Ernesto Valverde traveled down the coast of Catalunya with somewhat of a skeleton squad for the penultimate game of FC Barcelona’s preseason against Gimnàstic Tarragona, with the blaugrana earning a 1-1 draw against the Segunda side. The Catalans’ brightest stars remained home but a squad full of key players for this upcoming season all got a chance to impress the boss shorty before the games start to matter.
In the first half, Valverde’s men did not look at all prepared for the approaching season, as Nàstic offered the more enjoyable football while Barcelona struggled to create any substantive attacks. Things changed in the second half once Arda Turan was substituted out for Munir, who offered more activity going forward on the right wing. Soon after Munir stepped on the pitch Gerard Deulofeu made his first appearance of the preseason playing on the left wing while Denis Suarez slid into the left center-mid role.
Once Munir and Deulofeu joined Paco Alcacer up top and Andre Gomes came on (for Sergi Samper, who had a quiet performance) to join Sergi Roberto and Denis in midfield, Barcelona’s attack began showing life. With pace on the wings, fantastic playmaking from Gomes and direct dribbling from Suarez and Roberto, Barcelona looked a completely different side than the one that barely created a chance in the first half.
Although Barcelona was shut out in open play, due in large part to some great goalkeeping from Nàstic’s Stole Dimitrievski, Alcacer’s stunning free kick in the 80th minute gave Barcelona the equalizer. Barça could have won this matchup with more clinical finishing from Alcacer, Roberto and Deulofeu, but some poor efforts and good saves made the draw a deserved result. The Catalans best chance at a winner came when Munir successfully chipped Dimitrievski on a transition play, only for a defender to clear the ball before it crossed the line.
Nàstic’s goal came on a broken corner kick that gave Omar Perdomo a chance to set up Manu Barreiro for a tap-in after some neat control on the touchline. Barcelona also conceded in the second half when a brilliant save from Marc Andre ter Stegen produced a rebound that Nàstic thumped home, only for the player to be ruled offside. Outside of those two instances, Barcelona mostly kept a clean shop at the back, which has been a theme of preseason. Center back Thomas Vermaelen did come off injured early in the game, but Marlon, who surely would have played anyway, stepped in seamlessly and played his best game of the preseason.
Nelson Semedo followed up his solid cameo in the Clasico with another good showing for about an hour in this friendly. Despite defending alone on the right for the entire first half because of Turan’s lack of commitment, Semedo did well to block a few crosses and prevent Nàstic from getting any good shots off from his edge of the box. He wasn’t on the pitch when Barcelona’s attacks got flowing, so we didn’t get see him flying up the right side, but I won’t fault anyone who has trouble making an impact when they are paired with Turan.
Deulofeu’s first game back for Barcelona was a bit of a mixed bag. He didn’t even play a full half, so we didn’t get a great look at how he’ll fit in at Barcelona this time around, but the elements of his game that we knew would be there – the pace, the runs in behind and the willingness to dribble – were indeed evident. Whether Deulofeu’s dribbling is always the right choice is another question, and he did miss a great chance after Gomes played him through on goal late in the second half. But for a player who is still getting acquainted with Valverde and recovering from an injury, it was a fine outing.
Gomes also made his season debut in this friendly, and though he only played the last half hour, there were some encouraging signs. He made some really nice key passes, was biting into challenges to win the ball back quickly in the opposition’s third (and unfairly being whistled for fouls, I might add) and looked like a player ready to take advantage of his second chance under a new manager.
Valverde deployed Gomes at RCM even though he was subbed on for Samper, which is noteworthy because the idea of Gomes being the backup for Busquets has been floated around this summer. Roberto has gotten most of the minutes at CDM this preseason when Busquets or Samper are out of the lineup and he has probably outperformed Samper simply because he seems more willing to take risks, while Samper is still a bit conservative. Whether Valverde chooses to retain Samper or loan him out while keeping Roberto as the backup CDM, it seems Gomes will be given a more attacking role.
Where Gomes play wasn’t exactly the issue under Luis Enrique, it was more that he never had a consistent role. Enrique almost had too much faith in the player, willing to play him at right back and centre mid and even as a wide midfielder. If Valverde simplifies his instructions for Gomes, it should lead to a more determined, if more informed, effort from the player. I am still not convinced the club should have declined the offers they got from Gomes this summer, but if Valverde trusts him, then I am excited to see how he matures in his second season.
If there are any concerns for Valverde at this point in the preseason, it is likely how anemic the attack has been with Lionel Messi or Neymar on the pitch. Alcacer’s free kick was the first goal scored this preseason that wasn’t credited to or assisted by Messi or Neymar, and in the 120 minutes the club played without them in America, Barcelona struggled to created chances. For most of the game in Tarragona, that continued to be the case. While it is obvious the club will not be as lethal without Messi or Luis Suarez on the pitch, Valverde will surely want his offensive tactics to be a bit more fruitful no matter who is on the field.