The season is less than a month away, and the Barcelona roster is still taking shape.
With pre-season friendlies starting this week, Barcelona B players will have their best opportunity to impress the coach, and earn a place on the first team squad.
Financial precarity, and fewer big-name summer signings, means that the academy players will be given a good look, but will have their work cut out to convince the pragmatic Ronald Koeman that they have something unique to contribute to his project.
Ilaix Moriba was the Barca B breakout star last year. Ironically, he may not even play this season if he can’t get his contract situation sorted out.
In contrast, Riqui Puig, the breakout star from one year before, fell out of favor, and will be looking to reintroduce himself to the Barca faithful.
What does that say about Ronald Koeman and what he’s looking for?
Let’s take a look at the young players with the best chance of playing at the Camp Nou.
Collado scored eight goals last year as the captain of Barcelona B, and played as both an attacking midfielder, and winger on the right side.
He has experience training with the first team, and even made his debut in a 2-0 loss to Celta Vigo in 2019.
At 22 years old, you are getting a mature young player who won’t be overwhelmed by the technical demands of playing alongside, and against, the best players in the world.
The biggest challenge for Collado will be the internal competition. It’s impossible to see him taking playing time from Pedri, and he will have his hands full proving he can provide more as a backup than the likes of Riqui Puig and Ilaix Moriba.
Collado will need attacking players to exit in order to climb the depth chart. Uncertainty around Moriba, Antoine Griezmann, and Philippe Coutinho, could work to his benefit,
As you’ll see in the highlights below, Collado is slippery and dangerous on his left foot. Fast forward to the fourth goal Barca B scores, and you’ll get a glimpse of what he has to offer.
Many people are calling for Iñaki Peña to be the man backing up Marc Andre ter Stegen next season.
In order for that to happen, Neto will need to find a suitor, and so far there are rumors, but nothing concrete.
Ronald Koeman has communicated his doubts about Peña, preferring to have a proven backup, especially with Ter Stegen recovering from an injury.
Would Iñaki Peña be good enough to fill in if the German is out for an extended period of time?
He’ll be given a chance to prove himself this pre-season, and he’ll need to be perfect.
Koeman will not be easy to impress, but Peña spent a lot of time with the first team last season, and if Neto is sold, will likely find himself with a golden opportunity to play between the sticks on the biggest stage.
Could Iñaki follow in the footsteps of Victor Valdes as the next great homegrown keeper?
We will soon find out.
With the departure of Junior Firpo to Leeds United, the door is wide open for Alejandro Balde to make a name for himself with the first team.
For years, Barcelona has been searching for competition to Jordi Alba, but no one has come close to showing they can provide the same threat down the left flank.
Balde may be the man for the job, and others in Europe have taken notice.
Like Jordi Alba, Balde has pace and attacking instinct.
Whereas Alba is known for beating defenders with runs off the ball, and is comfortable in possession, Balde is unafraid to take defenders on with the ball at his feet, as you’ll see over and again in his highlight video.
The big question will be whether Jordi Alba starts to slow down as he gets older, and if he and the rest of the defensive line commit enough defensive mistakes to merit competition from others on the roster.
Balde is young, but as Pedri and Ansu have shown in recent years, he’s old enough to force himself into the first team if he has the drive and determination.
Others to keep an eye on
Yusuf Demir is an 18-year-old heralded as the “Austrian Messi,” and will begin his Blaugrane career with Barcelona B.
He is spending the year on loan from Rapid Vienna, with an option to make the move permanent at a cost of 10 million euros.
That’s no small sum of money for a team in a financial crisis, so Demir will really need to take advantage of the year to show he has the quality to make it in Barcelona.
We’ll get a glimpse of him this pre-season where he’ll have a chance to compete with a crowded field of forwards.
Nico Gonzalez has been generating buzz, and recently received a new contract to stay at the club through 2024.
As a defensive midfielder, Nico is absolutely a player to look out for.
Sergio Busquets isn’t getting any younger, and Moriba is playing with fire with his contract negotiation, making Nico one of the next men up to take the reins.
Nico is tall and physical, the same attributes that distinguished Ilaix, paired with the technical ability that you’d expect from a player who grew up at La Masia.
With good fortunate and a stand out pre-season, my money’s on him as the dark horse to make his way onto the first-team roster.
There are also several other players training with the first-team at present who will be hoping for a chance to impress in next week’s friendlies. Center-backs Arnau Comas and Santiago Ramos Mingo could feature, while 16-year-old midfielder Gavi is another highly-rated La Masia product. We’ll have to wait to see Ilias Akhomach and Kays Ruiz in action though after both players tested positive for Covid-19.