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La Masía Talents: Iker Bravo – Episode 14

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We take a closer look at another La Masía talent, Cadete B’s striker Iker Bravo. The long-haired wonderboy has taken significant steps in the last few seasons. Raising from the shadow of Cristóbal Muñoz, Iker Bravo has proven himself to both the Blaugrana fans and national coaches.


Football fans around the world have been wondering themselves in the last years what happened to La Masía. The youth academy where players like Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba were educated. The drought looks to be over after the excellent debut season for Ansu Fati. Ansu might be the next big thing at the Camp Nou, and if you were wondering – the amount of quality talents at La Masía is still astonishing: the latest proof is Iker Bravo. Bravo is an explosive attacking force for a Cadete B side that looks better than ever. The story of Iker Bravo is a story about fear and shyness, about one promise, and a mentality to reach the sky.

Profile

Iker Bravo Solanilla was born on 13 January 2005 in the Catalan city of Sant Cugat del Vallès. He started his footballing career when he was five years old, when his friends pushed him to join Espluguenc. Here he did not have a smooth start because of his shyness. He even felt it was ashaming when others saw him play. Iker didn’t want to play, but he wanted to watch the games. Therefore, his parents took him to a game and sat with him in the stands. His coaches invited him to play and, just like that, the Spaniard found the place where he belongs, in the field. 

“Happy for my first call-up with the national team. Now it’s time to focus on my club, FC Barcelona

Iker Bravo

One day, when Iker woke up, he didn’t want to eat. His parents were worried and it all ended in a quarrel. To fix the situation, his parents showed him clips from the FCB Escola tournament. The whole situation ended with the promise that Iker could go and play at the FCB Escola tournament. It was during this tournament that FC Barcelona found their interest in the young five-year-old. Some tryouts later, they were all convinced. They wanted him to join the Prebenjamí. Iker Bravo has never looked back since and is now a lethal centre-forward for the Cadete B, the Catalan team and, at last, the Spanish national U16 team.

Playing style: The goalscoring machine

At La Masía, Iker Bravo has always been big for his age. In fact, the opposing coaches would often ask if he could stop “shooting too hard”. You might believe that the powerhouse was using his great physical attributes to his advantage, but Iker has always had exceptional abilities with his feet. Iker’s ability to do the unthinkable gives us flashbacks of Zlatan Ibrahimović. The size, the flair, and the lethal goalscoring ability are just on another level.

Iker Bravo Barcelona La Masía

Iker Bravo has an outstanding physique for his age | Photo by FC Barcelona

Where Iker Bravo is most dangerous at is when he receives the ball at the 30 feet mark. His ability to shield the ball against opponents and his first touch to create room for his deadly finish are just outstanding. His way of reading the game when he makes his run into the box for a cross is remarkable as well. Another capability we find in Iker’s toolbox is his work rate. The way of pressing two central defenders is an overlooked art, but, after all, an art. Iker does it better than most attackers.

His smartness gives him the option to close out the centre-backs without the ball and put pressure on the ballcarrier. In this way, the Cadete B recover a lot of balls high up the pitch that they can use to their benefit. With 10 goals in 10 fixtures this season, Iker is the main reason the Cadete B find themselves at the top of the table. With a goal ratio of a goal per game, Iker proves why he is a starter for the Under-16 national team.

Because of his skillset, Iker Bravo can also be a part of the build-up play in his side. Coach Marc Serra has done a great job in getting Iker Bravo involved in the build-ups, which gives the Cadete B an extra man to generate superiorities. His overview is excellent, and his passing ability is also crisp sharp. It is easy to see how the Cadete B is lacking attacking threat when Iker is off the pitch.

How does the future hold for Iker Bravo?

Last season was an awful one for Iker Bravo’s team. With a new coach and a new system, the young culés were not able to perform to their true potential. Fans of La Masía started to lose confidence in the group that, one year earlier, had won La Liga Promises. Before this campaign began, Barça’s technical secretary made a move and gave Marc Serra the challenging job of getting the Cadete B back on its feet – and boy has it turned out well.

One of the most significant achievements of Marc Serra so far is getting Iker Bravo to perform at this incredible level. Raising from the shadow of the fantastic prospect in Cristóbal Munoz, the shy boy has taken steps nobody could see coming. Well, except Marc Serra. More regular playtime with the older Cadete A might be in sight for Iker this spring. If Iker Bravo continues his outrageous development, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him join the 2004 generation on full terms next year.


