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Barcelona add youth ahead of treble bid

Barcelona (AFP) – Barcelona head into the new season looking to wrestle the Champions League trophy back from Real Madrid, while defending their La Liga and Copa del Rey titles for the third year running.

Having already started the season in the best way possible, by beating Sevilla and lifting the Spanish Super Cup, Luis Enrique has won a magnificent eight trophies out of 10 competitions entered as the club’s coach.

Expectation levels have been raised so high for his side that anything but another treble will be interpreted in some quarters as disappointing, even if the reality is that simply winning the league title for three consecutive years would be an incredible feat.

Barcelona have been active in the summer transfer market, spending around 80 million euros ($90.8m) to bring in four players in Samuel Umtiti, Denis Suarez, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes.

There is a clear plan at the club to bring in young players, with all the new signings 22 years old when they joined the club. The long-term hope is that they can replace four of the existing veterans in the team.

Barca have searched long and hard for a centre-back to partner Gerard Pique, but Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu are just two of the men who have not managed to dislodge Javier Mascherano. The hope is that Umtiti can do so.

Meanwhile, Luis Enrique carefully managed Andres Iniesta’s minutes last season and both Denis Suarez and Gomes could prove to be his heir in midfield.

The squad now has the depth that Barcelona need to compete on three fronts, with last season’s stutter towards the end of the season down to tiredness.

“We have reinforced the squad brilliantly,” explained Luis Enrique. 

“On paper, I have the best squad in my three years here. All the new players have settled in well. They have quality and will have to compete for a place.”

Midfielder Sergio Busquets was also keen to emphasise the value of adding new players, even though some claim Barcelona have too many options in the centre of the pitch, with 10 players capable of playing there.

“Already in pre-season you can see how important it is to have a deep squad,” said Busquets.

“We have been left without four teammates due to injury going into La Liga and it’s good to have players available in each position. The players that have arrived are really good and I hope they adapt well.”

However, without signing any players currently at their peaks, the onus is still on the ‘MSN’ striking force to be Barcelona’s main weapon.

That deadly trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is the world’s best attacking unit and is what makes Barcelona such an entertaining, thrilling and dangerous side.

It has largely been a summer of disappointment for many of Barcelona’s players in an international level, with Messi and Mascherano tasting defeat in the Copa America final to Barca goalkeeper Claudio Bravo’s Chile, while injury kept Luis Suarez from even appearing in that tournament.

While Madrid stars shone at Euro 2016, only French centre-back Umtiti really impressed from Barcelona’s squad, along with Gomes who won the title with Portugal.

Fans will be hoping that will spur them on to prove a point this season, with Barca reaping the benefits.

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