Having endured a somewhat tumultous start to their preseason on the pitch, Barcelona have not disappointed in terms of transfer window action and squad call-ups. While the debuts of major signings such as Frenkie De Jong and Antoine Griezmann have been warmly received by Barça fans, the unexpected impact of young players such as Riqui Puig and Carles Pérez have provided the supporters with some reasons for hope going into the 2019/20 season.
With friendlies against Arsenal and Napoli coming up, Barça’s rising stars have a few more occasions on which to grow more accustomed to the Blaugranes’ playing style ahead of their league opener. Let’s take a look at how the Catalans can get the best out of their new stars in their upcoming Joan Gamper Trophy match against Arsenal.
Going into this fixture Arsenal have had an erratic run of form, with three wins and two losses in their last five. When coming up against big opposition such as Bayern Munich, Lyon, and Real Madrid, the Gunners have typically lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which would be feasible to expect once again against Barça.
Their first-half back four has typically consisted of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Callum Chambers, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Nacho Monreal, with Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka as a holding midfield duo. While the Gunners’ back six has done well to restrict most of their preseason opponents’ total shots to single digits, they have constantly made defensive errors leading to clear goal-scoring chances.
In the recent loss to Lyon, the French side got all five of their shots on target and managed to score twice to win the game despite Arsenal dominating the overall statistics. While the Gunners’ match with Real Madrid was all square in normal time, the North London side could have avoided a loss on penalties if they did not lose concentration and allow Los Blancos to score two goals in three minutes to equalize the match. In fact, Arsenal have only managed two clean sheets in seven preseason matches, which is a statistic that the Barça front line will want to take advantage of.
Considering Arsenal’s poor defense, both Griezmann and Puig will be raring to go as Barça’s strike partnership for the first half. Both of these players have shown immense creativity and enthusiasm in their last match in Japan, and while neither are yet to put their names on the scoresheet, they have made strides in their integration into the Barça squad. Should Valverde look to replicate the formation used against Vissel Kobe, Griezmann and Puig will be great assets in a front two.
Moving onto the midfield, both Carles Aleñá and De Jong will be a viable option alongside Sergio Busquets or Ivan Rakitic. While De Jong is expected to be a crucial link in the Barça midfield who dictates much of the play, Aleñá also provides crisp passing ability and great stability when in possesion of the ball. For either Busquets or Rakitic to appear alongside one of these youngsters will be beneficial due to their respective experience and physicality. They will also do well to provide the Barça defense with support should the need arise.
On the flanks, both Ousmane Dembélé and Rafinha have proven themselves in the two games in Japan and will be looking to start here as Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez aren’t expected to feature. Even though this is a friendly, the two will want to give Valverde some selection headaches for the La Liga opener, and facing the likes of Monreal and Maitland-Niles gives them a good chance to win some duels on the wings and create for the forwards.
At the back, Samuel Umtiti has proven his determination and seems ready to return to the starting lineup after his long-term injury hiatus. While Clément Lenglet has certainly earned his spot at center-back, it would be smart to allow Umtiti the opportunity to continue building on his momentum against top opposition, particulary in the first half with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ready to cause trouble.
Nélson Semedo has done well at right-back and should continue to feature from that position, while Jean-Clair Todibo would certainly benefit from facing the Gunner’s superstar strikers.
While it may seem as if there is a possibility of Umtiti and Todibo being overwhelmed by the pace of Aubameyang and clinical finishing of Lacazette, let’s not forget that Jordi Alba is available at left-back to apply pressure from the wing, while a physical holding mid such as Busquets or Rakitic will be there to support Barça’s backline.
Between the posts, Neto has impressed thus far and should receive more playing time since he won’t have much of that once the season starts and Ter Stegen plays nearly every single game.
Should Valverde decide to instead adopt the 4-3-3 formation that he opted for in the first half against Chelsea, he should find it beneficial to include Arthur in a three man midfield focused on dominating possession. The use of any combination of Dembele, Malcom, Perez or Rafinha should pose enough threat against the Gunners’ defence while a forward such as Puig or Griezmann will surely deliver the goods in a match where the Blaugranes should be clear favourites against their North London adversaries.
Possible XI: Neto; Semedo, Todibo, Umtiti, Alba; Rafinha, Alená, Busquets, Dembélé; Griezmann, Puig