Barcelona’s Season Preview: Expectations Are High Despite Dodgy Defense
Fresh from spending somewhere in the region of £130 million, Barcelona has been slapped with a double transfer embargo ban meaning that they can’t buy any players during the next two windows.
Their transfer strategy this summer was plotted out with such an embargo in mind as the Catalan club finally spent some money in key areas of the pitch where they’ve been severely lacking over the past 2 or 3 years.
For too long, Barcelona has gambled on the fitness and form of central defensive pairing Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique who have just 72 La Liga appearances in the past two seasons between them. Javier Mascherano has done an admirable job playing in their stead. However the same can’t be said for the likes of Marc Bartra and Alex Song.
The arrivals of Arsenal third choice defender and a 30-year-old twice-capped French player are hardly awe-inspiring but at least new coach Luis Enrique has a few options in central defence especially after Puyol’s retirement. Moreover, both Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu are comfortable at left-back and may thus act as understudies for Jordi Alba.
The former Gunners skipper is also very comfortable distributing the ball managing a pass success rate of over 85% whilst in London, even though he likes playing the odd long pass or two. His seven Premier League goals in his first season in England show that the Belgian can also be a significant threat in set-pieces, just like Pique and Puyol.
Luis Suarez is the big profile signing and his 31 goals and 12 assists in just 33 league games for Liverpool show that he truly is a world-class talent. Finding a spot for Messi, Suarez and Neymar in a balanced starting 11 and ensuring all three remain in form will be one of the main tasks of Luis Enrique. Success is expected, and expect the Catalans to score tons of goals.
However, the Uruguayan’s four month ban means that he will only start playing once the season is fully in swing thus making it the more difficult for the former Roma and Celta Vigo coach to find the ideal role for his new talisman.
Finally, Ivan Rakitic’s arrival is in my opinion the most astute of all the signings as he contributed 12 assists as he led a very-limited Sevilla side to 5th place in La Liga as well as lifting the Europa League. He will be tasked to provide the balance, steel and creativity that was lacking in Cesc Fabregas’ last season in the Nou Camp.
Whilst I feel that man for man the Catalans have a stronger squad than last season, Luis Suarez’s ban, Luis Enrique’s relative inexperience and the period required for the new players to gel all mean that Barcelona are not my favourites for the La Liga title. Luis Enrique may well end up being successful immediately like Pep Guardiola, but I feel that his experience in Roma shows that his footballing philosophy may not always be appreciated by world-class players.
Barca fans all over the world will pray this is not the case and they will be encouraged by their fixture list in the next two months. If they don’t get at least 10 points from their first five games in La Liga, then I feel winning the league title will be too big a hurdle.
Thomas Vermaelen (£15 million from Arsenal)
Luis Suarez (£75 million from Liverpool)
Ivan Rakitic (£16.2 million from Sevilla)
Claudio Bravo (£9.5 million from Real Sociedad)
Jeremy Mathieu (£15.8 million from Valencia)
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (£9.6 million from M’Gladbach)
Last Season’s Review:
Spanish La Liga – 2nd (87 points)
King’s Cup – Runners-up
Champions’ League – Quarter-finals
Spanish Supercup – Winners
Top Goalscorer – Lionel Messi (41 goals)
Goals scored (all competitions) – 148
Goals conceded (all competitions) – 48
Barcelona’s first 5 La Liga fixtures:
Home vs Elche (August 24)
Away vs Villareal (August 31)
Home vs Athletic Bilbao (September 13)
Away vs Levante (September 21)
Away vs Malaga (September 24)