Tag Archives: FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona – all change?

Now that the new season is upon us, time to revisit the progress of Barcelona. Perhaps that should read the lack of progress at Barcelona. Last season, coach Valverde’s first, was relatively successful. Winning the Spanish League and Cup double is always a welcome feat. However the calamitous loss to Roma in the quarter finals of the Champions League has left a feeling of failure hanging over last season.

This was the third time in a row that Barça have gone out at this stage, so there would appear to be something deep seated about this failure. For most onlookers this repeated failure is mainly due to the lack of genuine first team talent in the squad. The first eleven is possibly the best in the world. However the replacements are clearly not anywhere near this level.

So this summer the club has gone in for a pretty radical renovation of the squad. Many of the underperforming “B” team have left the club. This includes players such as André Gomes, Lucas Digne and Aleix Vidal. In addition, some who have never quite established themselves in the squad like Marlon, Yerry Mina and Deulofeu have also left the club. I expect one or two more will also leave before the end of the transfer window.

Unfortunately for Barça fans, and lovers of football everywhere, the team has also lost the great, irreplaceable Andrés Iniesta. To this must be added the departure of Paulinho, a key player, if not always first choice.

Will the new arrivals offer real competition to the current first eleven? Arturo Vidal looks like a straight replacement for Paulinho. Like Paulinho he will offer the coach something very different from the dominant Barça style – aggression, physicality and strength. Though he arrived in January, for Philippe Coutinho this will be his first full season at the Camp Nou. Most likely to be used in Iniesta’s position, he is about as good a replacement for Iniesta as possible.

Ousmane Dembélé is in a similar position to Coutinho. This will be his second season, but given the serious injuries during his first season, this will be, hopefully, his first full, injury free season.

So far nothing in the way of real competition for the current first choice players. Four other players have joined the squad during the summer. Will they provide the much longed for competition? Clément Lenglet is a young, 23 years old French central defender. He is used to playing in Spain with Sevilla, so should offer reliable cover as the third choice central defender behind Piqué and Umtiti. Can he displace either of the other two? We have to wait and see, but he does look like a very good addition to the squad.

In midfield, another young player, 21 year old Arthur Melo has arrived from Brazil. Another experienced player he has quickly adapted to Barcelona’s style of play, at least on his showing during the American tour. Initially he is likely to be used as cover for both Rakitić and Coutinho. If he continues with his early promise he may well push Ivan Rakitić for a starting place.

Up front yet another 21 year old Brazilian has come in the shape of Malcom. A wide attacking player, Malcom has come from Girondins in the French league, so has good experience of playing in Europe, if not in Spain. Looks like he will be in competition with Dembélé as the third striker to accompany Messi and Suárez in attack.

So far that gives us three very good additions to the squad from last season. (I am counting Coutinho and Vidal as replacements and not additions.) The fourth newcomer to the first team squad is Carles Aleñá who has been promoted from the B team. An attacking midfielder, Aleñá is very highly regarded by the club’s coaching staff. He will not be 21 until January 2019 and the club have high hopes for the player. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a serious hamstring injury in the early summer. He is currently recovering from surgery and of course has missed all the pre-season training and matches.

Just how much playing time he gets is a bit of a mystery at the moment. As Barça normally play with two attacking, creative midfielders, I reckon Aleñá will start as fifth choice for one of these places.

To further complicate matters it is as of writing unclear what will happen with Denis Suárez and Rafinha the two other attacking midfielders still  with the squad. This will be Denis’s third season with the club and so far has shown no signs of seriously competing for a starting place. Does the club really need a sixth choice midfielder?

Rafinha is is in a slightly different situation. The younger of the Alcántara brothers, he is another very highly rated attacking midfielder who can also play on the wing. However he has suffered badly from injuries and spent the last half of last season at Inter Milan on loan, helping the club to qualify for the Champions League. Inter would like to buy the player, but apparently do not want to pay what Barça feel the player is worth. He is back at the Camp Nou and has impressed during the pre-season matches in America. A fully fit Rafinha would be a very good addition to the squad, but at whose expense? Keeping Rafinha can only be to the detriment of Aleñá. Bit of a puzzle for Valverde and his team to sort out before the end of August.

In attack it looks like Munir will be preferred to Paco Alcácer as the fifth striker. A bit of a luxury for the team to have five strikers. Presumably Alcácer will be transferred or loaned out.

