Barcelona: Full Report Card for Every Position for August
Barcelona have had a great August, albeit much of the month was spent in pre-season.
Six games played, 17 goals scored and only two goals conceded. It will be just what manager Luis Enrique was looking for from a team that were looking decidedly shaky at the back end of last season.
The month hasn't been without problems, however, and the loss of Andres Iniesta to injury is likely to be a particular concern.
Here's a full report card detailing how well each player has fared over the course of those six matches, with grades outlining their contribution over the period.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was surely destined to be first-choice 'keeper until he fractured his back after a collision with Alex Song in training. FCBarcelona.com detail the extent of the injury:
The first team goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, following persistent pain in his lower back caused by a blow received in training last Monday, August 11, has been subjected to new medical tests this morning which have revealed the existence of a small fracture in the transverse apophysis of vertebra L3.
The Club's Medical Services reported that the player will be out for between two and three weeks. The player will carry out recovery work during this period.
He had only started one game before then, the first game of August vs. Nice, and he performed well.
Claudio Bravo made his debut against Napoli in Geneva. It was a game of two halves for the Chilean—he was outstanding in the first half, making some world-class saves, but a basic error allowed Blerim Dzemaili's strike to slip though his fingers for the winner.
He has rarely been tested since in the two La Liga fixtures thus far, and he is yet to face a shot on target from the opposition.
Jordi Masip started the match against Helsinki but barely had a save to make as Barcelona dominated play down the opposite end of the pitch.
He is expected to be Barca's third choice throughout the season, and he was competent when called upon during the pre-season warm-up games.
As with the rest of the Brazilian contingent, the Gamper Trophy was Dani Alves' first game back since after the World Cup.
Against both Club Leon and Elche we saw a typically dynamic Alves. Say what you like about his defending at times, but one can never question his commitment to the cause.
Despite continuing his incredible work rate at El Madrigal against Villarreal, in which he had an astonishing 146 touches in the game, he was incredibly wasteful.
Eighteen crosses were sent over by the Brazilian, of which 14 didn't reach their intended target.
He hasn't really been tested defensively, but Barca deserve better from the Brazilian international. Much better.
Martin Montoya didn't have the best of starts this pre-season, hobbling off in the first game of August against Nice.
Thankfully, there appeared to be no lasting damage and he was back the following week against Napoli.
Montoya's gone about his business quietly and effectively this pre-season but doesn't look to be threatening Alves' starting berth.
He will rely on the generosity of Luis Enrique, his manager at Barca B, to get games.
Alba started the month well with a solid performance in Nice, which included multiple opportunities to get forward, one of which saw him rattle the crossbar.
He's been as industrious as ever, but his distribution has let him down at times—especially against Villarreal.
He continues to use his pace to get himself out of trouble but needs to be more mindful and aware of his defensive duties.
Grimaldo came on for Alba against Napoli and looked as calm and composed as always.
A few minutes here and there during the rest of the pre-season programme will have done wonders for his confidence.
Barca B's youngest ever debutant at 15, Grimaldo's star is steadily rising. A sign of his maturity is that nothing fazes him; he has an old head on young shoulders.
He won't feature in La Liga for the first team unless a succession of injuries affords him the opportunity, but further education in the reserves will do him no harm whatsoever.
Pique had a reasonable August but needs to step it up a notch if he wants to be considered a regular starter.
Scored a tap-in against Helsinki after being set up by Pedro and is striking up a reasonable understanding with Jeremy Mathieu.
It's a partnership that gives Barca something they've been missing for years: genuine height in defence.
His distribution has been patchy in the games he has played so far, and defensively, Pique hasn't really been tested thus far.
Barca's new signing from Valencia has performed diligently when called upon so far in August.
Luis Enrique's tinkering in central defence suggests that he is not entirely sure of his first-choice pairing. However, starting both La Liga games suggests that Mathieu could be a fixture.
He has the pace Barca have been lacking in the central-defensive area, and he can be a real powerhouse when necessary.
Mathieu was found wanting a couple of times during the tough match against Villarreal but has competent enough in the role thus far.
On the scoresheet against Helsinki and continues to impress in the centre of defence. He got his chance in La Liga against Elche after Javier Mascherano's sending off.
