Group Stage Fan Preview: FC Barcelona
For Barcelona fans worldwide, last season was difficult to explain. No one really knew how to feel about it. On one hand, the club won the two domestic trophies and on the other the club failed, in the worst possible manner, in the Champions League. It is worth mentioning that the league campaign was pretty much the club’s best ever in terms of results. However knowing Barcelona, this simply wasn’t enough.
The club has specific standards and the fans have specific expectations. The standards are very high while the expectations are often ridiculous. But for a club that has achieved ‘the ridiculous’ more than once, it’s hard to blame the fans at this point. Having the greatest player of all time does not exactly help lower the expectations either.
In 2018/2019, eyes will obviously be set on the Champions League trophy. Both Rakitic and Lionel Messi said it out loud. Pretty much everyone affiliated with Barcelona pointed it out. It is time for the sixth. The new players arriving this summer will help fill the gap Iniesta left. But it will mostly be down to Valverde to find the most suitable structure for his very talented players to shine.
Valverde has many options and several new players that could help shape up an interesting team. From Arthur, Malcom, Vidal, to slightly earlier signings like Dembele and Coutinho his squad can compete on all 3 fronts with ease. I say it should happen with ease because he obviously has no problem putting together a successful league campaign, he has always had a decent bench for the Copa Del Rey, and now he has the combination of elements needed to bring the 6th Champions League trophy to the Camp Nou.
However, to get closer to the Champions League, Valverde will definitely need to focus on making Coutinho and Dembele find their best possible form. There is no doubt that Coutinho’s World Cup was excellent and he has enough experience to go into any competition and display his dominance. On the other hand, Dembele only showed glimpses of his Dortmund self last season because of the fact that it took him time to settle in and then he got injured. However the start of this season shows a more confident and hopefully luckier Ousmane Dembele. His recent goals could be the start of something spectacular to come.
There has been the need to surround Lionel Messi with great players so that his incredible passes or dribbles don’t go to waste. And the two players mentioned above have everything it takes to be helpful.
However, so much doubt surrounds Luis Suarez at this point. It was obvious last season that his role in Barcelona simply wasn’t doing him any good. Also, there was a solid belief that he is simply not good enough anymore. I believe it is a combination of both. For Uruguay, Suarez can be a far better player. However, even in his national team, he can look just as silly and wasteful sometimes. It will be down to Valverde to find the best solution for him. It will take some courage to put Suarez aside, which I believe won’t happen because most coaches still see Suarez as fundamental because of his ability to create chances as well. So Valverde is in a complicated situation when it comes to Suarez. Start the superstar and watch him kill many goal scoring opportunities or bench him and lose a unique presence on the field.
In reality, Valverde doesn’t have many choices in Suarez’s position, so he’ll most likely depend on him throughout the entire season. Malcom, whose role in the team is still not exactly clear, may have some impact on how Valverde decides to do things up front but it’s too soon to tell.
In defense, Valverde has the goalkeeper that made last season’s league campaign seem so easy. He has Pique Lenglet and Umtiti. He also has Jordi Alba with no experienced replacement except if one of the french centre backs steps up. On the right side, he has Nelson Semedo who hasn’t exactly impressed massively yet and Sergi Roberto who can play in several positions yet has a lot to improve.
In midfield, Valverde lost Iniesta however he currently has a lot of testing to do considering that Barcelona now have Busquets, Rakitic, Arthur, Vidal, Coutinho and of course several good bench players. As things stand, Valverde is very lucky to have such a wide selection of different and competent players. They won’t successfully replace Iniesta with ease however preseason and their record in former clubs show that there is a lot to be optimistic about.
Speaking of optimism, I have always believed that with Lionel Messi and other excellent players around, the most basic thing a fan should do is be optimistic. It was the case for me during several years and as a Barcelona fan, optimism is rarely a failed belief. The sky is the limit for this current Barcelona team. Last season, with Neymar’s departure and a shaky transfer window, the team eventually managed to make the domestic double look so easy. One has to wonder what this team is capable of now after a long and exciting summer. The sure thing is, the team will triumph.
Maybe success won’t come on all fronts, because it usually doesn’t, but the fans will definitely have a lot to celebrate in June 2019.