Barcelona’s pre-season in Japan had one win, one defeat and plenty of lessons. The Catalan side was beaten 2-1 by Frank Lampard’s Chelsea and overcame local club Vissel Kobe 2-0.
Like in all pre-seasons, plenty of academy players and new signings gained minutes in the senior team jersey.
Coach Ernesto Valverde was allowed the liberty to try out different strategies, fine-tune his system and experiment with the position of some of the players.
We take a look at what worked and what didn’t in Barcelona’s pre-season tour.
1) Young guns
The bar set for La Masia graduates by the core of Pep Guardiola’s dream team is too high to be considered as a general standard. The Barcelona B players, however, have made a case for themselves with some sharp performances over the two legs.
Riqui Puig was their best player against Chelsea and the quality he exuded showed that he must not waste any time in the third division.
Alex Collado and Carles Perez were lucid with their passing and displayed fine decision-making for players of their experience.
2) New signings
Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong not only proved to be a seamless fit into the Barcelona side but were also confident enough to take initiative from their respective positions.
Both players were keen to get on the ball as often as possible and set the tempo for the game. While De Jong impressed in his No6 role against Vissel Kobe, the Frenchman assumed Lionel Messi’s role in acting as a catalyst in the final third.
It’s safe to say that the Spanish giants could benefit heavily from these signings.
3) Back-up wingers
Rafinha and Malcom showed in the pre-season that they can be back-up wingers. Malcom exploded against Vissel Kobe, provided an assist and was prevented from entering the score-sheet by the crossbar.
The other Brazilian was one of their best players and displayed glimpses of the varied dimensions he brings to their game. However, this has been the case with Rafinha every pre-season and his talent is usually subdued by fitness issues.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
1) Old horses in midfield
Sergio Busquets had a relatively poor 2018/19 season which had performances for Barcelona and Spain. The midfielder started the pre-season exactly where he left off last season – slow reactions, poor touches and a horribly misplaced pass that led to Chelsea’s first goal.
Ivan Rakitic’s performances were free of obvious errors but his gameplay was some way behind that of De Jong.
It’s time for the old horses to slowly phase out and make room for the younger generation.
Ousmane Dembele’s potential is unquestionable. But the Frenchman can’t remain a diamond in the rough for long and needs to convert his talent to fruitful performances on the field.
The 22-year-old paled in comparison to the other wingers and his game was filled with misplaced passes and plenty of losses in possession.
The lack of end-product in the Frenchman’s game could turn into a concern as it nullified some beautiful dribbles over both the matches.
The Catalan side must not give up on the player, but Dembele must be more consistent with reciprocating the faith they have shown in him.
3) New (pre) season, same boring Barcelona
The purposeless possession, increased number of backward and square passing, lack of impact in the final third and absence of aesthetics was back on display, especially in the first half in both the games.
There were moments in Barcelona’s game against Vissel Kobe when 35-year-old Andres Iniesta and 37-year-old David Villa produced the best bits of link-up plays.
The coach deserves a lion’s share of the blame for introducing any nuances in his current system. The reluctance to evolve is often dangerous in football and Valverde could face the consequences.
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