It was a very fun tour of the United States, and an opportunity for this new Barcelona team to bond ahead of a new campaign with heightened expectations.
Ultimately, however, these preseason games are preparation to be as ready as you can be for August 13 when Rayo Vallecano come to town to inaugurate the new season.
No team in Europe has had a more active summer, and with it comes pressure to perform, and there won’t be a lot of patience with Barça now a favorite to contend for a domestic title — and maybe more.
So what did we learn from Barça’s travels across America? Is this team ready to hit the ground running?
The midfield depth chart is more fluid than previously expected
Most of us expected Sergio Busquets, Pedri, and Gavi to be the first men up in the midfield.
It’s likely this will still be the case when season starts, but across the five preseason games the midfield trio didn’t have especially noteworthy performances.
The first question was around Busquets and if there were any alternatives in the defensive midfield. The first idea Xavi experimented with was using Nico, and frankly in all his appearances he looked much better suited in this role than any other.
With the arrival of Franck Kessie, there were questions as to whether Xavi would experiment with a double pivot. Probably because of the uncertainty surrounding Frenkie De Jong, Xavi never took a look at it. It was surprising, considering he had the chance to try out a Kessie-Nico combination. Franck instead looked sharp as a number eight, which leads to another interesting conundrum…
Did Kessie do enough to supersede Gavi? The young Spaniard has had a quiet preseason, and Xavi will have some work to do molding him into a specific role and getting him to play well with Pedri.
Kessie for my money looked the most natural in Xavi’s 4-3-3, especially as a potential De Jong replacement. Like Frenkie, he reads the game well and covers a lot of ground. If given opportunities, I’d expect him to score goals, create opportunities, and be very helpful in defensive transitions.
Pablo Torre didn’t get as many minutes as most of us had hoped, and we didn’t get to see all he’s capable of despite a few really good moments. Looks like it may be off to Barça Atlètic, where he can shine and then make his way back to the first team when opportunities arise.
Dembélé and Raphinha were Barça’s best and are in direct competition
These two did their best rendition of anything you can do, I can do better.
First it was Raphinha who sparkled with two early goals and two assists, taking over Ousmane Dembélé’s customary spot on the right wing.
Now, when Dembélé sees someone else racking up assists, that’s just not going to sit well, and he was determined against Juventus and New York Red Bulls to leave his mark on the games.
It got to a point where Xavi is now wondering if it’s possible to play them at the same time, and get double the impact.
There’s one obstacle to that: Ansu Fati, who quietly had a very impressive preseason, showing that he is the best left winger in the squad. Granted, his minutes were limited, and the question will be how big of a role he can play right away.
But Dembélé and Raphinha were the stars of the show. They didn’t just perform, they did it with style and made a spectacle for the adoring American fans.
Xavi will be counting on both of them.
Lewandowski may need time to adapt but he looks hungry
Robert Lewandowski was desperate to put a goal on the board against NY Red Bulls.
In the end, he missed several golden opportunities, but there’s no reason for concern. What I saw was a player working hard, finding his spots, and being in positions to do what he came here to do.
Imagine what will happen once he hits his form?
What’s promising about this team is how it’s been so intentionally constructed.
Lewandowski is the perfect number nine, and the great players he has around him like Pedri, Raphinha, Ansu Fati and Dembélé will make sure he succeeds.
The full-back situation is a concern
Jordi Alba continues to be Jordi Alba, and will likely be a top contributor again this season.
Starting with the positives, it looks like his backup has already arrived. His name is Alejandro Balde, and Xavi has taken notice.
Balde has some similarities to Alba. Both are overlapping full-backs, but the way they execute is different.
Balde has the ability to beat opponents on the dribble, while Alba, like a more traditional Barça player, likes to pass his way into good positions and then deliver killer passes into the box.
With Balde in the squad, and showing what he can do, it doesn’t seem necessary to go out and get Marcos Alonso. Xavi should show that he can foster players from the academy, and bring out their full potential, and with Balde he has a lot to work with.
But the right side is another story, and it doesn’t look great. All I can say is, Jules Koundé, this may end up being where you’re needed the most.
Xavi has fallen too in love with using Ronald Araujo in this position. Tactically it makes sense against Real Madrid when you want to shut down Vinicius Junior. But against New York Red Bulls? That is way too conservative.
And what is really going on with Sergiño Dest? It’s a little weird to not play your American player on an American tour when he’s the best at the position.
We can all agree he has a lot to prove, but we should also agree that he continues to be given very few opportunities. Even when he is on the field, he isn’t really being put in positions to succeed because he is very restricted offensively.
It seems like Xavi wants his full-backs to stay back and give the space to the right wingers who are the danger men in his system.
If that’s the case, then fine, maybe an old school player like César Azpilicueta will give you what you need.
But for the sake of all of our sanity, keep Sergi Roberto out of this position unless you are truly desperate. I’ll take Dest over him any day of the week, and it’s baffling where Xavi’s head is at here, unless it’s just to say that he isn’t satisfied with any of his options.
Forgotten players made a case for themselves
Take a bow Miralem Pjanic. No one knew you were in the squad anymore, and now you could be the next man up behind Sergio Busquets.
Memphis Depay is the man who just won’t go away. He was the leading scorer for Barcelona last season, and even though Xavi never favored him, he refuses to stop scoring goals.
Is there a case to be made that Memphis stays, or are these performances just good for increasing his value on the market with Juventus and Tottenham hovering?
Shout out to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well. He continues to look sharp in the minutes given to him, and is taking the signing of Robert Lewandowski in stride. It’s very hard to believe the reports that came out about him with Arsenal when you see what a great team player he has been for Barcelona.
But the forgotten man who deserves the most props, making the strongest case for himself for a big role heading into the season, is Eric García.
Nothing changes with his vulnerabilities in terms of size, strength, and speed, but he is truly impressive on the ball. Barça haven’t had a central defender this good at making line-breaking passes since youn Gerard Piqué. García was also very effective and creative on the dribble, finding ways to add verticality through the midfield.
It’s good to know he’s there to give cover to Ronald Araujo and Koundé as needed.