Here’s five lessons we can take from this most thrilling of ‘friendlies’.
Munir stakes his claim
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has hardly hidden his desire to sign an affordable alternative to the MSN this summer, with every Mexican-based French international and his dog tipped to become the world’s most high profile bench warmer. But spare a thought for Munir El Haddadi. At 20 years of age, the once-capped Spaniard really ought to be honing his talent, gradually gaining minutes and taking his first tentative steps towards the top tier of supreme goalscorers.
However, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have proved rather difficult to oust. Surprising, that. Munir, then, must take what few chances fall his way. And, last night, he did. Clinically and ruthlessly. After drifting intelligently behind Danny Simpson to open the scoring with a calm, composed finish into the bottom right, Munir’s second perfectly summed up his vast potential. Instantly controlling a gorgeous Luis Suarez diagonal, the prodigious forward (below) slotted a prodded finish beyond the on-rushing Ron-Robert Zieler with all the ease of a seasoned international.
His movement, too, demonstrated an intelligence and intuition beyond his tender years; repeatedly drifting into Simpson’s blind spot to latch onto Messi’s expert through-balls.
Improvements are a must, however. Blazing an excellent chance over in the opening 10, squaring wastefully instead of claiming the matchball late on, Munir’s temperament and decision making must match his undoubted talent.
“The search for a No 9 is why I don’t know what will happen,” the 20-year-old told Marca last month, as reported by Football Espana.
“I’ll continue working to get minutes. It’s up to the club [if another forward is needed]. I won’t leave if the club signs a forward, only if they ask me to.”
At this rate, Barcelona may find that the answer to their problem (if you can call needing a fourth choice striker to supplement the world’s greatest forward line a problem) is closer to home than they expected. And definitely not in Mexico (ahem* Gignac).
Vidal is no Dani Alves
Making the transition from one club to the next is never easy. Yet, Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan have found the adaptation more difficult than most. Being forced to wait six months for your first team debut, after all, hardly provides the platform to hit the ground running. But, as the under-fire duo prepare to embark on their first full season in the blue and red, doubts persist about their ability to fit Barca’s very exact specifications and their displays against Leicester will have done little to silence the scepticism.
Vidal, although an outstanding attacker with an innate awareness of the overlapping art, is no natural full-back. The former Sevilla winger was caught hopelessly out of position early on as Demarai Gray raced clear before lifting wastefully over. The right-back role, after all, requires more than jet-heels and energy. And Vidal is yet to prove he possesses the positional awareness to make the position his own after Dani Alves’ departure.
The trouble with Turan
Arda Turan, meanwhile, has spent the summer under a cloud of uncertainty, so disappointing were his first few months at the Camp Nou. Booed by his own fans as Turkey flopped at the Euros, Turan’s (below) relationship with the Barca supporters suffered a similar strain after a string of poor performances at the tail end of last season.
His baptism of fire has produced very visible scars. Noticeably lacking in confidence, Turan played inaccurately, wastefully and, most worryingly of all, safely in Stockholm. Making no impact in an attacking sense, the former Atletico schemer is suddenly running out of time to make his mark with Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez, distinctly more impressive last night, waiting in the wings.
The master reborn
They say the great never stand still. They change, grow, improve; take stock of their surroundings and adapt accordingly. If we needed further proof of Lionel Messi’s transformation from a prolific, evergreen goalscorer, all lank locks and dancing feet, into a suave, sophisticated Juan Riquelme-esque playmaker, last night was it.
You see, Messi is no longer the sprightly right-winger we so instantly adored. This transition, however, did not simply occur under the private albeit televised cloak of pre-season. Since Luis Enrique’s arrival in 2014, Messi has been deployed deeper, almost as an orthodox playmaker, controlling and creating from number 10.
Against Leicester, the five-time Ballon D’Or winner ghosted behind Leicester’s midfield, enabling Barca’s first two goals with equally sublime through-balls. He didn’t score but he dominated, picking passes, opening space, creating chance after chance.
The beast has evolved. And it’s more dangerous than ever.
Barca vulnerable to pace
Samuel Umtiti can’t don the blue and red quickly enough. It’s no secret that Barcelona have been desperately crying out for a physical, quick centre half since Carles Puyol’s battlescarred body finally succumbed to retirement in 2014.
And, as Ahmed Musa (below) raced away unchallenged to slot home moments after his half-time introduction, Jeremy Mathieu’s chances of a starting berth next season suddenly looked a whole lot slimmer. Despite turning down a summer move to Besiktas according to Mundo Deportivo, the 32-year-old appears unlikely to even match his 12 league starts last season.
Young left-back Juan Camara, meanwhile, suffered a second-half horror-show, ran ragged by the pace and power of Musa and fellow substitute Jeffrey Schlupp. Even Sergio Busquets struggled to maintain his usual metronomic composure in the face of the Foxes relentless second-half pressure.
Again, the Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez double act served only to distract momentarily from the problems backstage.