While looking ahead to the new season, often expectations and predictions are marred by a clear bias. Every supporter thinks that either it’s their year or at the very least that they will fare better than one or more of their rivals. Keeping that in mind, we’ve found it interesting to see what rival supporters think of a team’s chances in the 2014-15 season.
This particular piece has the duo of Ali Al-Hassan and Alex Beck from our Real blog, The Royal Pages, and Marvyn Paul from our Atleti Blog, Read and White discussing Barcelona ahead of the 2014-15 season.
[ Editor’s note: The answers were written before the Vermaelen transfer was confirmed ]
What are Barcelona’s objectives this season?
Alex (The Royal Pages): For Barcelona, this season is about getting back on track. Their aging stars have come in for criticism, their frontline of Messi and Neymar didn’t fire them to where they wanted to go last season, and they have replaced their manager and brought in Luis Enrique from Roma. Barca’s standards are so high that 2nd in La Liga and quarter-finals of the Champions League is simply not good enough, so their objective this season will be to challenge more successfully for both honours.
Ali (The Royal Pages): Barcelona will surely want to make amends after a poor season and therefore they will be fighting for the La Liga title. With some major additions to their squad in Luis Suarez and Mathieu, they are certainly stronger this season. Surez adds to an already strong attacking lineup while Mathieu slightly fixes their defensive problems. Add that to the goalkeeping additions of a promising ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo, they have a team who will surely be prepared to cause damage in La Liga. Their midfield has the addition of the great Ivan Rakitic and he will be able to command the position very well as he did with Sevilla.
Marvyn (Read and White): Like Real Madrid, Barcelona are expected to win domestic and European honours. Having a new coach will probably change nothing in terms of fan and board expectations, and the transfers of Suarez and Rakitic can be seen as statements of intent, and big things will be expected of them.
How do you think Barcelona will do this season?
Alex (The Royal Pages): I think Barcelona may struggle to immediately leap back to the very top of European football. Their team needs to be, and is being, revamped, so this could well be a season of transition. At the time of writing they hardly own a centre-back and so this will need a resolution if they want a successful season; personally, I can’t look past Real for the title, and Barca and Atleti will be fighting it out for second
Ali (The Royal Pages): As I mentioned earlier, Barcelona have a great chance to win the league. The problem is that both, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, have also added to their teams with some great additions. Even though the Catalans have improved their squad, they need to be very careful when dealing with the other big two teams in the league while making sure they get convincing results throughout the season. Slipping up against some of the weaker teams cost them the league last year.
Marvyn (Read and White): I’ve got serious inhibitions about the Neymar-Messi-Suarez trident, as they are all players who operate best in a free role with the team built to maximise their effect. The signing of Ivan Rakitic is covering up for last season’s clanger of letting Thiago leave for Pep’s Bayern, and I while believe he will shine, it will probably not be enough. Without reinforcements in the centre of defence and right-back, FCB could be on track to finish 3rd.
Who do you think will be Barcelona’s key player?
Alex (The Royal Pages): We all know what Lionel Messi can do. 354 goals in 425 total appearances for Barcelona is simply unbelievable. But he needs support from the rest of the attack; I think a deciding factor in Barca’s season could be Neymar. 15 goals in 41 appearances last season was a disappointing return and the Brazillian needs to step up and provide the 30+ goals that could fire the Catalan club back to the title.
Ali (The Royal Pages): I think Barcelona’s key player this season will have to be Luis Suarez. Even though they have players such as Messi and Neymar, Suarez will be the man to make it all happen at the end. With his reputation at a low right now after the World Cup incident with Chiellini, he will want to show everyone that they should simply concentrate on his football. He did brilliantly with Liverpool last season and things will improve for him at Barcelona. Once his ban is over, all other teams should be prepared to see a lethal attack led by the Uruguayan.
Marvyn (Read and White): Pulling the spectacular out of thin air has come to be expected of Messi every time he trots onto the field, and I think there is plenty more of that to come from the tiny Argentine. Having dragged Argentina to the World Cup final, Messi will be back among players nearer his calibre upon return to Catalunya. New season, new coach, but expect the same old Messi goal machine.
What is Barcelona’s biggest weakness?