In defence Vermaelen will probably remain as the fourth central defender. The real interest is in the full backs. With the departure of Digne, cover for Jordi Alba is likely to come from one of the young players at the club. At the moment 18 year old Juan Miranda looks the most likely to fill this position. Though he may also continue to play with the B team from time to time. Over at right back we await with interest to see if Semedo finally convinces Valverde that he should be first choice. Or will the coach continue to play Sergi Roberto in that role? Interesting to note that the club still do not have a top class reliable substitute for Sergio Busquets. Sergi Roberto has played there during the American tour and does well in this position. Though he is not quite in the same league as Busquets. But then who is?

Overall then it looks like Barça have reinforced their first team options in attack, midfield and central defence with three high quality players. If Aleñá or Rafinha stay fully fit, then there could be a fourth quality option for Valverde. We will get a glimpse of the future on Sunday when Barcelona play Sevilla in the Spanish Supercopa. Already getting excited.

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FC Barcelona – change and continuity

Time for a little break from politics and a look at the changes in personnel at Barça over recent seasons. Last season was the club’s most successful since the glory years of Guardiola. To be the first club to win the prized triplete – league, cup and Champions League – for a second time, was a tremendous achievement.. The team has changed a lot since they managed this feat the first time around in 2009. How much as the squad changed since then? 2009 is a longish time ago, so perhaps a more relevant comparison is with the squad which last won the Champions League in 2011. The most striking difference is with the coaching team. Since Guardiola left the club in 2012 the team has had three different coaches, one for each season. Luis Enrique, a former player, took over at the beginning of last season and, after a bit of a shaky start, led the team to the three trophies. Luis Enrique is a very different person from Guardiola. He is less media friendly and seems to be even more stringent and demanding of the players than Guardiola. Whatever goes on behind the scenes, it certainly worked for last season. Repeating any kind of success is of course even more challenging, both for the coach and the players.

Though the current team has many similarities with Guardiola’s teams, there are some small but significant differences. In terms of playing style, this has not changed much, but the current team is a bit more direct at times and is not as secure at retaining possession as previous teams. This is probably due to other teams working out how Barça play and trying even harder to disrupt this possession. This probably explains why the team now counter attack more often. There is no point in over egging this change. It is only marginal as Barça still usually dominate possession and mostly try to play, sometimes overplay, their way to the opposition goal.

The biggest changes are to do with the players. In summary the team has fewer Spanish and Catalan players and fewer players have come through from the youth set-up, the famous cantera.  The team that started the 2011 Champions League final included seven Spanish players of whom four were from Catalunya. The 18 man squad for the final contained a further four Spanish nationals, of whom two were Catalans. By contrast for the 2015 final the figures were completely reversed when it came to nationality. Only four of the starting 11 were from Spain, though three of them were Catalans. Out of the 18 man squad, seven were Spanish, of whom five were Catalans. It is clear that the team and the larger squad has become progressively less Spanish and much more international. Though the number of Catalans in the team and squad has declined less so. In a sense the team is slightly more Catalan than Spanish, but overall it is more international. Below is a table showing a comparison of the two squads by nationality.

2011

2015

Starting 11
Spanish Iniesta Iniesta
Villa
Pedro
Catalan Valdés Piqué
Piqué Busquets
Busquets Alba
Xavi
Other Alves Ter-Stegen
Mascherano Alves
Abidal Mascherano
Messi Rakitić
Messi
Suarez
Neymar
Substitutes
Spanish Olazábal Pedro
Thiago
Catalan Puyol Bartra
Bojan Xavi
Other Adriano Bravo
Safely Adriano
Keita Mathieu
Rafinha

There is just as marked a difference when it comes to players who have progressed from the youth team to the first team. In 2011 the starting 11 included no fewer than seven players who had been formed in the youth team. One of these, Piqué, had left and returned, but the other six had been with the club for all of their careers. Some would leave after 2011, but at that time they had been with Barça for just about all of their professional career. A further four players from the youth team were included among the substitutes. By the 2015 there were fewer former youth team players in the starting team –  five instead of seven. These included Alba, another player who had left the youth team only to return. The substitutes included a further four players who had come through the youth team. Barcelona’s youth teams take in players from all over the world and the most famous of them all is from Argentina – Lionel Messi. However of the nine who were in the squad for the 2015 final, five were from Catalunya.

