2 draw when the two teams met last month, although they included Dutch U21 international Alex Buttner in their backline.

Arsenal started the first half the brightest, with Thomas Eisfeld and Connor Henderson having speculative efforts.  But in a fairly low-key affair, Ignasi Miquel was probably the stand out performer, coming to the Gunners’ rescue with a number of timely interceptions, and even motoring forward upfield on a mazy run.

It was United who took the lead however in the 40th minute when the game exploded into life. Charni Ekangamene strode forward from midfield and drilled home from 25 yards past a helpless Damien Martinez.

The Gunners were only behind for three minutes though as Henderson made no mistake from the penalty spot. In the build up, Sanchez Watt played in Bellerin and the right back was bundled over in the area by Buttner – leaving the referee with a fairly simple decision to make.

The second half was even less eventful than the first, with few chances created. Henderson sent in a decent cross but Isaac Hayden couldn’t connect properly, while Eisfeld, Watt and Zak Ansah were all stopped in their tracks by the United defenders. At the other end, Adnan Januzaj went close for the visitors, dragging his effort just wide of the post.

As the game entered the final minute, Bellerin took centre stage as his blasted home the winner. Racing onto a through ball from Henderson, he still had much work to do as he strode past one United defender, composed himself and then unleashed his unstoppable effort.

The Gunners have now won two of the last three games in the Elite Group, and face a two-week break before their next match away at Liverpool.

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.