At 23 years of age, this has to be Bartra's breakthrough season. Once Thomas Vermaelen is fit, competition for places will be even fiercer than usual. If the youngster can continue in the same vein as his performances in August, then there is no reason for him not to warrant a starting berth.
Ie has been given some cursory minutes during most of August's pre-season games but still looks a little rusty at the highest level. After two years with the B team, Ie needs to be pushing for promotion this season.
The Portuguese is unlikely to be used unless a plethora of injuries restrict Luis Enrique's defensive options.
Macky Frank Bagnack
Bagnack got 15 minutes at the end of the Napoli game to try and affect proceedings, which was never going to be enough for this bright young talent to make a difference.
Another B team graduate for whom Barca have high hopes but who has only featured sporadically during pre-season.
It is difficult to grade the Argentine, who has had a tumultuous August.
Not back in the team until the Gamper Trophy match—in which he was excellent—one half of football before a harsh sending off against Elche and the subsequent suspension for the next match against Villarreal probably isn't how Javier Mascherano envisaged his season beginning.
Sergio Busquets was probably Barca's standout performer during August.
A player who continues to do the simple things well and make absolutely no fuss about doing the donkey work, allowing his colleagues to go about their business with attacking intent.
On this form so early in the season, the rest of the league need to sit up and take notice.
Another from the Masia production line, Samper made his first-team debut vs. Nice and dictated the midfield tempo along with Xavi and Ivan Rakitic.
Like Busquets, Samper is calm and unflustered in possession and always looking to play the simple ball.
Elegant but with a steely edge, the youngster could become one of Barca's most complete players for years if he continues developing at the same rate.
A Camp Nou debut in the Gamper Trophy bookended his pre-season nicely.
Unable to play at El Madrigal because of a niggling injury, Andres Iniesta had already made his mark earlier in the month with a captain's contribution throughout pre-season.
It's very rare to find any weakness in "El Ilusionista's" game, and so it has proved this August.
Starting as he means to go on, Iniesta has been first class.
If Xavi wasn't aware of the pecking order this season, he is now.
Luis Enrique has shown that he is not frightened to leave him on the bench for the good of the side. Similarly, when he is looking for world-class midfield talent, the manager need look no further than this man.
Just to share the pitch with him must be an honour, to see his skill set at first hand would be mesmerising. He continues to be the benchmark for excellence at the club.
He scored the penalty that tied the match against Nice in Barca's second pre-season run out.
Halilovic linked up nicely with Munir and Gerard Deulofeu after coming on as substitute against Nice, his quality in possession immediately on show.
The youngster controlled play with half an hour left at Napoli without making too many inroads against the Italians, but the whispers are that here is a player for whom very big things are expected. And it's easy to see why.
For an initial transfer fee of €2.2 million, Barca could well have got themselves one of the best bargains of recent times.
A stunning La Liga debut against Elche capped off a fine start to life in Blaugrana for the Croatian. Looking every inch the player that Barca expected, he covers each blade of grass and gives every last drop of effort.
Against Villarreal, too, he personified what this Barcelona team is all about: power, pace and strength. Rakitic gives Barca an extra dimension in midfield and has been easy on the eye in all of the games he's played throughout August.
The 21-year-old has played a significant portion of Barca's games throughout August and continued to repay the faith shown in him by the manager.
Rafinha's promotion to first-team regular was never in doubt once Luis Enrique brought him back "home" after taking him on loan while in charge of Celta Vigo.
He only played the first half vs. Elche because of Javier Mascherano's red card, but he hasn't disgraced himself in any of the matches in which he has featured.
The youngster still remains somewhat on the periphery of the the first-team picture.
Despite his obvious talent, there seems to be far too much ahead of him in staffing terms for Roberto to make the impact he desires.
There's no doubting what he brings to the team, as he showed time and again during the pre-season programme, such as getting on the scoresheet against Helsinki.
However, being forced to take a back seat once the real business of La Liga starts is a bitter pill to swallow.
The Brazilian worked hard to be fit for the start of the season after picking up a nasty back injury during the World Cup.
Neymar was back ahead of schedule to take part in the Gamper Trophy and responded with a delightful goal.
