In a summer clouded with doubts and uncertainty, the Barcelona players stayed focused and put in another strong performance, defeating a short-handed Stuttgart 3-0 in Germany.
That’s three decisive wins in three preseason games.
The team is playing with the type of energy and purpose you’d expect from a group of players with nothing guaranteed.
Returning players like Sergi Roberto and Gerard Piqué have competition and are looking to prove they’re still the best men for the job.
Barça B players like Yusuf Demir and Nico González are desperate to take advantage of the scarce minutes, and perhaps the only opportunity they’ll have to force their way onto the first team roster.
New signing Memphis Depay is breaking down the cynicism of Barça fans, and giving hope that this time the star summer signing will do whatever it takes to exceed expectations.
That type of competitive spirit is contagious, and if it continues Barcelona will be feeling confident and ready to take on a new season.
Here’s a few things we learned from the first game in the trip to Germany.
Memphis is motivated and getting off to a fast start
Memphis Depay is a man on a mission.
He’s wasted no time in proving to Ronald Koeman that he’s the man for the job in the final third.
In a way, he was was always going to have special privileges because of their relationship.
Perhaps exactly because of that perception, he’s set out to earn the opportunity beyond a shadow of a doubt on merit.
At this point, you can pencil him into the starting lineup against Real Sociedad on August 15th.
His highlight goal against Stuttgart encapsulates all the positive aspects of his first two appearances in a Barça shirt.
An assertive run behind the defensive line, a perfect first touch, composure in front of goal, and a powerful and confident finish.
Even more encouraging is the instant chemistry you’re seeing with Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie De Jong.
Memphis is showing he understands the Barça style of play, but he’s also not afraid to insert his unique personality onto the game.
So far he’s thunder and lightning, and worth the price of admission.
Riqui Puig believes in himself and will not give up
Koeman has shown his hand.
In spite of saying he plans to give Riqui Puig more chances, it’s clear that the vendetta continues, and that he’ll look for any excuse not to play him.
This game started with Dutchman snubbing Riqui by giving the starting minutes to young Gavi instead.
That left Riqui with 30 minutes at the end of the game to do what he could with the scraps, and say “anything you can do, I can do better”.
Riqui came firing out of the gates with a point to prove, and there seemed to be a determination to get on the stats sheet.
Within five minutes of coming on, he had two shots on goal, and finally broke through on the counter attack with a tough near post finish.
This was a statement goal. His excitement was equal and opposite to Koeman’s likely disappointment.
Riqui won’t go away without a fight. It would be best for Koeman to recognize and reward his efforts for the good of the team, but given what we’ve seen I wouldn’t count on it.
Yusuf Demir is campaigning hard for a spot on the first team
I’m starting to get the feeling that Yusuf Demir has one foot in the door at the Camp Nou.
He’s started every game this preseason, and has been impressive throughout.
Ronald Koeman wants to play with a 4-3-3, but the challenge has been finding the forwards that provide the right balance.
The combination of Memphis, Griezmann, and Demir was about as good as he could have hoped for.
It’s silly to compare anyone to Lionel Messi, but Demir does have the same profile that the young Argentinian had when making a name for himself on the right wing.
Demir is effective cutting in on his left, but he has shown an aptitude for stretching the game vertically too.
Against Stuttgart he earned his first goal in a Barça shirt, with a well timed run in front of goal, and a finish off a cross from Griezmann that started with an overlapping run and pass from Memphis.
Álex Collado, his main competitor, remained on the bench throughout.
Koeman seems to be making up his mind on the Austrian.
Gavi and Nico show the future is bright in the midfield
You can see why everyone loves Gavi.
He’s super active, covers lots of space, and looks like the prototypical Barcelona academy product.
To me, he’s very similar to Riqui Puig physically, positionally, and with his disposition in the midfield.
An encouraging sign in the game was the intensity and sense of urgency from the start, and Gavi was one of the main catalysts that set the tempo that allowed Barça to get out to an early 2-0 lead.
Like it or not, a battle is heating up between Gavi and Riqui.
Koeman sang the praises of Gavi this week, and signaled his approval by giving him the chance to start. My worry, however, is that he may be using Gavi as a prop to keep Riqui on the sidelines.
Gavi is only 16 years old, a bit raw, but clearly has a bright future. The way things are looking, that future may be now.
Combine that with the performance of Nico González in the holding role, and Barcelona should be excited about the talent coming through the midfield pipeline.
Very similar to Sergio Busquets, Nico looks smart and composed on the ball, and has also shown a natural ability to get after it defensively.
With many of the stars still away from the team, and the club desperately looking to make sales, this preseason has been full of intrigue as players know an opportunity of a lifetime is on the line.
The new team is coming into focus, and they’ll look to continue their winning streak in Austria against RB Salzburg on Wednesday.