Preseason officially ends on Wednesday for Barcelona, as the Blaugrana open the Camp Nou for the new campaign with a friendly against Sampdoria in the 51st edition of the Joan Gamper Trophy.
This match is always special for various reasons: it's either used to honor a club legend — like AC Milan in 2010 to mark Ronaldinho's return to Camp Nou — or to face a team that contributed to Barça's history, like Sampdoria in 2016. Barça and La Samp had a few classic meetings in the past century (our own Steven Cordero brilliantly covered them, and you should read it), and who can forget that magical night at Wembley in 1992, when Ronald Koeman beat Sampdoria with a beautiful free-kick to win Barça's first ever European Cup.
The Joan Gamper Trophy is important for the club, the fans know it, and the team usually plays at a high level, not only to put on a show for the first Camp Nou crowd of the season, but also to arrive in the first official game in the best possible shape, physically, techincally, and tactically. It's also the official squad presentation, meaning all new signings will be there to be showered with Culé love. It's beautiful, and fun!
Only the Olympians (Neymar and Rafinha) are out, and Luis Enrique has had the entire squad at his disposal since Monday. That includes Samuel Umtiti and André Gomes, who played in the Euro 2016 Final and were given extra days off to recover from a very demanding summer. These are perhaps the two most exciting new signings made this summer, and even though Denis Suárez and Lucas Digne have impressed in preseason, it's Umtiti and Gomes who capture the imagination of fans regarding their potential contributions to the squad.
Luis Enrique said in the pre-match press conference that he doesn't plan to sign a new right-back, which means that the responsibility to replace Dani Alves, the greatest of all time in the full-back position, will fall on the shoulders of Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal. Roberto is a fabulous, hard-working player who will give his heart and soul and try his hardest to win the starting job; now Vidal has to prove he's good enough as well. His preseason wasn't that encouraging, but his fitness wasn't great, and he will get more opportunities without Alves in the squad. He needs to step up, grab the brass ring and show why he can be trusted to do Dani's job well enough.
The rest of the team is just fine. Great, actually. Umtiti is the much desired young, talented backup to Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano; Digne will compete with Alba, another necessity; Gomes comes in to learn and develop into the next Iniesta, and Denis will hope to wear Xavi's shirt proudly. The promised fourth forward hasn't been signed (yet), but Munir deserves chances.
As insane as it may sound, Luis Enrique's side is, on paper, deeper and better than last season. And last season's Barça had a 38-game unbeaten streak and won a domestic double. Only April, May and June will show us if this season's depth is enough to win a second Treble in two seasons, but the team sure is promising.
And on Wednesday, they hope to display some of the magic this team could be able to produce on its way to more trophies and glory. One hundred thousand people will pack Camp Nou, and they're in for a spectacle. Hopefully.
Welcome, Samp! Thanks for the memories from 1992! Good luck, though.
We usually destroy people at the Gamper, and Sampdoria is not a Champions League Final team anymore. So yeah, 4-1 Barça.