In a lively night of football, Barcelona ended their tour of the USA on a high, beating New York Red Bulls 0-2.
Ousmane Dembélé opening the scoring and Memphis Depay settled it lat.
But who were the winners and losers?
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Winner: Ousmane Dembélé
Barcelona laboured at times against Juventus and were rescued by two wondergoals from Ousmane Dembélé. They played better against NY Red Bulls but once again Ousmane Dembélé was their goalscorer.
The goal itself was the culmination of a lovely move where Dembélé came in from the left flank, running laterally across the pitch before picking up on a lovely pass from Raphinha to lash the ball home.
The Frenchman now has more goals this pre-season than he managed in the entirety of 2021/22. But it wasn’t just his goal that was on point, he consistently was Barcelona’s brightest attacking spark and created numerous chances for his team-mates.
It seems like Dembélé really has turned the corner under Xavi’s management, meaning that Barcelona have themselves a potentially world-beating talent on their hands. That is tremendously scary for their opponents.
OH MAN, DEMBÉLÉ! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/osSqw7gVNT
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 30, 2022
Loser: Robert Lewandowski
Lewandowski played well yet again. His movement was sharp, his link play with team-mates has improved already and he showed a great tactical understanding of his role.
The. Ball. Just. Will. Not. Go. In.
Robert Lewandowski scored 50 goals last season but the way things are going he might take 50 shots before he scores even one goal for FC Barcelona. On the one hand he’s getting unlucky with balls being just out of reach or defenders getting key blocks.
But on the other hand, he is clearly just far too anxious to score his first Barcelona goal, snatching at efforts he would normally dispatch with clarity, and taking too many touches and wasting efforts. And to mak matters worse, the one time the Red Bulls defence collapsed into incoherent farce, Memphis was the striker on the pitch to take advantage!
Lewandowski will score eventually, and probably many times, but as things stand he’s really suffering!
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Winner: Alejandro Baldé
The second-half of this game was mostly a tale of frustration as Barcelona created and wasted several chances to run the score up on Red Bulls, with their forwards being particularly wasteful.
The one unquestioned positive from the second-half was the performance of young left-back Alejandro Baldé. Long-mooted as the heir to Jordi Alba, he had previously looked too raw for serious minutes.
But the stalled move to sign Marcos Alonso has given Baldé the time to shine on tour for the Blaugrana, and shine he has! Against Red Bulls he was so bright, swift to cover ground in both attack and defence, clever with the ball to link with team-mates as well as provide threatening balls into the box. He looks more than ready to fight with the veteran Alba to be the starter, which could be very interesting.
Loser: Frenkie de Jong
To be clear, Frenkie de Jong played reasonably well against New York Red Bulls. He carried the ball well, helped out in the build-up phases of play and defended diligently. So why is he a loser? Because he finally got to play in midfield and ended up being the least impressive central midfielder Barcelona fielded!
One expected him to get outshone by Pedri, everyone is outshone by Pedri. And Franck Kessie’s dedication to keeping things simple has already got him looking more comfortable in the Blaugrana system than Frenkie.
But perhaps the biggest “insult” was that Frenkie started alongside Gavi, a player eight years younger than him, and was comprehensively outdone. Gavi looked more at ease with his role, passed more sharply, linked with team-mates more regularly, and all in all just played with more authority despite his young age.
The word is that Frenkie de Jong wants to stay at Barcelona, but all the evidence of this pre-season indicates that maybe a transfer move would be best for his footballing fortunes.
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Xavi has, more or less, gotten everything he asked for this pre-season. The players he wanted signed have been signed, and he seems to have carte blanche to ditch the ones he doesn’t rate, as well.
Then on the field Barcelona are looking focused and hungry. They tore Red Bulls to bits and Red Bulls only got a sniff at goal thanks to some defensive blunders. Otherwise it was all Barcelona as they executed Xavi’s system wonderfully.
Every player is fighting tooth and nail because they know that there is genuine competition for places in the squad. Gone are the days of the Gala XI – these days if someone doesn’t perform there’s a player good enough and hungry enough to replace them just waiting in the wings.
The dream situation for a young coach looking to take Barcelona back to the top of the world game.
Loser: Gerard Piqué
Poor Gerard Piqué. If ever anyone needed the love and support of the fans right now it’s this guy. But as he returns from injury looking a million miles away from being fit, he is instead assailed by a hail of boos yet again.
Piqué has been booed every leg of Barcelona’s tour in the USA, where his former partner Shakira is clearly very popular. And while tonight there were less boos than usual, Piqué still turned in a shocking performance.
In a second-half that was nearly all-Barca, Piqué still managed to find ways to give Red Bulls a chance. He was sloppy with his passes, sluggish with his movement. His hips turned slower than a battleship and he repeatedly made errors in judgement. Were he playing against superior opponents he would have been massacred.
Piqué is currently third-choice Barcelona centre-back if Ronald Araujo plays right-back. If the Uruguayan is in his natural role, then Piqué is fourth. And don’t forget Barcelona just signed Jules Koundé, so Piqué might actually be fifth-choice!
A bad time to play poorly, and Piqué sure as hell played poorly.