The U.S. tour and possible right back solutions
Up until now, few conclusions can be drawn from Barça’s pre-season tour in the USA. After the good results from last season, with no new players to experiment with and missing three players who were absolutely integral to the club’s treble success (Messi, Dani Alves and Neymar), the reshaping of the blaugrana is proceeding without any notable changes or innovations. Forced to find something, we can reflect on a few interesting issues which have arisen at right back. Luis Enrique is still unable to count on his two most versatile players, and he is using this time as an opportunity to try out a few alternatives. In the first friendly of the tour, for instance, we saw a Barça side in which the right and left backs played similarly. This wasn’t the tendency during last season’s most successful period; while Jordi Alba played nearer to the touchline than he did at the beginning of the campaign, Dani Alves developed his role on the right, going from someone who would link up with Messi and Busquets (depending on the stage of the attack) further infield, to being one of the team’s most important players. However, against LA Galaxy, Douglas hugged the touchline for the duration of the match.
Whether this change lasts beyond the start of the season or not (something which, at this stage, is merely speculation), it presents an interesting opportunity to reflect about Douglas himself. After a season where he was conspicuous by his absence, and with the situation currently facing him (Montoya’s departure, Aleix Vidal’s on-going unavailability and Adriano’s loss of form), the ex São Paulo right back could – at least until January – be the substitute right back, something he failed to achieve last year. When we talked about his somewhat surprising signing a few months ago, we said that he was a right back who liked to come in towards midfield and participate in the build-up play, although once he got there, his good ideas weren’t always followed by the necessary technical or footballing ability to execute what he had intended. We then suggested that the best way for him to perform well in the most demanding of scenarios may be to focus on playing nearer the touchline, capitalizing on his physical capabilities to penetrate deeper into the opposition half. In other words, simplifying his game, bringing him back down to earth a little. And this is exactly what he seemed to realize against Galaxy, a trial which doesn’t exactly serve as a reference, but one which hinted at a new Douglas which, if nothing else, could prove to be more useful than the version we saw last season.
After the Brazilian played the full 90 minutes in California, Luis Enrique decided that it would be Adriano and – rather surprisingly – Sergi Roberto occupying left and right back respectively against Van Gaal’s United. The canterano’s cameo in this position would have proved nothing more than a footnote had it not been for the comments from Luis Enrique, who deemed him an “interesting option” at right back, and also because this repositioning could make sense when we consider his position for Barça last season. As we pointed out at the beginning of this article and as has been analyzed numerous times before, from January onwards Dani Alves was an asymmetric right back who was extremely influential in the middle of the park. At times, and with Messi’s permission, he filled in the role vacated by Rakitic when the latter went forward to join the attack. Playing up front, his roles included quick touches of the ball in the area occupied by the number 10, contributing to the play and interpreting his new position while, in defence, he had to clear any loose balls, pressure opponents and reinforce the midfielders’ position; simultaneously, Adriano seems to have lost his starting role and Douglas appears to be out of the equation, Sergi Roberto may well be up to the task. He looked slightly out of place in the brief time that he occupied the position – which is reasonable since he isn’t familiar with it – and yet, it could be that it all comes to nothing, but this is exactly what preseason tours are for: trying out new and strange things.
Translator: Mark Coyle