Messi plays 45 minutes in Barcelona friendly win

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Barcelona beat second-division Gimnastic de Tarragona 3-1 in a preseason friendly on Saturday, with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele each making encouraging returns by scoring in Ronald Koeman’s first game in charge.

Lionel Messi wore the captain’s armband in his first match since he opted to abandon his plans to leave Barca, although Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal were left out of the squad as the club is still trying to offload both players.

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Koeman lined up with a 4-2-3-1 system with two holding midfielders, a shape rarely used by Barca coaches in the past, and said after the match it was something Camp Nou fans might have to get used to.

“It’s perhaps a little different and more defensive to what we have seen in the last few years,” Koeman told the club’s official television channel.

“But the aim is to move the ball, hold on to it and create space to play between the lines, behind the opponents’ midfielders. I think this team is capable of doing this because we have midfielders who are able to play in that way.”

French winger Dembele rolled the ball into the net to put Barca ahead in the sixth minute in his first appearance since November 2019, having undergone surgery to treat a ruptured hamstring tendon.

Antoine Griezmann added to Barca’s advantage by converting a penalty in the 16th minute although defender Javi Bonilla scored a superb goal from the edge of the area to pull one back for Gimnastic on the half-hour mark.

Club record signing Coutinho got the third goal in the 51st, also from the penalty spot, making his first outing for the team since returning on loan from Bayern Munich, with whom he scored two goals in last month’s 8-2 thrashing of Barca in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Koeman, who changed his entire team at half-time by making 11 substitutions, gave debuts to 17-year-old forward Pedri, new signing Francisco Trincao and American forward Konrad de La Fuente, 19, who stepped up from the club’s reserve side.

Barca are sitting out the first two weekends of the new La Liga season, which began on Saturday, due to participating in the Champions League “Final Eight” tournament last month.

They face Girona next Wednesday in another friendly before making their league bow against Villarreal on Sept. 27.

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