A nervous day for Pep Guardiola
FC Barcelona hosted newly promoted Hercules at the Camp Nou earlier today. Barcelona had defeated Racing Santander 3-0 in round one of La Liga while Hercules had lost 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao.
Barcelona dominated possession early in the match and nearly scored very early on when a David Villa back-heel pass sent Maxwell down the left sideline and led to a low cross that found Bojan right in front of the goal, although his back-heel shot went wide. Bojan should have left the trickery at home and his miss would come back to hurt the Catalan club.
Javier Mascherano will have to get used to playing in La Liga quickly, a league that is not as physical as the English Premiership. His clumsy challenge in the 27 minute nearly saw him sent off with what could have been a second yellow card. The free kick that followed led to a Hercules goal for Nelson Valdez, a fortunate outcome for the visitors as it was their first trip of the match into the Barca 18 yard box. Barcelona found themselves reeling a bit after conceding although David Villa nearly leveled with a curling left footed drive that went over the bar in the 32 minute. Two minutes later Gerard Pique should have done better with a brilliant cross from Adriano and his header went wide.
At this stage of the match Barca seemed to be pressing a bit, perhaps missing the presence of Xavi, who was watching from the bench. Adriano sent in another brilliant cross that Bojan could not latch onto. Barca continued to dominate possession but could not find the back of the net. Just before halftime Adriano and David Trezequet picked up yellow's for a bit of pushing and shoving, which they both deserved.
Hercules almost doubled their lead just before the half as Trezequet found a way through the defense but his shot went straight at Victor Valdes. Immediately following was a terrible backpass from Adriano to Victor Valdes that was intercepted by Nelson Valdez and again Hercules almost doubled their lead.
Pep Guardiola decided to change things up at the break, bringing in Xavi Hernanez for Javier Mascherano, probably to avoid going down to 10 men! Pedro also entered the game in place of Bojan. Keita dropped back into the defensive role that Mascherano had occupied so that both Xavi and Pedro could play in attacking roles. Pep almost looked to be a genius immediately as Pedro found Xavi charging into the box but his shot was driven over the bar. Pedro looked amazing, sending Villa in for a shot on goal, although Villa was judged to be offsides.
Barca continued to press and attempted to unlock the Hercules defense but it proved a tough task as the hour mark approached. Hercules then pushed forward as Tiago Gomes sent in a pass that snuck past two sleeping defenders and Nelson Valdez drove his second goal into the back of the net. Keita was nowhere to be found and his diving attempt to block the pass from reaching Valdes was poor. Hercules now led 2-0 at the 60 minute mark. Dani Alves was brought into the game for Adriano at this time.
Barca continued to look the stronger team on posession although Hercules had their moments. David Villa is apparently not familiar with the offsides rule and was called on it every 3-4 minutes during the second half. Pedro was the best player for Barca in the second half, but that might not be saying much. In the 83rd minute Gerard Pique went up for a header and collided with Hercules keeper Juan Calatayud. Pique was left quite bloodied and had to leave the pitch and Barca was left with 10 men as all substitutions had been used already, although Pique returned a few minutes later. Calatayud was brilliant on the day for Hercules. Valdes made a sensational double-stop in the 88th minute, the second stop preventing Trezequet from scoring would should have easily been the third goal for Hercules on the day.
Overall a hugely disappointing loss for FC Barcelona. They looked to be feeling the effects of international duty and many players seemed to be a step slow. Hercules deserved the points despite having only around a third of the possession by my rough estimate. Javier Mascherano playing more disciplined this year will be a key for Barca, he can't afford to pickup cheap yellow cards early in the match.