You'll have to excuse me if I'm even less eloquent than usual - my head feels like it's about to explode, so.
Frey (Storari, 71); Zauri (Papa Waigo, 55), Gamberini (Da Costa, 66), Kruldrup, Pasqual (Gobbi, 55); Melo, Donadel (Jovetic, 55), Kuzmanovic; Santana, Gilardino (Pazzini, 55), Mutu (Osvaldo, 55)
First half: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal; Toure, Xavi, Keita; Messi; Iniesta (Jeffren, 36), Pedro
Second half: Valdes; Alves (Sanchez, 77), Caceres, Pique, Sylvinho; Toure (Vazquez, 62), Busquets, Keita (Gudjohnsen, 62); Jeffren (Crosas, 77), Bojan, Messi (Hleb, 67)
Puyol (28), Jeffren (47), Pazzini (68), Bojan (72)
Excuse my attempts at formation diagrams, but I thought the changes Pep attempted were interesting enough to draw out.
You'll notice there are exactly zero forwards there. Henry couldn't play because he'd just had to fly to London to take care of unpleasant personal business, and Sammy had a knock, but there were other options at center forward. As he explained after the game, Guardiola simply wanted to experiment.
One thing people have been noticing about the way he's trying to get the team to play is the high degree of freedom to move that every single player, bar Valdes, seems to have, while maintaining a more or less coherent system all the time. So you'll see Alves in the box and Pique in midfield, but there will (hopefully) be somebody covering the gaps they've left behind.
A much more conventional 4-3-3 for the second half, although it was interesting to see both full-backs going forward and leaving the midfield with more defensive work to do. The change from Xavi to Busquets there meant that all three were more or less central midfielders.
+ Match report from the official website.
+ Guardiola's post-match comments.
+ Post-match comments from the players, including Alves, Pique, Messi and Xavi.
+ Following on from the above, a few general observations about the changes going through the team. Cesare Prandelli said after the game that Guardiola's imprint could already be seen on the way they play, and I agree. The central defenders play more balls out of defence to the wingers, everybody puts pressure on the opposition player in possession starting from the striker [I haven't seen this many turnovers in a while], and I've already discussed the frequent changes of position above.
And lastly, speed. When they get to full fitness, it will be more apparent, but this team plays a faster brand of football - only one, two touches before making a pass, quick transitions from defence to attack and from left to right, and greater willingness to shoot from distance. When this kind of football is successful, it's very difficult to defend against. I'm very excited to see if they can get there.
+ The biggest problem I see right now is that there's often a bit too much space between the midfield and the defence, but apparently they are working on that, so we'll see how that changes.
+ In general, I was happy with the first half, less so with the second. Maybe it's just that the midfield looks so much better when Xavi's in it, or that by the 77th minute there were about a gazillion central/attacking mids on the pitch and zero wingers, or that Puyol is, well, Puyol, and Caceres really can't compare right now. And as Guardiola acknowledged post-match, Barca generally play better when Messi is around. Having said that, many of the second-half subs did acquaint themselves well. But more on that later.
+ I'd just like to point out that all three of Barca's goals were scored by canteranos. In addition, the first and the third were entirely 'made in La Masia' - Messi-Gerard-Puyol for the first, and Jeffren-Vazquez-Bojan for the third.
+ Once again, I can't go into every player, or I'd be here all day, so I'll just write about the things that stood out to me. Victor had some saves to make in this game, and was left hanging by his defence a few times, and he responded admirably, coming out of the box decisively when he had to and made no mistakes. Which is as much as we can ask for, really.
+ It was nice to see Abidal and Sylvinho again. Abidal was solid, played a few good balls out of defence but didn't attack as much as I would have liked. Maybe that's because Guardiola's told him to stay behind to help the centerbacks out because Alves is permanently stuck up the pitch - we'll see. Sylvinho seems a little bit off the pace to me, but it is his first game, and he's not getting any younger, so hopefully more game time will fix that.
+ Alves had yet another great game. He's growing on me very quickly - hard working, fast as hell, combines well with the attacking players, and not afraid to shoot or put balls into the box. His crosses are going to be a great alternative to Barca's primary method of attacking (short passing, as usual).
+ Pique was once again solid, and even managed a fine assist. I wouldn't want to see him partnering with Caceres again, though - they just don't seem to work well together. Caceres was partly at fault for Pazzini's goal, and doubts are starting to spread about him, given how much Barca paid. I think it's far, far too early to judge, and he's so young too.
+ It was really great to see Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta playing again, and all three did well in the time they were given. Before Iniesta had to go off with an injury (thankfully not serious) early on, he linked well with Xavi and generally proved a nuisance to the Fiorentina defence. Andres' best position is definitely midfield, but in the absence of a new left winger (and by the way, can we get on to signing one soon?) he can certainly do the job there. Xavi was excellent, controlling the midfield, passing impeccably and had a couple of good efforts on goal too. This new, more advanced position looks like it will suit him very well. El capitan had a pretty good game also, forming a good partnership with Gerard, bringing some order to the defence and being in the right place at the right time to score. No disrespect to everybody else who have been captain in his absence, but having Carles around really makes a difference to the way the team behaves. It's good to have the three of them back.
+ Hleb and Keita were the two new players who we saw the least of in Scotland, so it was good to get a better look at them here. This was a much improved showing from both of them, especially Keita, who really impressed me with his all-round game, shooting, link-up play, defensive work and all, and he's already combining well with the other attacking players. Hleb only got a short run-out, and in an odd position too, but I liked what I saw of his technique and passing vision. He does need to shoot more, though. [A common complaint from his time at Arsenal, I'm sure.]
+ Once again the kids were very impressive, this time against a top team. The advantage with Guardiola having been B team coach is that he knew exactly who could handle being promoted to the first team, and those of us who had been writing the likes of Pedro off before have now been forced to change our minds. Jeffren was particularly excellent in this game, scoring a nice individual goal and making the great cross-field pass that led to Bojan's goal. He reminds me very strongly of Gio Dos Santos - great skills, very fast, not particularly good judgment and lots of potential. Could definitely become a very good player, but needs time to mature. Whether or not he'll get that time at Barca depends a lot on his own mentality.
[Poor Gio recently admitted that the pressure at Barca had got to him. You can easily understand why - it's not easy playing in a team that's lurching from disaster to disaster when you're so young.]
+ Leo had a good game, not quite as flashy as the previous two performances, but still decisive. [And enough to earn him a standing ovation, this time from the lovely Viola faithful.] I think Pep's experiment with no strikers and Leo as the central playmaker was a partial success - there was a lack of focus up front, but Leo did well in his free-roaming role, making life very difficult for the Viola midfield and backline. [Interestingly, this is the first time I've ever seen Leo yelling out instructions to his team mates in a game.]
+ Bojan did well in his time on the pitch, working hard, linking up play and of course scoring a brilliant goal. It still worries me when I see him get charged off the ball by defenders, but he's slowly getting better at protecting himself from that kind of treatment.
In other news, the draw for the Champions League qualifiers has been made, and Barca have been handed a decent draw, although I'm sure the away leg will be a difficult test. Barca will play the winners of the tie between Beitar Jerusalem FC (Israel) and Wisla Krakow (Poland). The first leg will be on the 12th or 13th of Augst, and the return will be on the 26th or 27th.