Preseason is underway as clubs prepare for the upcoming campaign by trying new tactics, getting different looks and working for regular match fitness. For Barcelona, the first two friendlies have not been that telling, but things are about to heat up.
On Wednesday, the Catalans will be heading to Geneva to take on Italian side Napoli in friendly competition. Rafa Benitez’s team will be Barcelona first real test of the summer, and it will be Luis Enrique’s best chance to gauge his squad thus far.
As indicated by Barcelona’s latest training session reported on their official website, there are many players who could find their name on the starting XI. With this being such a big summer friendly, it is also safe to say that Enrique will not take his selection lightly.
So far, the new Barcelona manager has gotten many new looks with his lineups, but has yet to change too drastically from the normally Blaugrana XI. That won’t change on Wednesday.
Keepers Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo are expected to share the time against Napoli, and it is difficult to predict who will get the starting nod. Because the German played the whole match in the last friendly, Bravo will likely man the post from the first whistle.
The defense won’t change much from the last friendly either.
After leaving the match against Nice early with a knock, Martin Montoya should return in the lineup at right-back with fellow Catalan Jordi Alba holding down the left side of the defense. Dani Alves isn’t available to play yet, so the full-backs are pretty set.
In central defense, Jeremy Mathieu will likely be making his second start in a row. The French center-back needs as much time on the pitch as possible to learn the system, so it would be a surprise to see him start on the bench.
Gerard Pique was Mathieu’s partner against Nice, but Marc Bartra could deputize in Geneva. Enrique needs to get as many looks as he can before the season kicks off, and it is fair to say that Bartra has earned the right to show what he can do beside his new French teammate.
In the center of the park will be Sergio Busquets, but don’t be surprised if Sergi Samper plays a lot of minutes in the pivot role as well. Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic should also feature in the lineup, with Rafinha or Sergi Roberto likely coming on at some time in the second half.
Rakitic also needs minutes to get into the rhythm at Barcelona, and playing beside Iniesta is key to build an understanding early on.
Xavi left training with calf strain recently, as reported on the club's official website, and will likely not feature against Napoli. It will be up to Halilovic to fill the empty spot, and chances are the Croatian will dazzle yet again.
Up front, “Lucho” has many combinations he can opt for.
After starting the last match on the bench, Gerard Deulofeu should break back into the starting lineup on the wing with Pedro likely occupying the other wide position. Munir El Haddadi has been very impressive with the minutes he’s been handed, so the La Masia pearl could spearhead the attacking trio.
Could Rafinha find himself leading the attack again? We will have to wait and see.
It is time to start truly preparing for what will be a massive year. The test against Napoli will serve to teach Enrique and company a lot about the current squad, so it will be all hands on deck.
Who will start for Barcelona in Geneva? Which youth stars are you most excited to see in action? Leave your thoughts and comments below!