2011

2015

From Youth Team
Starting 11 Valdés Piqué
Piqué Alba
Busquets Busquets
Xavi Iniesta
Iniesta Messi
Messi
Pedro
Substitutes Puyol Xavi
Thiago Pedro
Bojan Rafinha
Olazábal Bartra

Looking ahead this trend is only likely to continue at least for the foreseeable future. It does not look like any of the current crop of youngsters is ready to make the jump to regular first team football. Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and the third goalkeeper, Masip, will continue to form part of the first team squad, but are unlikely to dislodge the current first choice players. Either Sandro or Munir may get a chance to join the first team squad, particularly if Pedro does finally decide to leave.  As the B team has just descended from the second to the third division its future is a bit uncertain, so it will probably take a few years before the youth team will produce any new future stars.

Two big name signings have been made, though neither can play until next January, due to the FIFA ban. Aleix Vidal is a Catalan who has signed from Sevilla. He is likely to be the long term replacement for Dani Alves at right back. Arda Turan is a Turkish international who has come from Atletico Madrid. Not quite sure where he will fit in. He seems most similar to Iniesta, but he has a good few years left in him at the top level. We will all find out from January onwards.

In the meantime the immediate future will rest will the same players who achieved the treble last season. Minus Xavi who has left for the Gulf. This leaves an opening for either Rafinha or Sergi Roberto, at least until January. Vermaelen seems to have recovered from his injury and if he stays fit will offer extra cover for the defence. Roll on the start of the season!

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The All new Barça – A winning team?

The new La Liga seasons starts this weekend and Barcelona play their first match this evening. So time for a bit of reflection on the summer’s transfer activity.  It is not quite all change at the club, but this time around they have gone for more of a revolution than evolution. Luis Enrique, the new head coach, does have extensive Barcelona connections as a player and as B team coach. However he has been brought in to oversee some radical changes. Not so much in the way the team plays, which is expected to only show slight changes from previous years, but more in terms of discipline and fitness.

As regards the squad this had changed significantly, with a high turnover of comings and goings. Starting with the goalkeeper, both Valdés and his deputy José Manuel Pinto, have left the club. Two new keepers have been signed, Marc-André Ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo, while Jordi Masip has been promoted from the B team. Barça now have three very good goalkeepers, but we will have to wait to see if any of the three can reach the consistently high standard set by Valdés.

Finally we get to see some new faces in the centre of the defence. Two experienced and tall centre backs have been signed – Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen. The team now has four recognised centre backs, the two newcomers plus Piqué and Bartra. This may turn out to be five as Javier Mascherano has played in defence in most of the pre-season matches. Mathieu and Vermaelen will add much needed experience and solidity to the defence. But it has to be doubted whether either can reach the levels of commitment and leadership of the sadly departed Carles Puyol.

In midfield at first sight it looks like a straight swap of Ivan Rakitic for Cesc Fàbregas. But as Cesc was more often used in attack it looks like Rakitic has come to replace Xavi in the first team. At one stage it looked like Xavi was going to leave the club during the summer, but he has decided to stay and fight for a place in the first team. Presumably Rakitic has been bought to add a bit of physical presence to the midfield as well as his undoubted skill. Still it will be a very different Barça without Xavi controlling the midfield. Sergi Roberto is the fourth midfielder, but he as yet has shown little sign that he can become a first choice player. Sergi Busquets remains the first choice for the defensive midfield organiser. Everyone assumed that Alexandre Song would leave the club and that Mascherano would offer competition to Busquets in this role, but as yet this has not happened.

Quite a few changes in attack for this season. Alexis has gone to Arsenal, while Luis Suarez has come in. If he keeps his cool, Suarez with his prolific scoring record should provide Barça with a potent attacking trio, alongside Messi and Neymar. However Suarez is not available for another two months, which should provide another opportunity for Pedro to shine. Luis Enrique welcomed back two loan players, Deulofeu and Rafinha. Somewhat surprisingly Deulofeu has already been loaned out again, this time to Sevilla. Rafinha, the younger brother of Thiago Alcántara looks likely to become the fifth option for the attack. The biggest surprise of the pre-season has probably been the youngster Munir, who ended up the leading goal scorer. He is also likely get an opportunity or two to demonstrate his talents.

All in all, the squad has gained in experience and solidity compared to last season. Once Suarez is available the attack looks very exciting. However both Neymar and Messi missed lots of matches last season due to injury. If either or both succumb again, the cover is not very deep. The midfield should be at least as good as recent years, with Rakitic to provide fresh legs and Xavi still around to provide that extra touch of class. The defence including the goalkeeper is where most uncertainty lies. We do not as yet know who will be first choice either as keeper or as the two centre backs. This is the area of the team that most needs continuity of selection to build up the mutual understanding that is crucial to any title winning team.

