El Centrocampista

Barcelona fringe players come through first pre-season exam with mixed results

Photo: Marc Casanovas

FC Barcelona managed a 2-1 win against home side Hamburg in their first game of the 2012-12 pre-season. As with most pre-season games, the tie stuck to the cliche of being a game of two halves, with Tito Vilanova’s decision to switch the entire team at half-time creating a jarring contrast between both sides of the interval.

Vilanova’s first game as coach of the Barcelona first team had plenty of positives, particularly in relation to some of the team’s fringe players. Ibrahim Afellay was decisive for the second goal, accelerating like a rocket after latching on to a Dani Alves recovery, then rifling out a shot which could only be spilled into the path of Gerard Deulofeu.

While Vilanova has stated publicly that he has faith in Afellay, there are strong doubts touted in the media as to whether the club will persist with the Dutchman, or cash in on him in an attempt to finance the Javi Martinez transfer. In any case, Afellay done his chances of staying at Barça no harm with a fine display.

Equally fine was the young Mexican Jonathan Dos Santos. There is a feeling that this season will be pivotal for the midfielder if he hopes to finally establish himself in the Barça first team. The exit of Seydou Keita has opened up a place for Dos Santos to exploit should he produce the performances to justify it. His decision to stay with Barcelona instead of travelling to the Olympics in an effort to tie down a place in the first team squad was received well at the club. Equally well received was his solid performance against Hamburg.

The Mexican recovered the ball well, showed good positional awareness and passed with comfort. Though he perhaps lacks the robustness of Sergio Busquets due to his smaller stature, these days Barcelona always manage to find a place in their team for top quality midfielders, regardless of their size, and if the Mexican can prove he is of that class then it could be a big year for the youngster.

Marc Bartra was yet another player under the microscope, and he had mixed fortunes on the night. The defender was bailed out by Dani Alves on a few occasions, and looked positionally naive, particularly during Hamburg’s equaliser. These aren’t flaws typical of Bartra’s game however, as the defender has shown himself to be intelligent beyond his years, so they can perhaps be attributed to nerves. In any case, he performed much better on his return to the pitch after being substituted back on in the second half, the only silver lining in an otherwise grave situation which developed in the second 45.

Bartra’s re-entrance was facilitated by the early exit of Marc Muniesa, with the youngster’s perennial injury woes continuing. The defender fell to the ground clutching his face after landing badly on his right ankle, and his trajectory straight to the locker room suggested the worse. Initial reports suggest the defender has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, however a full diagnosis will not be known until further tests later today. We can only hope that he recovers quickly, and it was a tragic end to his first game as a player with a Barcelona first team contract.

Photo: Marc Casanovas

One last examinee remained, though for the record I find it absurd that he should have been under any kind of judgement in the first place. Dani Alves is a player who, despite his pivotal role in much of Barcelona’s recent success, has been subject to increasing pressure from some member’s of Barcelona’s fan base, the media, and allegedly, members of the club, with some signals pointing to his exit. The Brazilian felt the need to publicly declare the lack of faith he feels from the club he feels, and that he was disappointed that they didn’t dispel any rumours of his transfer.

In a sense some parties are right when they claim that no player should feel the right to demand a public denial every time he’s linked with another club. Transfer speculation is, after all, a part of the modern game. Perhaps the most concerning detail then is that Alves felt the need to comment on it in the first place, though, as it suggests that he believes some kind of noise was being made from inside the club pointing towards his sale.

In any case, Alves showed tonight why he is such a valued member of Barcelona’s first team. A sweet finish for the opening goal, followed by a big part in the second due to his tireless effort reaffirmed what Dani Alves has given Barcelona.

Lest we forget, Dani Alves brought a dramatic change to Barcelona after signing for the club – his constant energy, linkup play with Lionel Messi and provision of width all equally valuable, as well as his undervalued defensive capacity which has overcame the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo in the past. Any suggestion that Martin Montoya is already in a position to take over the world class Brazilian in the first team is, for me at least, absurd, with no disrespect meant to the brilliant Catalan.

Dani Alves is irreplaceable, and he passed, as if there was any doubt.

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