5 things to expect from FC Barcelona in the new season
The 2019/2020 La Liga season kicks off in a week’s time and happenings at Barcelona will be high on the watch list.
The last two seasons have gone the same route; untouchable in the league despite being shaky, failing at the worst possible times in Europe and a continued over-reliance on Lionel Messi.
Culés will be anxiously looking at the first game against Athletic Bilbao for clues on what to expect. The consecutive defeats to AS Roma and Liverpool after commanding first-leg leads have put an inordinate amount of pressure on the manager, Ernesto Valverde.
The off-season has not seen much in terms of volume of arrivals and departures. The Blaugrana have spent €255m on new talent; Antoinne Griezmann, Frenkie De Jong, Neto, Junior Firpo and so on. The team has recouped about €146m in sales; Malcolm, Jasper Cillessen, Andre Gomes amongst others.
How the team will look, perform and face the challenges of the new season remains to be seen with Valverde well aware that he is living on borrowed time
Here is a look at some of the things to watch out for as far as Barcelona is concerned:
#5 Little changes in defence
Following the decision of Matthijs de Ligt to ignore the call from the Nou Camp and head to Juventus and the Serie A, there is a settled look to Barcelona’s defence for the upcoming season.
The backline was reasonably okay for the entirety of last season until the two horror shows at Anfield and in the Copa Del Rey final. Spanish U-21 international Firpo has been the only addition to the backline this summer and he is expected to act as deputy to Jordi Alba for the foreseeable future.
The arrival of Neto from Valencia changes nothing in the goalkeeping department as Marc-Andre Ter Stegen will continue as undisputed number one.
Clement Lenglet had a decent first season following his arrival from Sevilla. He will fancy his chances of continuing to be in the first squad alongside Gerald Pique and ahead of Samuel Umtiti.
The uncertainty over the first-choice right-back is the big unknown in Barca’s defensive equation. Nelson Semedo seems to be finally coming into his own after an injury-plagued first couple of seasons in Spain. However, Valverde has not hidden his love for Sergi Roberto’s hardworking style.
Jean Clair Todibo and Moussa Wague are expected to play substitute roles or go out on loan to gain more experience.
#5 Midfield to have a new feel
It goes without saying; Barcelona is stacked in the middle of the park in terms of names. Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal are the old heads in the midfield. The trio will be expected to play important roles in Barca’s assault on all competitions.
Then, there are the young heads. De Jong, Arthur Melo, Carlos Alena and Riqui Puig will be eager to stake their claims for a starting berth as well.
Based on Valverde’s previous selections; Busquets is almost certain to start all the games he is fit for. The Spanish international who is one of the team’s captains is the only truly defensive-minded player in the midfield.
However, he has slowed down in the last couple of seasons and was unable to stop the tide of high-press attacks by opposing teams last season (especially Liverpool at Anfield and Valencia in the Copa Del Rey final).
There was a lack of pace and thrust from midfield last season and is something that the manager will be eager to rectify this season. Rakitic is no longer as mobile as he used to be while Vidal was not trusted enough to show what he is capable of.
Valverde will need to pick the right blend of solidity, control and thrust if Barca is to do awesome things in the new season.
#3 Answers to the Coutinho & Dembele questions
Smarting from the “humiliating” loss of Neymar to PSG, the Barcelona board led by Josep Bartomeu went on a spending spree.
The result has been a couple of players who have failed to live up to their ridiculous price tags. Three years after their arrival, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho are no closer to justifying their huge price tags.
While Dembele has at least, had the mitigating factor of injuries, the same cannot be said of Coutinho as the Brazilian has been given every opportunity to showcase himself.
Brought in from Liverpool to play the role vacated by Andres Iniesta, the 27-year-old has consistently failed to deliver the guile, control and general play his 145m price tag demands.
He has been underwhelming and the club is said to be actively seeking buyers to take him off their hands.
If both players do not move, the 2019/2020 season will be huge in terms of their continued stay in Barcelona. The arrival of Griezmann means even more competition and both players will need to step-up big time.
#2 Valverde and a change of tactics
The fact that Valverde is still the coach at Barcelona is a small miracle. The clamour for his removal which has been building reached a crescendo after the UCL semifinal exit at Anfield.
Probably due to a lack of credible replacements, Bartomeu made the decision to continue with the former Athletic Bilbao manager.
The 55-year-old is well aware of how the fans feel about his continued presence and will be eager to make amends in both La Liga and the UCL. A change in tactics is needed. His team set-up for the big games in the league; El Clasico, against Atletico Madrid, Valencia and others have generally been good.
It is the cup matches especially in Europe that the team has struggled against opponents who play with a high-intensity. The safety-first approach is one that has earned the ire of Culés, Valverde will need to tweak this while maintaining the defensive solidity the team has achieved since he became the manager.
With a plethora of options across board, he knows he has the resources to make these changes and get the fans back on his side. How this unfolds will make for compelling viewing.
#1 An intriguing look to the frontline
Messi, Luis Suarez and Griezmann (MSG) sounds like a partnership made in football heaven. Unfortunately, this would have been true 4 years ago.
How these three will combine (not forgetting Coutinho and Dembele) will be Valverde’s biggest obstacle for the new season.
As the second striker in Diego Simeone’s favoured 4-2-2-2 system, Griezmann occupied the same role as Messi does for Barcelona, the fantasista (one who plays with fantasy or imagination on the pitch) who is unshackled and causes havoc for opponents anywhere he can.
No team in the world can survive with having two of such players on the pitch at the same time as it would mean extra work for the teammates behind them. Griezmann hasn’t played as a winger for a very long time and no longer has the skill set of a traditional winger.
This presents a fascinating situation; how to get all three players in the team without sacrificing defensive solidity. Popular opinion posits that Messi will continue in his free role with the Frenchman just behind Suarez.
How this will play out is up for discussion as the trio are yet to line up at the same time in pre-season. One thing is for sure, the decision will go a long way in determining how well the team performs in the new season.