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In a festival of football, Barcelona blew Pumas away 6-0 to win their traditional curtain raiser, the Joan Gamper Trophy.
Barcelona roared to a commanding 4-0 lead in the first 20 minutes and didn’t look back from there.
Here’s what you might have missed.
1. RL9 hits different
Robert Lewandowski has already played three times for Barcelona and in each of those games while he looked bright his passes weren’t connecting and worse, he couldn’t seem to score.
Of course, that was wearing the no. 12 shirt. Following their return from the US Tour, Barcelona handed Lewandowski his coveted no. 9.
And in the Gamper, he showed what a difference a number can make. It took him just two minutes to score, and it was a ridiculous finish when he did. A lovely Pedri pass drove him wide and he went around the goalkeeper and with a tiny angle, between 5-10 degrees, he guided the ball into the back of the net as easy as you’d like.
A truly ridiculous goal and it got better with two simply magical assists for Pedri before the half-hour mark and various other brilliant flicks, passes and a couple of chances too (he hit the post from close range). His connection with his teammates grew by the minute was awarded the MVP award for the Gamper Trophy and, with the no. 9 on his back, he looks born to play for Barcelona.
2. Frenkie de Jong looks at home
Contrary to reports from either side of the channel, Frenkie de Jong is both good at football and, at least outwardly, looks at home playing for Barcelona. He didn’t start today but emerged from the tunnel looking like a starry-eyed fan as he gazed around a packed Camp Nou.
The atmosphere at Barcelona is more positive than it has ever been during Frankie’s time at the club and he seemed intoxicated and inspired by it, and given the quality of football on display, especially in those first 20 minutes, who could blame him for wanting to stay?
On the field Frenkie played to the height of his skill-set, driving forward and cutting through opponents as though they weren’t there. He played a part in Aubameyang’s goal, then himself added the sixth strike of the night. It was all his own work, as he won the ball back in the middle of the park and then drove into the Pumas area before slotting home calmly.
A fantastic performance that both showed by any club in the world would be lucky to have him but also why Barcelona should absolutely find a way to make the finances work so that he can stay at the Camp Nou, a place he seems like wants to be.
3. Pedri and the midfield magicians
Much as Lewandowski was the game’s MVP and Frenkie perhaps its biggest story, the game’s best player was probably Pedri. The midfield maestro ran the show from midfield, set up Lewandowski’s opener and scored two sensational strikes himself.
The reason why someone as good as Frenkie de Jong isn’t undisputed first-choice is because of the abundance of quality at central midfield at Camp Nou. From Pedri the maestro to the potentially phenomenal Frenkie de Jong to the teenaged terror Gavi (who only just turned 18), to new signing Franck Kessie.
No one really knew what to make of the Ivorian joining Barcelona, supposedly at Xavi’s behest, but he’s shown all through pre-season that he has a sensational ability to move off the ball and find space in the final third and a natural inclination to pass the ball first-time.
Kessie bagged a supreme assist today for Aubameyang, driving into the box and whipping the ball across with his left foot. He also cleared a ball off the line late in the day to preserve Barcelona’s clean sheet. He’s not just here for the salary, he’s here to compete, and don’t be surprised if he plays a whole load of minutes this season.
Barcelona’s midfield is stacked, and 18-year-old wunderkind Pablo Torré didn’t even get on the field!
4. The Anti-Alonso: Alejandro Baldé is worth a shot
Barcelona’s next signing is heavily rumoured to be Marcos Alonso from Chelsea. The left wing-back would be a strange signing for any passing club; given his age, lack of pace, poor defensive ability and the fact that he’s only really useful in the final third. And under Xavi, full-backs don’t spend too much time in the final third.
But for Barcelona, it makes even less sense because they not only have Jordi Alba as a starter but 18-year-old Alejandro Baldé as what seems like a more than capable backup.
The teenager has looked raw in previous seasons (understandable, given his age) but all through this pre-season and especially so tonight, Baldé has played with maturity, intelligence and dynamism.
Baldé showed pace and adventure in attack but remained solid in defence; Pumas’ best chance came through an attack down Barcelona’s left – but only in the second half when Jordi Alba was there (or not there, really). They never got in down there when Baldé was on.
He’s not ready to be a regular starter, sure, but Alejandro Baldé has proven time and again that he is worth a shot to be Barcelona’s back-up left-back and that signing Marcos Alonso is needless as well as stupid.
5. Dani Alves’ fitting farewell draws the blueprint for Messi
Dani Alves rejoined Barcelona in January 2022 on a short-term contract that was allowed to expire at the end of June. However rather than leave it there and allow another legend to leave in silence, Barcelona took advantage of Alves signing for Pumas and invited them to play in the Joan Gamper Trophy once Roma pulled out.
And tonight, Dani Alves was treated as the most important person in the ground; from getting an introduction, standing ovation and chance to speak before the game, to being presented with a special shield by President Joan Laporta, to another standing ovation when he was subbed off the pitch, to then getting post-match bumps from the Barcelona squad followed by being invited by Sergio Busquets to lift the Joan Gamper Trophy alongside the Blaugrana captain.
The whole thing was a beautiful tribute to one of the greatest players in the history of Barcelona and drew up the blueprint for how the club should be looking to properly say goodbye to Lionel Messi.
“I would hope that the Messi chapter isn’t over,” Laporta said to ESPN recently; “I think it’s our responsibility to try to… find a moment to fix that chapter, which is still open and hasn’t closed, so it turns out like it should have, and that it has a more beautiful ending.”
These quotes were in the midst of a flurry of rumours that Barcelona would try to sign Messi once his PSG contract expires in summer 2023. But that would be a terrible idea for numerous reasons.
No, the best way to say goodbye to Leo Messi is to let his PSG contract expire, let him sign with an MLS club (or whoever he chooses to join) and then invite that club to play in the 2023 Joan Gamper Trophy, and treating Messi the way they treated Alves.
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