Nostalgia was in the air as Pep Guardiola made an emotional return to the Camp Nou last night, bringing his Manchester City side to Catalonia in the name of charity. Former Barcelona player and goalkeeper coach, Juan Carlos Unzué, helped organise a charity game between the two footballing giants to help combat ALS, something with which he himself was diagnosed in 2020. Over 90,000 fans turned out for the game, a stunning show of support for this very worthwhile cause.
From a footballing point of view, extra poignancy was added to the occasion as, not only was the prodigal son returning to the place at which he conquered the world, but Guardiola found himself coaching against one of his former players, his midfield general during the glory years, current Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez. The pair embraced warmly and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the situation, played as it was in a friendly atmosphere, rather than the white-hot intensity, say, of a Champions League game. Perhaps that freedom and lightness of mood allowed for more cavalier and entertaining football. A wild night, befitting the occasion, certainly have fans their money’s worth.
Both teams fielded fairly strong lines up, City with familiar names like Haaland, Foden, Walker, De Bruyne and new boy Kelvin Phillips. The Blaugrana primarily gave time to those that didn’t feature in the win 4-1 over Real Sociedad this past weekend. Memphis Depay, Raphinha and Frenck Kessie among them. There was even a debut for latest signing Jules Kounde. Unable to play competitively at the moment due to the club’s inability to get him registered until they can offload another player to free up some financial space, this would have proven a useful run out for Kounde. There was also what surely looks to be a farewell appearance from striker Pierre Patrick Aubameyang, who scored with a low rifled shot to say his goodbye’s. The Gabon international looks all set to leave Barça this summer, most likely heading back to London and the Premier League with Chelsea. Auba lit up the Camp Nou during his brief time here, helping resurrect an ailing club and putting them back on the map. It is a shame he didn’t have more time here, but the short time he did have will not be forgotten by true cules. Thank you, Auba, and good luck.
Julian Alvarez had opened the scoring for the visitors after a horrible mistake from young stand in Barça keeper Iñaki Peña. Just eight minutes later, though, and Barcelona were level thanks to Auba’s emphatic strike, sending the sides in level at the break.
The Catalan giants competed well with their world class opponents, even going ahead thanks to a goal from Frenkie De Jong. City equalised, however, and a fun game of football unfolded, giving the huge crowd what they had come to see.
Another Barça player that looks to be on the way out of Camp Nou, Memphis Depay, put his side ahead late into the game. A lengthy delay due to a gruesome head injury led to ten minutes of stoppage time. City managed to grab a late equaliser in the last of those ten added minutes when Erling Haaland was brought down and Riyad Mahrez converted the penalty to finish the game 3-3. Only fitting it should end in a draw, really, on a night when everybody was a winner.
The real winners, though, were Juan Carlos Unzué and the ongoing fight against ALS.
A huge well done to all involved.