Dembele, Boateng & Barcelona's B-teamers fail to impress in Man United audition

Comments()
Getty
Several reserves started against Huesca on Saturday but underwhelmed in a dour 0-0 draw that did little but edge the visitors closer to the Liga title

We can't say we weren't warned.

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde insisted that Saturday's meeting with Huesca at El Alcoraz would be "totally different" from the 8-2 drubbing they dished out to La Liga's basement boys earlier this season.

It was a totally different game because he picked a totally different team.

With Barca hosting Manchester United in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday, Valverde rested the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets, while Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique were both suspended for the trip to Aragon.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the only survivor from the side that started the 1-0 win at Old Trafford in midweek.

There were four Liga debutants in total – Jeison Murillo, Jean-Clair Todibo, Moussa Wague and Riqui Puig – as Barca named the youngest team the Primera Division has seen this season, with an average age of just 24 years and 133 days old.

January signings Murillo and Todibo looked comfortable at the back, while Wague and Puig impressed with their energy and quality on the ball.

Puig, in fact, should have registered an assist before his 67th-minute withdrawal but his clever through-ball for Dembele midway through the first half was wasted, with the Frenchman seeing his attempted finish saved by Roberto Santamaria.

Dembele was arguably Barca's biggest threat throughout but this game represented an excellent chance for him to not only prove his match fitness, but also stake his claim for a starting berth against United.

He could well get the nod at Camp Nou, if only because his pace was sorely missed in Manchester, as Philippe Coutinho once again failed to convince.

Ousmane Dembele Barcelona

However, Dembele was by no means at his scintillating best in what was a dour 0-0 draw – which was perhaps unsurprising, given he was surrounded by so many bit-part players, chief among them Kevin-Prince Boateng.

This was just Boateng's second appearance in La Liga – and third overall for Barca – since his surprise loan signing from Sassuolo in January. Sadly, he is unlikely to get many more after another anonymous outing.

Meanwhile, Malcom, who has grown in confidence in recent months, impressed in flashes, striking the post early in the second half with a fine strike but it's hard not to shake the suspicion that the €41 million signing from Bordeaux will, like Boateng, leave Catalunya at the end of the season.

Samuel Umtiti, of course, has also been linked with a summer exit and Barca will have been buoyed by the fact that the injury-prone defender came through this latest appearance unscathed.

There have been growing concerns over the condition of the France defender's knees but he looked something like his old self during an assured outing at the back.

Beyond that, though, there were few other major plusses from a forgettable game.

Still, Barca are one point closer to the title, now needing to win just three of their remaining six fixtures to retain their Liga crown.

Article continues below

That should be a formality. The Champions League, though, is likely to prove a lot less straightforward.

Indeed, there is still work to be done against United. Barca will need a "totally different" performance to this one to progress to the last four.

With a totally different team, they should get one.

Close