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Will AC Milan regret Kessie’s Barcelona transfer?

19:43 SAST 2022/07/26
Franck Kessie - Barcelona 2022-23
The Ivory Coast midfielder, who is expected to play for Xavi’s men against Juventus on Wednesday, departed Serie A at the backend of last season

It is becoming somewhat cliché hearing the oft-repeated take to not pay attention to pre-season performances and results as they are largely fitness-building exercises.

Yet the intensity of Sunday morning’s El Clasico looked more like a competitive fixture rather than another off-season 90 minutes to build both sides’ physical condition.

Barcelona won 1-0 in Las Vegas, deservedly defeating a Real Madrid side they look to supplant in La Liga in 2022-23.

Perhaps the result and Barca’s superior performance were understandable. It was Los Blancos’ first game of pre-season as opposed to Xavi Hernandez’s men who were playing their fourth fixture in preparation for their La Liga opener on August 13.

While off-season results are often disregarded, they tend to give an insight into approaches to expect in the new season, especially if a new manager is in situ and/or fresh acquisitions are being integrated.

For Xavi, the first-half starts handed to Andreas Christensen and Robert Lewandowski caught the eye, just as much as Franck Kessie’s introduction for the second 45 minutes.

The summer acquisition, like Christensen, arrived on a free transfer after five seasons with AC Milan (the initial two on loan from Atalanta) and got 45 minutes of action against UE Olot and Inter Miami but the Real fixture represented the sternest test.

Indeed, the opening minutes after Kessie replaced Gavi at half-time demonstrated some of his characteristics and how Xavi intends to utilise him.

The eventful period saw the Ivory Coast international win a free-kick and operate in the right half-space, looking to create separation from his marker and spray passes to the wide forwards before making late runs into the box.

Off the ball in higher areas of the pitch, Kessie pushed centrally to press alongside Barca’s front three and dropped into a defensive midfield position when Los Blancos were in the Blaugrana’s defensive third along with either Sergio Busquets or Nicolas Gonzalez (after the experienced Spain international’s withdrawal).

However, there was a difference in how the 25-year-old operated at times after Xavi’s alterations on the hour, seeing him intermittently take up positions in the left half-space.

It was from there the former Milan man nearly doubled Barcelona’s advantage in the 72nd minute, creating separation from Luka Modric and latching on to Sergi Roberto’s ball but was thwarted by Thibaut Courtois.

He was instrumental in two promising moments for the eventual victors in the final five minutes of normal time, carrying the ball from the halfway line and setting up Ousmane Dembele with a well-weighted ball but the Frenchman’s effort was saved by Courtois.

Two minutes later, he held off Nacho in the build-up to another move that ended with the Real Madrid custodian saving from Dembele in the 88th minute.

It was only 45 minutes of action against a side playing their first pre-season fixture but some of Kessie’s attributes were discernible.

Many who read the Barca website’s summation of his profile after he signed would have caught glimpses of the erstwhile Milan midfielder’s characteristics.

“Franck Kessie is a player who contributes in attack and defence,” a summary on the club’s website read. “Capable of winning the ball back in midfield, the African midfielder also has impressive stats as a goalscorer, partly due to his ability to make runs into the penalty area.”

Milan’s loss is undoubtedly Barcelona’s gain and while there will be harsher examinations when the season starts, the 25-year-old will back himself to thrive at Camp Nou in year one.

The Rossoneri’s absence of a replacement for the ex-Atalanta man ought to worry supporters at San Siro who dubbed the Ivorian ‘The President’ following multiple strong seasons, culminating in being named in the Serie A Team of the Year in 2020-21.

With their Scudetto title on the line, the Milanisti will be frustrated about the club's hitherto failure to build from a position of strength, bringing in three players for a combined fee lower than €10 million.

It remains to be seen how the forthcoming campaign pans out for Kessie but the early signs suggest Xavi recognises the player’s profile and is keen to get the best out of Barca’s new acquisition.