Once again we should see lots of goals from this team, but it may take more than one season to build a team that can win titles. Much will depend on whether the midfield and defence can settle into a pattern and how quickly this can be achieved. Whatever happens it will not be easy to win anything either in Spain or in Europe. Both Real and Atlético remain formidable teams, while the challenges from England and Germany are getting even stronger. Let the games begin!

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Mini revolution at FC Barcelona

Now for something completely different. It’s midsummer and we’re well into the World Cup in Brazil, so time to take stock of what is happening at Can Barça. And this summer it looks like a mini revolution is in the making. Starting at the top, with Luis Enrique installed as the new coach. This will be Barça’s fourth coach in as many years. Luis Enrique comes with years of experience of playing for Barcelona and some useful experience as a coach. However he is untested at this level, as was Guardiola of course. He seems to be a very confident and determined person with his own ideas of how he wants the team to play. We wish him well.

As regards the team itself, it looks like there will be significant changes in every line. Beginning with the goalkeeper, where there have been two new signings – Marc Ter Stegen from Borussia Mönchengladbach and Chilean international Claudio Bravo who has signed from Real Sociedad. It will be fascinating to see who ends up as the first choice keeper. Whoever it is, he will have a hard job to match the record of Victor Valdés, who has left the club of his own volition. Still recovering from a serious injury, Valdés’ own future is very uncertain.

The centre of the defence is the one area where everyone has been expecting major change for the past three seasons. Perhaps this time, there will be new faces in the defence. Carles Puyol has finally had to admit defeat in his attempts to overcome his injury problems. It also seems that Javier Mascherano will revert to playing in midfield as cover for Busquets. This leaves the team with just two central defenders – Gerard Piqué and Marc Bartra. Hence all the talk about the need to sign not just one, but two central defenders. The usual suspects are bandied about, Marquinhos from PSG and Mathieu from Valencia, to name just two, but as yet no deal has been done for anyone. The other possible change in the defence is at right back. The future of Dani Alves is once again a topic for newspaper columns. Central defenders seems to be more of a priority right now.

Midfield is another line that will definitely see major changes. Cesc Fàbregas has already left, bound for Chelsea, while Xavi has all but confirmed his departure from the club for a season or two in Qatar. Ivan Rakitic, the Croatian international has already been signed from Sevilla. He will add some much needed physical presence to the midfield as well as a good technique. Whether he can replace Xavi is less certain. He seems more in the mold of a Seydou Keita type player, someone who played an essential part in the successes of the Guardiola team. The player the club would like to take over from Xavi appears to be Koke, the Spanish international from Atlético Madrid. Koke though will not come cheap, €40-50 million seems to be the minimum that Atlético will demand. Assuming the player wants to leave anyway. He is an Atlético fan and may not want to leave, at least not just now, as Atlético get another chance at the Champions League. There will be one another new player in midfield for next season, Rafa Alcántara. Rafinha, as he is known, is the younger brother of former Barça hope, Thiago. Rafinha of course is just coming home, after a year on loan with Celta Vigo, where his coach was none other than Luis Enrique. Can Rafinha fill the hole left by Xavi? The other midfielder from last season is Sergi Roberto, who has never quite made it into the first team as a regular. If Barcelona do sign Koke or someone similar, it is hard to see much of a future for Sergi Roberto at the club.

Up front there will be at least one new arrival in the shape of Gerard Deulofeu, another product of Barcelona’s famous youth system. Deulofeu spent last season on loan at Everton, where he did OK, but never secured a regular starting place. Everyone at the Camp Nou expects great things from Deulofeu, but he will find it no easier to break through at Barcelona than at Everton. Most commentators reckon that Christian Tello, who only made sporadic appearances for the team last season, will leave during the summer. Messi and Neymar will remain as the stars of the team. The big question for Luis Enrique is, do Barça need a different type of forward to add variety to their attacking options. This has been a bit of a perennial topic for Barça fans, along with who will be the next central defender. No one knows for certain what Luis Enrique thinks of this, but the press is full of all kinds of names of possible reinforcements for the attack. The latest name to appear was Luis Suárez, the Uruguayan striker at Liverpool. He of course would cost a fortune, assuming Liverpool would sell their star asset. This is where the other Barcelona strikers appear. Both Pedro and Alexis Sánchez are deemed to be transferable if the price is right. The Luis Suárez story has Alexis going in the opposite direction to Liverpool, thus reducing the cost to Barcelona.

It all sounds a bit fanciful, but the alleged coming and goings of footballs is all part and parcel of the summer fun for fans everywhere. And stranger things have happened in the world of football. Looks like a good forward line though – Messi, Neymar and Suárez!

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