Perhaps brought back into the fold a little too soon, a slight injury kept him sidelined for the visit of Elche in the opening La Liga fixture, and he was only considered fit enough to grace the bench against Villarreal.
He had no real time to affect proceedings at El Madrigal, but he could've done better with a snapshot when well placed.
Unfortunately for Pedro, he has gone backwards since his 2011 vintage.
Moments of great skill are interspersed with wastefulness and lack of poise in front of goal.
On his day, there aren't many better poachers, and his work rate deserves recognition, but he has been hugely frustrating so far this season.
He had a couple of decent chances just after half time in the Napoli game, but he was not really effective thereafter. It's been a similar tale, right up to the Villarreal game, when he could—and probably should—have scored twice.
The Pedro of 2011 would've buried both chances.
That Luis Enrique made the decision to send Gerard Deulofeu on a season-long loan to Sevilla says it all.
He has so much talent but nowhere near the work ethic required to make the grade at Barca at this stage.
He joined some of his old Barca B colleagues on the pitch for the last 15 minutes against Napoli. A couple of surging runs aside, there was little of note to speak of.
Will Lucho's message get through?
Traore was the only Barca B player to start the first game of August against Nice, and his power, pace and directness brought out the very best in the opposition. A constant threat.
He was given minutes throughout pre-season but not featured at all in La Liga.
After an extended summer break because of his World Cup heroics, it took Lionel Messi just two minutes to find the net against Club Leon in the Gamper Trophy.
In every game, he has been energetic, hungry and focused; the old Lionel Messi if you will, rather than the disinterested player we saw toward the back end of last season.
Two goals against Elche leave him just six shy of the all-time La Liga scoring record, and while he didn't score against Villarreal, it was his most impressive performance of the month.
Dogged, determined and ready for business.
This is probably the only time Luis Suarez will be graded so low, but 15 minutes in a friendly is hardly enough time to make a judgment.
His unofficial debut came in the Gamper Trophy against Club Leon, but the token gesture from Luis Enrique was designed more to showcase the player to an adoring Camp Nou rather than for a genuine run out.
We won't now see him in a Barca shirt until at least the last weekend of October and the first El Clasico of the season.
Munir El Haddadi
El Haddadi continued to make an impact at senior level during August.
After featuring in the opening games this month, two goals in the first 15 minutes against HJK Helsinki set the tone. Two more in the Gamper Trophy and some excellent and intelligent movement gave a sign as to the youngster's burgeoning confidence.
To cap his meteoric rise up the Blaugrana ranks, a goal against Elche on his league debut was no more than he deserved.
The composed finish showed all the hallmarks of his predatory instincts and why he is so highly rated at the club.
He was slightly less impressive at Villarreal, with space and time at a premium.
Ramirez is another who has come up through the Barca B ranks and benefitted from Luis Enrique's confidence in the kids.
He did well during pre-season when given the opportunity, adding some pace and directness to Barca's attack. He scored a delightful goal in the 6-0 rout of Helsinki and notched another to round off the scoring in the Gamper.
As with Munir the week before, Sandro marked his official first-team debut with a goal, one that proved to be the winner at Villarreal.
Coming on as a late substitute, his ability to be in the right place at the right time and desire to get to the ball first saw him tap home Messi's cross from virtually on the goal line.
There's little to reproach Luis Enrique for from his first few weeks in the job.
For those Barca fans wanting to see a return to the sort of style that Barcelona played under Pep Guardiola, they have their wish.
The passing and pressing game for which they were synonymous under Pep has returned. The Catalans look hungry again.
And that is down to the intensity with which the manager likes to play.
Against Villarreal in particular, Barca kept knocking on the door until the very end, getting their reward with eight minutes of the match remaining.
Not frightened to tinker with formations or to bring in youngsters, Enrique has every member of the squad buying into his way of thinking. Even Xavi, who has been benched thus far this La Liga campaign, told FCBarcelona.com:
[Luis Enrique] spoke very clearly to me and made it clear that I was starting anew, just like everyone else and that I had to show what I could do in training, just like the rest of the squad.
I like to feel that way. I know him from way back and I have a good relationship with him. I am starting again, feeling strong and excited.
With only two games played in the league, Barca are already the only side with a 100 per cent record. Enrique will be hoping to build on that after the international break.
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