The next team in our La Liga preview is the defending La Liga champions Barcelona.
What are Barcelona’s expectations this year?
Barcelona’s goals will be the same as they are every season: Win every trophy they can, with a particular focus on La Liga and the Champions League. That said, this may be a bit of a transitional season for the Catalans as Luis Suarez is now 29, as is Lionel Messi. Andres Iniesta is 32. Even Ivan Rakitic, often thought of as a younger member of the core of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, is 28. We can likely expect another year or two of peak Messi and Suarez, but the window is finally beginning to shrink. When you combine their increasing age with the enormous financial strain of keeping Messi, Suarez, and Neymar on the books, it is entirely possible that this could be MSN’s last chance to win another Champions League as well as a second treble since 2009.
What kind of tactics should we expect?
Again, there shouldn’t be anything too revolutionary here. Barcelona still like to play possession football, patiently breaking down teams through clever passing and movement. They have, of course, become a bit more direct under Enrique as the possession master Xavi was replaced in midfield by the more direct Rakitic and the front three saw a major upgrade with the additions of Neymar and Suarez.
The result is that Barcelona have essentially rebuilt their possession game with the intent of playing it much further up the pitch and relying on Suarez, Neymar, and Messi to create high-quality chances with their passing and movement in the attacking third.
Who are the most influential players?
The obvious choice here is all three members of MSN. That said, one of the things with playing so high up the pitch and building so much of your attack through the front three is that you need players to get them the ball.
Enter Ivan Rakitic. The Croatian midfielder joined the team from Sevilla the same summer that Luis Enrique arrived. He’s not the possession-obsesseed player that Xavi is (no surprise) but he excels at getting the ball forward quickly and setting up MSN to build the attack.
What have they done during the transfer window?
So far the Catalans have signed four players, two midfielders (Denis Suarez via a buyback clause and Andre Gomes) and two defenders (Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne). All look like potentially good moves. Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes add some much needed depth in midfield (and presumably allow Arda Turan to become backup to MSN instead of midfield backup). Samuel Umtiti is a good long-term signing at center back while Lucas Digne is a versatile defender who, again, adds depth.
These are all the kinds of signings the team needed to make. There weren’t obvious places to fix their first XI, but by bringing in some good cover they’ve set themselves up to cope with any extended injury absences for their key players.
One Bold Prediction
Barcelona will not win La Liga. Real Madrid should be better with a full year of Zinedine Zidane in charge. Atletico Madrid are stacked this year. And while Barcelona habe added depth they haven’t necessarily added any game-changing players. Gomes will be a competent backup to Rakitic. Suarez adds some nice cover. But unless Munir or Sandro make a leap this year and become more serious threats coming off the bench, the Catalans simply don’t have much to call on past MSN. This year, that will catch up with them.