It’s hard to deny last season was a disappointment for Barcelona. There were moments that will live long in the memory for Blaugrana fans, such as the incredible comeback in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain, but largely it was a forgettable season.
The saving grace was a Copa del Rey final win. But finishing second in the league to rivals Real Madrid and being knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is not good enough for a club with Barça’s expectations.
Luis Enrique departed and Ernesto Valverde arrived as the new head coach, and the former Athletic Club manager will be expected to win La Liga and challenge for the Champions League.
The summer so far
How have Valverde and the rest of the hierarchy at Barcelona tried to address the problems from last season?
There have been no big name arrivals so far with former Benfica right-back Nélson Semedo the most notable transfer of the summer so far.
That position was a major issue for the side last year, with Dani Alves never fully replaced.
Sergi Roberto didn’t properly prove himself in the position while Aleix Vidal got injured only a few games after finally looking at home there.
Gerard Deulofeu has also returned from Everton with Barça exercising their buyback clause on the winger. Meanwhile, Marlon Santos’ loan deal from Fluminense has also been turned into a permanent transfer, and he is now part of the first-team squad.
In terms of loan returns, Munir El Haddadi, Thomas Vermaelen, Sergi Samper and Douglas are currently back at the Camp Nou but Samper is the only one expected to form part of the squad for the upcoming campaign.
There have been two outgoings from the first-team squad in Jérémy Mathieu and third-choice keeper Jordi Masip, neither of whom were anywhere near regular starters.
How will Barcelona line up?
Although Valverde is a new manager with his own ways, it is very difficult to see Barcelona lining up in anything but the 4-3-3 formation we’ve come to associate with them in recent years.
They tried out 3-4-3 briefly last season but that isn’t something you’d expect them to use predominantly in the upcoming season.
There will not be a huge amount of changes, with Marc-André ter Stegen keeping his place in goal, with Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti ahead of him as the first-choice centre-back pairing.
At left back Jordi Alba is likely to keep Lucas Digne out of the team.
The MSN front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar should start most matches.
Sergio Busquets is undroppable in midfield and Andrés Iniesta isn’t getting any younger.
Ivan Rakitić is also likely to start with André Gomes and Denis Suárez failing to properly impress after their signings last summer.
There was a very big fear at one stage that Paris Saint-Germain transfer target Neymar would leave the club. But a social media post from Piqué seems to have put an end to the rumours with the defender uploading a picture with the forward, accompanied by the caption of ‘he stays’.
And Catalonia-based newspapers Sport and Mundo Deportivo believe that is the end of the matter, with the latter saying Barça will look to bring Brazilian compatriots Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho to the club.
Paulinho seems a much more likely target, even though his current side Guangzhou Evergrande will be reluctant to sell him in the middle of a Chinese Super League season. In fact, the CSL club have threatened legal action against the Catalans over their approach.
Marco Verratti is the other name on Barcelona’s radar, although the interest in Paulinho would suggest this is unlikely to happen as the former Tottenham man offers a cheaper alternative.
At the start of the summer, it looked like he could go on strike to force a move as he was unhappy at PSG, but that doesn’t appear to have happened.
And Sport reported earlier this month that the Blaugrana were readying a move for Verratti that could involve sending Rakitic the other way.
Neymar is likely to stay at Barcelona. But if that deal falls through PSG are even less likely to want to do business with Barcelona, so a move for Verratti is off the table.
Indeed, former PSG boss Laurent Blanc thinks the midfielder will stay at his current side.
“Verratti is a very important player for PSG,” he told FourFourTwo. “He has many qualities and PSG will do everything they could to keep him. It will be difficult for Verratti to move.”
Paulinho is still likely to join, but he is unlikely to be a first-team starter week in, week out.
Like Verratti, a move for Coutinho also seems unlikely unless the player himself really forces it, and although he is good friends with Neymar, it seems unlikely.
You would perhaps expect realistically that another midfielder – probably Paulinho – will be the only other real addition to the squad.
The worst case scenario
Madrid-based paper Marca claim despite Piqué’s Twitter post, PSG are still interested in Neymar and haven’t ruled out a move for the Brazilian.
Should he leave, there will be a massive gap in Barcelona’s front-line.
You would expect the Blaugrana to replace him. But should PSG decide to make a move for the Brazilian late in the window, Barça could be left without enough time to find a proper replacement for him, leaving Deulofeu or the unfancied Arda Turan to play that role.
With Verratti and Coutinho also unlikely to join, Barça could end up looking light in midfield if Guangzhou Evergrande do decide not to sell Paulinho.
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