Anticipation continues to grow at Barcelona with a new season just weeks away and new faces showing up in spectacular fashion.
The Saturday The classic in Las Vegas, we got a glimpse of the entertainment to come in Spain.
Raphinha once again stole the show with a stunning strike from outside the box, distracting attention from Robert Lewandowski’s debut.
He’s a man on a mission, knowing he has to beat one of Xavi’s favorite players in Ousmane Dembélé for a place in the starting XI.
The competition is on. And not just on the right wing.
That’s what pre-season is for if you go about it the right way.
You build the team, then you give the players a chance to get in on it.
Who wants more?
The Brazilian started the game, naturally, with nervous energy, desperate to make a mark right away. Eventually, however, he settled into the game, and just in time to silence the Real Madrid fans in attendance with an emphatic finish.
That makes two goals and two assists in his first two games for the club. This is called taking advantage of the opportunity given to you by the manager. Now Dembélé must respond, and he is not the only one.
Giving the start to newly arrived Lewandowski over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a bit harsh considering the Gabon striker hasn’t stopped scoring goals for Xavi. But the Pole is the club’s signing this summer, and they had to show it under the lights of Las Vegas.
The pressure is on the players to earn their role in the team every minute of every game. Now Xavi can say, what did you do for the team today, and why should I start you tomorrow?
No sulking, no rights. Just hard work and helping the team win.
And again, this team under the leadership of Xavi beat Real Madrid. That’s two wins from two games in the world’s biggest rivalry game for the young manager.
Barcelona started the game hungry. Press aggressively with Pedri in the lead. This is another element of Raphinha’s game that should not be overlooked. Winning the ball up the pitch is key to this team’s success, and Real Madrid have struggled to play it from the back.
The midfield is another area of depth in this team. Has Xavi shown that Pedri, Gavi and Sergio Busquets are his favorite trio? No surprise there, but Franck Kessie and Nico González put in solid performances and prevented their manager from drawing a conclusion.
Kessie in particular has been stellar, and in my opinion, if he continues, is a better option than Gavi outright due to how he fits into the system. It’s a box-to-box machine, anywhere, anytime. Wise positioning to make a crucial flight. Move the ball through midfield. In the final third creating an opportunity in front of goal.
Gavi could learn a lot from him as a mentor and will benefit from competition. It’s crazy to think that Pablo Torre didn’t even come off the bench in this one, even though he’s also been impressed lately and pleaded for more chances.
The biggest revelation of all these last twenty-four hours has been with the defense. If Jules Kounde’s diversion is successful, Xavi will have a versatile array of players giving him options at the back four.
But even without him, Barcelona’s defenders stepped up at the Allegiant Stadium on Saturday night.
Want to lock down a fast winger? Try Ronald Araujo as a full-back.
Want a playmaker who can add creativity? You have Sergiño Dest.
Eric García is there when you need a distributor, and Andreas Christensen when you need someone strong to lock things down. And Gerard Pique, coming off one of his best seasons in years, can always be counted on to provide consistent leadership as a veteran.
But above all, you have competition regardless of the specific advantages each player gives you.
From top to bottom on the pitch, these Barcelona players will need to make a constant impact, and they can’t afford to make costly mistakes if they want to keep their jobs in the roster.
That’s what this version of The classic Underline.
These players are proud to play for Barcelona again and they want to be part of the show in the future.
Winning a game won’t be easy, and that’s exactly how it should be.
Expectations have been high this summer, and with them comes the pressure to perform and succeed. Xavi has been backed, and the weight will be felt by him more than anyone. And as a true competitor desperate to win titles, he’s going to share that burden and that responsibility with his players, and see who isn’t afraid to take it on.
Real Madrid have learned from Sin City that defending their title will be a big challenge and they might not even be the favourites.
Ready or not, Barcelona have to come to terms with the fact that the world is watching and expecting him to be among the best in Europe once again.
This team has the style to entertain, but their character will be tested early on to see if they can rally together, work hard, and win tough matches.
So far, there is reason to be optimistic.
The USA tour continues on Tuesday against Juventus with another opportunity to show off his skills and determination to earn a role in that team.
May the good times continue and may Xavi find what he is looking for so that the team is ready to go when the season starts in August.