It feels really odd not worrying about the life and death of a vital part of the Barça machine. Abidal has been sent away, Vilanova is continuing his fight in private. As I say, weird. It has been a summer of turmoil, mostly from expectant cules wondering if the club is going to sign a CB. There is a new coach, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who promises to be more like Guardiola, if his disciple of Bielsabub approach is to be trusted. But he will have challenges, including reining in Messi to a reasonable amount of playing time, making he, Neymar and Sanchez work together effectively and fixing the tactical flaws that made our defense so vulnerable last season. It’s weird as well that the only new faces are Neymar and Jonathan Dos Santos, who deserves a hats off for his perseverance and self-belief.
Players to look out for:
Sergi Roberto: Thiago is gone, and the club has promoted him to the first team. He is a different kind of player than Thiago, so any considerations of him as a direct replacement are misguided. But he is a potential guided missile with his direct runs, ball pressure and excellent movement off the ball. Huge potential to make Xavi’s life a lot easier. Jonathan Dos Santos: Solid, dependable fresh set of legs. If he lives up to his potential, our midfield has playmaking depth which will come in handy late in the season. Alexis Sanchez: We are beginning to see glimpses of the player that we actually signed, finally meeting his immense potential. Neymar: His potential if off the charts. If he realizes anything approaching all of it, our attack is going to be dazzling.Lionel Messi: In preseason, he has been playing a deeper, almost 10-like role. Is this in preparation for Neymar and Sergi Roberto scampering about? Good question. Managing his playing time will also be crucial Andres Iniesta: He has been showing signs of fully coming into his own, taking shots, making runs and doing something other than being a beautiful series of “almost” moments.Adriano: If he doesn’t break and his pre-season form continues, look out.
This is a team with something to prove, and a chip on its shoulder. Everyone discounted the club, are saying it’s all over, etc, etc, kicking sand in the players’ faces. I challenge anyone to watch the first half of the season, and tell me that team would have lost 7-0 to Bayern. You roll into a Champions League semi-final with your best defender on form damaged and without your best player and you’re probably going to get your ass whipped. If the Martino changes can come together in time, and the likes of Sanchez and Neymar find their form, I like our chances to pull off the double. The season starts with Levante, then Malaga, Valencia and Sevilla. If the club gets through that gauntlet without dropping points, I will have very high hopes for retention of the Liga crown. RM has purchased well, but that squad is still fundamentally unsettled. They will be stiff competition, but I think we will prevail. Martino will rotate wisely, ultimate choosing SuperCopa isn’t worth going all out for, and I’m okay with that.
Most likely January transfer:
Alex Song. His pre-season has been spotty at best, and suddenly there is stiff competition for that same approximate area that he plays, from Dos Santos and Sergi Roberto. I think he will have to show up, kicking ass and taking names. His competition will.
Yup, it has certainly been a crazy couple of months. The argument can be made that the whole year has been that way, taking into consideration that we won the league with a record amount of points and lost a CL semi-final by an almost record goal difference. This summer, after buying the most exciting talent on the planet we are still anxiously waiting for that glittering purchase to fix that glaring need. Life sure is tough being a culé.
On the real side we lost Abidal to a broken promise and Tito Vilanova to a nightmare, and now, with half of the culés seemingly wanting Johan Cruijff to never again enter the Camp Nou and the other half wishing that Sandro Rosell would set foot on Brazilian soil once more, our new coach Gerardo Martino has got his work cut out for him.
Reinvigorating the high press is a start, but it will not solve having replaced one of the world’s finest defenders with a fullback who disrupts our defensive balance (Abidal-Alba), nor will it make Puyol any younger. Even if we get the urgently needed CB we all desire, don’t expect him alone to solve our problems in the back.
I will echo Kxevin’s sentiments about the importance of keeping Messi fresh for when things get serious, but I think that Tata is just the man to convince his fellow Rosarian to sit out the occasional game. After all, this is a World Cup year…
Players to look out for:
You mean besides la Pulga, Ghostface and O Ney?
Well, here is who I am thinking about… after two years one of the world’s most talented midfielders has still not won over the unanimous support of our club’s followers. With Xavi in slow but steady decline it is high time for Cesc Fàbregas to live up to his potential. He doesn’t even have a decent nickname. Look for him to change that and truly come into his own.
Also I suspect his arrival in crime, fellow third year Mr. Sánchez, to have found the exclamation mark our new number 7 lost two years ago somewhere in the chambers of the Camp Nou. Wear it in health, Alexis! If not, Pedro or Tello won’t mind snatching it from your finger.
Finally it would give me immense pleasure if Jean Marie Dongou scored in the Camp Nou this season.
Last year I predicted us to win the Liga and that other team to win the Champions League. Thank God I was only half right. I wouldn’t mind being fully wrong this time round.
Defensive frailty notwithstanding, we have the firepower to prevail against most domestic competition, and coming off of a hundred-point season we should be considered the favorites to win the Liga. I also think Tata will rotate enough for us to be more dangerous later on in the Champion’s League. Ultimately though I fear we will fall short on both. Our rivals are going to put up a monster campaign at home and, barring the arrival of a CB good enough to contend for a starting place, our squad is still looking a bit unbalanced so that I expect one of Europe’s finest to exploit that particular Achilles heel.
Negative any? Not at all. To be honest with you I am all smiles, because I am really looking forward to supporting our club this season – I am sure we will be treated to spectacular football and I feel we will be in all competitions to the very end. I can’t wait until tomorrow.
There’s a league going on? What? Since when? Were there any signings?…good god, €57m for a bad mohawk? Did we promote Deulofeu? Everton?!? And they can’t spell his name? Well, at least we have Muniesa to step into the first team–Stoke!?!? What in God’s name is going on? Speaking of, how’s Messi–tax fraud? Crikey. I think I’ll go back into the hole from whence I came. Wake me up when Champions League knockout stages start.