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Analysis

Barcelona B: Changes which we can expect this season

Anurag Agate

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Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

For Barcelona, its youth setup – Barcelona B, and the famed La Masia – has often served as one of its core components, and not a subsidiary, like a lot of clubs around Europe. It has often been the first step for players before they join the first team, learning the ways and about the heritage of the club.

Currently, a part of the Segunda B, Barcelona B were in the Segunda not more than two years ago and failed to gain promotion last season after coming oh-so-close. As another season starts, Barcelona B must balance their success on the pitch and the development of youth players simultaneously. Barca Universal takes a look at the changes we can expect from them this season.

Youngblood

Barcelona B must, without compromise, involve new players from the youth teams every season as much as possible. This is best showcased by Garcia Pimienta, who uses the youth teams to bolster his squad. Similarly, there are some specific players we can expect to see this season.

Against Cornella, Cadete A player Ilias Akhomach debuted for Barca B and played an entire half. At just 16 years of age, he probably won’t get a lot of chances, but if he does, we can count on him to repay the manager. The winger who has grown meteorically through the youth ranks of the Catalan club in rapid succession looked comfortable playing against much older players in the Segunda. He’s someone who could make an impact this season.

At left-back, Barcelona has a player who has progressed immensely. Alejandro Balde has played above his age group for a long time, and his development has been incredible. At 17, he is a starter for the B team and is among the players who can definitely contest for the first-team in the future. Balde is good both defensively and offensively – his pace, dribbling combined with his tracking-tackling skills makes him a capable asset down the wing.

Apart from these two, we might see attacking midfielder Brian Pena and defensive midfielder Alex Rico. Towards the end of the season, Diego Almeida, Txus Alba, Gavi might be given their debuts as well as part of an up-and-coming generation coming through.

Formation

This is a change seen in subsidiary teams such as the B team usually when there is an adjustment in the tactics for the first team. Since the team has a new manager in Ronald Koeman, the tactics are rather fresh as well. Under Setien, a 4-3-3 formation was the preferred choice, whereas under Koeman it is a 4-2-3-1. Though Barcelona played a 4-4-2 under Valverde, the B team continued in a 4-3-3. The shift to a 4-2-3-1, however, is quite less, compared to a 4-4-2.

Koeman has brought with him a plethora of changes, the major one being the team setup. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

The second team’s sole purpose is to facilitate for the first team, which remains the priority this season as well. It just so happens that the Spaniard has three remarkable players at his disposal who can play in a double-pivot and can soon step-up to the first team – Nico Gonzalez, Jandro Orellana and Oriol Busquets. Implementing a double pivot with these players would also benefit the rest of the players. Matheus Fernandes or Alex Collado could play in the number 10 role where they can excel. Additionally, there is an interesting option in the form of Brian Pena whose style resembles Philippe Coutinho’s, could get to feature for the B team in the mediapunta role.  In turn, Hiroki Abe, Ilias Akhomach, Nils Moreno, among others could play feature on the wing.

Formation changes for Barcelona B would not only help the players transition from the B team to the first team but will also improve their tactical flexibility. One of the biggest advantages of playing in a 4-2-3-1, however, leads us to our next change.

Number 9

Barcelona have produced many incredible number 9s in history as well as recently. However, there has been something about the 4-3-3 system which hasn’t suited these talents – for example, Abel Ruiz. An undisputed starter for Spain’s youth sides, he was benched by Alejandro Marquez in some instances owing to his failure to rack up goals for the B team.

Abel Ruiz failed to live up to his own prophecy. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

A very promising striker coming through is Gerard Fernandez, or Peque, as he is called. Playing a 4-2-3-1 system would bring out the best in him. As a forward who is incredible at pressing the defence, he would get that freedom in a 4-2-3-1. Another one of his strong attributes is his ability to link-up very well with his teammates. With a no. 10 behind him and a winger on either side, he would get the opportunity to further develop his anchor play.

The problem Barca B have had with the number 9 role is one that could make the difference between reaching the playoffs like last season and earning promotion to the Segunda A.

Conclusion

Barcelona B are a very dynamic team. There are always multiple changes in multiple positions due to the nature of the team. A manager focused on developing youth, Garcia Pimienta has made sure they are a very capable collective as well. With the changes we examined in this article, Barcelona B could top last season’s playoffs and finally get promotion to the Segunda A. And if not that, we can be sure that they will continue to roll out incredible players that will become Barcelona stars one day.

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