Barcelona’s big-money signings Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong took the field in Blaugrana colours for the first time in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.
The France forward started the pre-season friendly at Japan’s Saitama Stadium and was taken off at half-time, while Netherlands midfielder De Jong played the second half.
We take a look at their performances, the role they assumed, opportunities that Barca could look to exploit and threats they need to beware of.
Role – Traditional no9
Griezmann’s unofficial debut for Barcelona contained glimpses of why the Catalan club chose to sign him. The Frenchman appeared to fit into the side like a piece in the jigsaw puzzle and there were signs that he could be the catalyst in speeding up the activities in the final third.
There is not much clarity regarding Griezmann’s role at the Spanish club. His versatility of being able to play on either wing, as a no10, and as a traditional no9 has roused curiosity regarding his position.
From what we saw against Chelsea, it would be fair to assume that head coach Ernesto Valverde intends to use him as a traditional no9.
Opportunities – Decision-making
The Frenchman’s decision-making stood out as a massive opportunity that Barcelona could look to exploit.
Griezmann knew exactly what he was doing when in the final third and worked well towards producing an end-product in every move that passed through him.
His link-up with compatriot Ousmane Dembele on the right and left-back Jordi Alba was promising. Griezmann’s work-rate also proved to be a significant improvement from what Uruguay centre forward Luis Suarez provided to the team last season.
Threat – Lack of clarity in role with Messi in the picture
The iconic Lionel Messi – on holiday after his Copa America exertions – and Griezmann will, surely, play in different areas for Barca.
But certain similarities in the Argentine’s game and the floating role performed by the new signing throughout his career point towards potential difficulties.
Messi loves to provide the final ball and so does Griezmann. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner loves to assume the role of the creative hub of the team and so does the Frenchman.
Also, Messi’s trademark lobbed pass to Jordi Alba was replicated by Griezmann at least two-three times in the first half.
It’s unlikely that ego clashes could prevent the duo from performing at their 100-per-cent best, but the possibility of a clash in playing style affecting the team negatively can’t be ruled out completely.
FRENKIE DE JONG
Role – Defensive midfielder
Dutch sensation De Jong has assumed various roles during his time with Ajax – centre-back, defensive midfield, no8 and rarely no10.
The youngster has managed to impress in most of those positions, adapting perfectly to what the role calls for.
However, it seems like Valverde wants him in the Busquets role at Barcelona if his positioning against Chelsea is anything to go by. De Jong started in defensive midfield in the second half, with Ivan Rakitic and Carles Alena on either side.
Opportunities – Press-resistance
De Jong’s incredible press-resistance is talked about frequently, but the importance this aspect of his game brings to a team like Barcelona is often understated.
The Dutchman dropped as deep as a centre-back at times and still displayed great composure despite the high press and played the ball out comfortably.
It would be best for Barcelona to exploit this opportunity and provide him a bigger role at an advanced position on the pitch. This would allow the 22-year-old to exercise his abilities to its maximum.
It is imperative for the Spanish giants that they churn out the best bits from one of the most complete midfielders of his age group.
Threat – Rakitic and De Jong hardly on the same wavelength
It’s normal for players playing together for the first time to slack off at times and look out of synchronisation.
Barca’s midfield duo of Rakitic and De Jong displayed more than just signs of the same when they took the field in the second half.
The Croatian was rather conservative with his passes and De Jong was visibly frustrated with this aspect of his game. Rakitic would pick the safest option and play the ball to Jean-Clair Todibo or Clement Lenglet at the back.
The Dutchman was already six-seven yards ahead of his initial position and towards Chelsea’s goal, expecting a quick exchange of passes with Rakitic.
Simply put, De Jong was not on the ball as much as he should have been and this was mainly due to Rakitic opting for the simpler pass. This incoherence between the midfielders begs for the question of whether they can co-exist in the same midfield if they play in the same positions as they did today.
Valverde has the right tools at his disposal and it remains to be seen whether he builds a formidable attacking machine with it or a pragmatic system that calls for ‘safety first’.
If the Basque coach decides to take a few risks, we could see one of the best attacks in Europe line up as Griezmann leads the front-line with Dembele and Messi on either side.
A midfield three of De Jong, Arthur, Sergio Busquets, with youngsters Riqui Puig and Carles Alena presented with the occasional opportunity, could be the right step going forward. Rakitic is clearly a surplus to the needs at this point.
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