Barcelona played their first pre-season friendly against Celtic in Dublin, which ended in a 3-1 win for the Blaugrana, with all goals coming in the first half. There were some players, that the fans were more intrigued by than the rest, and I'm going to go ahead and break down a few of those players' performances.
Let's start with Aleix Vidal. After barely featuring in his debut season, there were concerns regarding his future at the club. Not only did the coach not count on him to start, but he was being excluded from matchday squads altogether. This past week, Vidal mentioned in the press about how he had a chat with Luis Enrique regarding his situation, and admitted that he wasn't working hard enough, and vowed to give the coach a selection problem this coming season. So how exactly did he do in his first friendly? The honest answer would be that he played a poor game defensively and an excellent game on the other end, which is understandable looking at how he isn't a natural fullback.
While his nutmeg that created the first goal of the game for Arda Turan, was probably the highlight of the match, his inability to time his tackles created a lot of trouble on the other end. While Vidal has improved his defensive positioning exceptionally well relative to last season, he still gets turned by his man with ease; once the player gets by him, Vidal ability to turn, and get back on his marker was lacking. He also failed to put in a tackle when necessary, often back-paddling, till he was joined by his team mates in defence. While his over-all game was promising, his defensive abilities, still appear to be lacking which would need to be worked on, if he intends to be first choice, by the start of the season. Nonetheless, his offensive contribution is still world-class, and it was on display in spades against Celtic. He timed his runs well, in tandem with the movement on his side of the pitch, which I will be covering further ahead.
The next player on the list would have to be Arda Turan. While there were multiple reports, of the player being available on sale, the coaching staff have time and again mentioned publicly, that they count on him; the player has echoed these sentiments, by claiming his desire to stay and prove his worth. Starting in the center of midfield alongside Denis Suarez, Arda still looked a little like his old self, but to say that he hasn't improved his game at central midfield would be false.
There were some huge changes in Arda's game, that showed how much he has worked on his positioning. In contrast to last season, Arda looked mobile, and got into good passing lanes. He showed the composure of a seasoned veteran, often taking advantage of split second chaos, that his young teammates weren't able to do. His passing was good, and he took a mean shot in the first half from Aleix Vidal's pinpoint cross, that rocketed into the top right corner, from outside the box. His movement was intelligent, and he showed some of the tenacity that he'd lost since his move from Atletico Madrid. While some of his old traits from last season, like focusing too much on maintaining formation were still visible, he was mostly a positive, and it's a good sign, moving into the season.
The third player, who was also the biggest question mark from this summer, was Denis Suarez; While few argue about his quality as a player, there are many who question his ability to play as a central midfielder. If this game is anything to go by, Denis Suarez could be the future of Barça's midfield.
Let's give some context to that statement.
Everyone knows, that Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet; everyone also knows, that in the past few seasons, Messi has started to play incredibly deep, almost acting as a central midfielder positionally. While this seems like a good move for Messi to prolong his career, it is detrimental to the team, as Messi isn't mobile enough to play as a CM; he drops deep, but can shut down, when he feels like the ball is too far away, to make a significant impact. His lack of movement off the ball, is his biggest setback in changing roles. This, is where Denis Suarez comes in.
Throughout the match, Denis Suarez and Messi switched roles, with Denis moving to play on the wing, every time Messi moved deep. The second Messi felt like the ball was too far away to make an impact, he would move back to the forward line, with Denis picking up the slack, and operating as a CM. Not only did Denis display organic movement alongside Messi, he also played as a genuine central midfielder every time he vacated the wing to get back into position. He showed mobility, pressed well, and displayed intelligence in creating the first goal, with a beautiful lobbed ball that found a pacing Vidal on the by-line. While Denis Suarez is new to the roster, he linked well with his older teammates. He controlled the midfield alongside Turan, adjusted to Messi's movement on the field, payed attention to the runs made by his teammates, and showed a lot of promise.
All three players mentioned above went into the match with a point to prove, and having played their bit in the first goal, I think they all did what they intended to do.
Aleña: Having come on in the second half, Aleña was one of the most talented players on the pitch. His awareness, and touch were eerily reminiscent of Xavi, and it will be interesting to see more of him, in the upcoming friendlies.
Borja Lopez: Despite having played for only twenty minutes in the second half, Lopez showed intelligence and passed well, making some important defensive plays. While he didn't play for long, he showed that he is someone to look out for.
Camara: As a winger turned fullback, much wasn't expected from Camara, as he formed a part of the volatile backline that comprised of the unpredictable Mathieu, JA Martinez, and Aleix Vidal. To say the least, he had one of the best performances on the pitch, contributing heavily in attack and defence. While he definitely needs some polishing, he could go on to make himself a part of the coach's plans, if he keeps performing at the high level that he displayed at Dublin.