The blaugrana concluded their preseason with a 5-0 victory against Brazilian side Chapecoense in the annual Joan Gamper Trophy match. While the Gamper Trophy match is usually a friendly disguised as a tribute match to the founder of the club, this match was clearly a genuine tribute to Chapecoense, and it was awesome to see them bring their football to one of the sport’s most hollowed grounds.
Barcelona were clearly the superior side, offering their most dominant performance of the preseason, but Chapecoense offered competition for all 90 minutes, particularly their goalkeeper Elias Curzel, who might have kept Barça from reaching double digits. I thought it was awesome that every Chapecoense player who traveled to Barcelona got to take part in the game, and it was especially nice to see Alan Ruschel, one of the three players to survive the plane crash, make his return to the pitch and share a moment with Messi that I am sure will stick with him for the rest of his life.
As has been the case in all of Barcelona’s friendlies this summer, the star of the show was the left winger. But now that Neymar is gone, it was Gerard Deulofeu who got the opportunity to fill his role and he took it brilliantly. Deulofeu’s return to the Nou Camp got off to a fast start, with the Spanish winger scoring Barcelona’s opening goal in the sixth minute. By the half hour mark, Deulofeu had also assisted Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi, and he showcased a fantastic understanding with Jordi Alba on the left touchline.
After missing the US tour with an injury, Deulofeu has only played 70 minutes this preseason between half of this match and his 25-minute cameo against Gimnastic Tarragona on Friday. Yet it would seem he has the best chance to start against Real Madrid in the Super Copa if Ernesto Valverde retains a 4-3-3 alignment. Denis Suarez had a good preseason while playing a lot of time on the left wing, including scoring a second half goal against Chapecoense after some nice combination play with Messi, but Deulofeu’s strong showing in the Nou Camp might be enough to convince the manager that he is the suitable partner for Messi and Luis Suarez for the time being.
There is no doubting what Valverde believes to be his strongest midfield trio at moment.
Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic started two of the three International Champions Cup games together in the US and they were all spared the trip to Tarragona while the rest of the midfielders in the squad made the journey. They all played well against Madrid in Miami and they looked in fine form again in the Gamper Trophy match. Iniesta in particular had his best moments of the summer as his touch looked as sharp as it has all preseason. Busquets didn’t exactly resemble his usual self, at least not when he was curling in a magnificent goal from outside the box in the first half, but he seems ready for competitive matches as well.
While Chapecoense did offer as much resistance as they could for all 90 minutes, it must be said that the defense was untested for the entirety of the match. The only evaluations of the defense that can be made regard the way the full backs joined into the attack. As I mentioned before, Alba was vital down the left while combining with Deulofeu, while Lucas Digne was a bit more conservative when he came on the pitch (which we’ve come to expect with that duo).
The only surprise on the team sheet for me involved the right back position, where Aleix Vidal started and made it past the hour mark before making way for Nelson Semedo. Vidal was functionally the right winger for his entire time on the pitch, with Messi ducking inside to dictate from deeper and more central positions. Semedo wasn’t afforded the luxury of playing with Messi, for he was subbed off for Munir at the same time Semedo was making his entrance, so he made fewer forays forward.
The one time Semedo did get way up the pitch, he made a huge impact, dribbling into the box and drawing a penalty. Unfortunately, Paco Alcacer missed the penalty, as well as a rebound that he really should have put home considering where the ball fell to him. Alcacer wasn’t the only one who wasted golden chances on the evening, though. Suarez could have had himself a handful, but he missed a number of easy chances; so many that it was hard to tell if his finishing was really in that bad of shape or if he was trying to take it easy on the opponents. But in typical Suarez fashion, after missing a few sitters, he banged home a goal at an impossible angle to find himself on the score sheet.
In totality, this was a lively display from Valverde’s men to close off the preseason and give the Camp Nou a glimpse of what is to come this season, as well as a lovely tribute and celebration of Chapacoense. While the lack of a halftime reveal of a marquee signing was glaring after a week of speculation that the board badly wanted to offset some of the negativity of Neymar’s departure by introducing a new star, the players took it upon themselves to remind the blaugrana faithful that there is indeed life after Neymar.
And that life looks like it will be pretty good.