Barcelona have endured a difficult summer so far, with the board coming under increasing pressure for their seemingly haphazard approach to improving their squad.
Obvious areas for improvement have been left untouched so far and new manager Ernesto Valverde has not yet given any public indication of his plans to improve his team’s tactical coherence
Fans of the Blaugrana are desperately hoping the club steps up their efforts in the market in the coming weeks, or another frustrating season could be in store.
In a squad in a considerable state of flux, at least some stability comes for Barca in goal with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen firmly entrenched in their respective roles as first and second-choice keepers.
Ter Stegen will be the starter but must start to cut out the occasional unforced errors which blighted his performances last year, or a goalkeeper debate could start to emerge.
In particular, the German international needs to learn greater discretion with his willingness to show off his ball-playing skills, accepting the idea that sometimes a hasty clearance is the best option.
But his style is likely to remain integral to the team despite the arrival of new coach Ernesto Valverde, who will give ter Stegen every chance to succeed.
The most pressing need for new boss Valverde is to decide the identity of his starting right-back. Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal shared duties in that position last season but neither were convincing – not surprisingly considering both were converted from more attacking roles.
If Barca opt to sign a ‘proper’ right-back, city native Hector Bellerin is the most likely option having started his career with the club before joining Arsenal, although another English-based Spain international, Cesar Azpilicueta, has also been linked.
In the middle, Jeremy Mathieu’s departure to Sporting Lisbon should allow youngster Marlon Santos to receive more opportunities as back-up to Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti. And veteran utility man Javier Mascherano is also likely to stay despite earlier rumours of a possible move to China.
The centre of the pitch is a real corridor of uncertainty for Barca, with ambitious plans to sign Marco Verratti from Paris St Germain apparently abandoned and a shock swoop for former Tottenham misfit Paulinho, now with Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, instead being pursued.
Incoming boss Valverde already has plenty of options at his disposal, but it’s unlikely that Denis Suarez, Arda Turan and Andre Gomes will all still be at the club by the end of August if willing buyers can be found.
Valverde has previously preferred to play with a ‘double pivot’ in midfield which would require a new partner for Sergio Busquets, and youth team graduate Sergi Samper could be given a chance to impress after spending last season on loan at Granada.
We know one thing for absolute certain: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will continue to be undisputed starters. But it is currently unclear exactly how Valverde intends to use them, and his tactical plans will make a big difference to the question of whether Barca will make any further forays into the transfer market.
Logically, Paco Alcacer should be given a chance to cover directly for Suarez rather than being stuck on the wing as he was last season, while the returning Gerard Deulofeu provides additional width.
But Valverde may decide he needs a back-up for the role filled by Messi – whatever that role may be – and a big-money move for a similarly creative player like Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool cannot be ruled out.
Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Marcus Rashford are among the Manchester United stars who will be in action during the pre-season tour of the United States and Europe ahead of the new Premier League season.
Manchester United will face a hectic schedule as they take on LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, before contesting a number of high-profile friendlies.
The Red Devils will take on Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona over a six day period before finishing off their summer tour with matches in Norway and Dublin.
This gives Jose Mourinho’s men plenty of time to sharpen up before they meet Champions League winners Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in Macedonia on August 8.
Below are the crucial dates in Manchester United’s pre-season schedule:
LA Galaxy vs Manchester United, StubHub Center, Carson
Real Salt Lake vs Manchester Unitred, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP
Manchester United vs Manchester City, NRG Stadium, Houston
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP
Manchester United vs Real Madrid, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP
Manchester United vs Barcelona, FedEX Field, Landover
Valerenga vs Manchester United, Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo
Manchester United vs Sampdoria, Aviva Stadium, Dublin
UEFA SUPER CUP
Manchester United vs Real Madrid, Philip II Arena, Skopje, Macedonia
Wayne Rooney’s fairytale return to Everton continued as he marked his first appearance since rejoining with a goal.
The 31-year-old’s arcing 30-yard right-footed strike to beat the Gor Mahia goalkeeper in his top right-hand corner had echoes of Rooney’s maiden goal for the club against Arsenal back in 2002 – five days short of his 17th birthday.
Collecting the ball 40 yards out in the inside-left position he took one touch with his left foot, advanced the ball a few yards with his right before lashing home a shot.
It marked the perfect way for Rooney, playing up front, to announce his return after a 13-year spell at Manchester United.
Having put his side ahead in the 35th minute in the club’s first pre-season friendly against Kenyan opponents in Tanzania, he immediately raised his arms to the sky in celebration.
However, his joy was short-lived as Jacques Tuyisenge equalised with a near-post header a couple of minutes later.
Rooney departed at half-time as manager Ronald Koeman made 11 changes, having given new signing Davy Klaassen 45 minutes, with winger Aaron Lennon making his first appearance since February 11 after receiving treatment for a stress-related illness.