Monday night saw Barcelona take on Chapecoense for the Joan Gamper trophy at Camp Nou. On an emotional night Barca won 5-0, with Gerard Deulofeu impressing, as both teams paid tribute to the heroes and the victims of the air crash which tragically claimed the lives of 71 individuals, 19 of them players.
And in their first game since the shock transfer of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona showed that the loss of the Brazilian may not be as dramatic as many think. The motto of “mes que un club” and an ability to produce magical displays of football each time on the pitch cannot be understated.
The match also provided an opportunity for Deulofeu to showcase what he can add to the first team, having been brought back this summer on a permanent deal from Everton.
The La Masia winger has been the subject of intense debate over recent years, and while his attacking qualities have never been in question, his defensive attitude and individual mentality have been.
Against Chape, Deulofeu seemed to address both concerns that many fans and pundits have. Without the ball, he provided defensive coverage to Jordi Alba, and seemed to be in constant movement protecting his left back.
Further forward, and in terms of individual mentality, Deulofeu also showcased his ability to integrate into the team, and more specifically the front line.
His first finish was the product of a fantastic team move, while his patience on the ball carved out the opportunity for Sergio Busquets’ screamer for Barcelona’s second.
Lionel Messi had cut into the middle and was demanding the ball, but instead of instantly passing, Deulofeu waited, cut back outside and teed up the ball beautifully for Busquets who had acres of space to smash home.
It got even better too, it was Deulofeu’s beautiful cross that found Messi in stride for Barca’s third.
In short, Deulofeu provided Ernesto Valverde with exactly what he would have wanted, and a possible selection headache if the club are able to bring in any of their rumoured transfer targets such as Phillipe Coutinho or Thomas Lemar.
While most fans will obviously miss the genuine quality Neymar has shown over the past couple years, the performance of the front line indicated that even without the Brazilian, any attack containing Messi and Suarez can influence a winger such as Deulofeu to improve. In essence, while Neymar is virtually impossible to replace, the influence of Messi and Suarez on his skills cannot be understated.
It wasn’t all about Deulofeu though, the team’s performance was reminiscent of those seen during Pep Guardiola’s and Luis Enrique’s treble winning seasons. Of course, it was only a friendly, but the entire Barcelona team, led by Messi himself, provided fans and viewers with a sense of hunger.
Whenever the ball was lost, four or five players instantly surrounded the Chapecoense players searching for the ball. As we have seen previously, while possession is still key to the team’s success, the critical factor to our previous successes has been the high press.
When successful in pressing an opponent high up the pitch, several influences derive from it. Most importantly, it allows the ball to be passed into the midfield immediately. Once the opponent gives the ball away, the ball is passed into the possession of one of Barcelona’s front line/midfield and these players are given the ability to charge toward the defense that is now unorganized.
Ultimately, pressing high up the pitch is instrumental to Barcelona’s success because it allows the ball to be placed at the feet of those who can change the game with one kick.
While Monday’s game was about much more than just football, with Chapecoense still rebuilding after the tragedy, Barcelona proved why one player is never more important than the team.
Hundreds of great players have filtered through Barcelona, but one important constant has remained, the system.
Even without Neymar, Barcelona showed that their system is still capable of producing moments of glory. With Messi leading the front line and all players looking hungry for glory while playing within the system, Barcelona head to the new season in good heart.