Guardiola praises his brilliant 'Baby Barça'


Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Barcelona youngsters given a chance to shine in Tuesday's 4-0 Champions League Group H win over BATE Borisov turned in an "impeccable" performance, according to delighted coach Pep Guardiola.

Holders Barça had already reached the last 16 as group winners and Guardiola blooded a raft of recent youth-academy graduates in a starting line-up in which the 10 outfield players had an average age of just over 21.

Midfielder Sergi Roberto, 19, opened the scoring against the champions of Belarus in the 35th minute and full-back Martin Montoya, 20, powered a shot high into the net for a 60th-minute second before Pedro, 24, scored the third three minutes later with an audacious flick. Pedro then converted a penalty two minutes from time after a foul on 20-year-old winger Isaac Cuenca.

Guardiola, himself a product of the club's La Masia youth school, said the B-team on show at the Nou Camp, dubbed "Baby Barça" by local media, had been "impeccable in every sense of the word".

"It's not easy fielding seven lads from the second team and giving the impression of playing well," added the former Barça and Spain midfielder, who rested most of the first team ahead of Saturday's opening Clasico of the campaign at arch rivals Real Madrid. "And it's not something that happens from one day to the next," he said.

"It's really nice that they were all able to participate and it makes us proud. They are talented players and I hope they can help Barça in the future."

Pedro, the only participant who could be considered a first-team regular, said Barça's second team was full of exciting young talent who were pressing hard for a permanent place with their senior colleagues.

"The quarry [youth academy] is very strong," said the Spain forward, an academy graduate who is coming back from an injury lay-off. The players did a great job and they are coming through strongly and filled with desire to cement a place in the first team," the 2010 World Cup winner added.

Marseilles' patchy season has suddenly come to life in recent weeks and if they show the same fighting spirit that helped them snatch a last-gasp Champions League knockout berth then "anything is possible" in the coming months.

Didier Deschamps' side were on the brink of missing out on the last 16 on Tuesday until substitute Mathieu Valbuena's exquisite 87th-minute goal sealed a stunning 3-2 comeback win at Borussia Dortmund.

The German champions had led 2-0 and with Olympiakos beating Group F winners Arsenal in Greece, the French side were heading for the exit door before an astonishing revival led the usually cool Deschamps to go wild on the touchline.

"Tonight has been a tortuous result, we could have avoided such a high-risk situation," Deschamps said. "But this year the players are learning about the Champions League. This result will give them confidence. A game is never finished, anything is possible until the referee blows his whistle."

Deschamps had taken his own gamble in taking off the first goalscorer and main threat Loïc Rémy to introduce Valbuena, but once André Ayew's 85th-minute header levelled the scores, the winger repaid the faith in some style. He danced past three defenders and sent a superb dipping shot into the net.

A goal of such quality and importance is unlikely to be repeated in Europe's top club competition this season and may lead to the player earning more Marseilles starts.

"He has endured some difficult personal moments because he was playing little. But that goal was decisive for us, I'm happy for him but also for the team," Deschamps said.

Marseilles' triumph followed a 3-0 win over arch-rivals and big-spending French title favourites Paris St-Germain at the end of last month which has helped the 2010 Ligue 1 champions move up to seventh in the table after a dreadful start.

They now have some significant momentum and lie 12 points behind unaccustomed leaders Montpellier. In Europe, some of the continent's top clubs will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Marseilles in February's last 16 but the French side gave Manchester United a mild fright at the same stage last year.

The Stade Vélodrome, even in a phase of construction, is a difficult ground for any away side to visit and Marseilles can cause more surprises if they continue to combine a never-say-die attitude with a dash of French panache.

England midfielder Frank Lampard still has a major role to play at Chelsea despite being left out of the team that beat Valencia 3-0 on Tuesday to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, manager Andre Villas-Boas said.

Lampard, 33, who has played in over 500 matches for Chelsea since joining from West Ham 10 years ago, was an unused substitute as Villas-Boas opted for a midfield three of Oriol Romeu, Raul Meireles and Ramires against the Spanish team at Stamford Bridge.

However, Villas-Boas, who also took Lampard off during Saturday's 3-0 Premier League win at Newcastle United, said he was in contention to face Premier League leaders Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Monday.

"Frank has been fantastic. We have to select 11 and he wasn't in this 11," said Villas-Boas. "Important players have been left out at Chelsea. Frank is one of the greatest players in the world but this choice was three players in midfield because of their technical ability to keep possession.

"We know that Frank can also do this but he was not our choice for this game. He will certainly come back in the future. He has been fantastic in the way he has taken these tough decisions."