Alex (The Royal Pages): With Javier Mascherano being told he can play in his preferred defensive midfield role, Barca only have two recognized centre-backs: Gerard Pique and Jeremy Mathieu. One injury and the youthful Marc Bartra would have to step in, which he isn’t ready for yet. Barca are chasing Daniel Agger and Thomas Vermaelen but I’m not sure either are good enough to fill the void left by the retirement of Carlos Puyol.
Ali (The Royal Pages): Right now, I think that Barcelona’s major weakness is still their defense. Yes, they added Mathieu but he has a lot to prove. Mathieu’s addition improves their defense a little bit but doesn’t completely fix the problem. Recent reports are suggesting that they may purchase another defender, which is something that I feel is a must with the team. Also, their change in goalkeeping could make things a little shaky at the start.
Marvyn (Read and White): Barcelona have a glaring void in the centre of defence. While Mascherano and Pique are incredible defenders on their day, those days are getting less and less frequent. A top-class recruitment will be needed to shore up the the defence and/or jolt these two into improvement. The right-back berth is also a little suspect, with Martin Montoya serving as a scant replacement for Dani Alves should injury occur.
What do you think of Luis Enrique as a manager? And his future?
Alex (The Royal Pages): I think Luis Enrique is a young, exciting manager but the appointment is also a huge risk; he hasn’t had great success elsewhere. He left Roma after they failed to qualify for any European competition and then he led Celta Vigo to mid-table in La Liga. A young manager should be given time to work with the squad though and so I’ll think he’ll last the season regardless.
Ali (The Royal Pages): Luis Enrique comes into this Barcelona team with a lot of experience as a player there. He knows their values and knows exactly what will be expected of him. Of course, it won’t be easy and he will need to come out with convincing results as soon as possible. He hasn’t fully proven himself in the past but this is a new challenge for him and he will want to return the trust put in him by the board.
Marvyn (Read and White): Having come through the youth system at Barcelona to the first team and then eventually into coaching, Luis Enrique’s path seems oddly like Pep Guardiola’s, showing a return to the club’s policy of promoting from within. This really could go either way. Having a deep knowledge of the club and La Masia, the familiarity of Luis Enrique’s environment provides conditions that could breed success. On the other hand, his ill-fated spell at ambitious Serie A side Roma shows that he has much to learn, especially before taking on a task as Herculean as managing FC Barcelona.
Which young Talent Radar player do you see making the maximum impact?
Alex (The Royal Pages): New signing Marc-Andre ter Stegen is an impressive signing by Barca, who have finally decided that Victor Valdes needs properly replacing. Ter Stegen has already represented Germany on four occasions and was a huge Bundesliga success with Monchengladbach since his breakthrough in 2011. He could form the rock of the Barcelona team for years to come.
Ali (The Royal Pages): Gerard Deulofeu will certainly be the man to watch when concentrating on their young players. He has the skill and the determination to do well in a Barcelona team full of stars. His performances with Everton were convincing and it is no surprise that Barcelona did not let him go for another season as they will be counting on Deulofeu for the coming year.
Marvyn (Read and White): Rafinha Alcantara is Talent Radar player best poised to impress. Having played under Luis Enrique at Celta Vigo last season, his manager will know his strengths and limitations and is best placed to gauge how he will perform. I think there are too many quality players ahead of him in the pecking order to make a telling impact over the season, but I do believe 14/15 will be the year Rafinha bellows his presence to the rest of La Liga.
What do you think of Barcelona’s transfer activity? Who has been the best acquisition?
Alex (The Royal Pages): For Barcelona, there is only one answer. Luis Suarez may be a controversial figure but he is an unbelievable goalscorer, with the ability to tear defences apart for fun. The thought of a frontline featuring Messi, Neymar and Suarez is truly terrifying and you can be sure he will start with a bang in El Clasico in October, his first game back from his biting ban.
Ali (The Royal Pages): Barcelona’s best acquisition this season is Luis Suarez. There should be no doubts there. The Uruguayan has established himself as arguably the greatest striker in the world and he will be relishing the opportunity to play at one of the biggest clubs in European football alongside Messi and Neymar. Barcelona made a great decision in signing Suarez as their only worry about him will be his non-football problems.
Marvyn (Read and White): Barcelona’s transfer dealings reek of overkill. The signings of Bravo, Ter Stegen, and Suarez seem to be creating more questions than providing answers. Who will be the 1st choice keeper? How will Suarez fit? Though he is a genuinely brilliant signing, Rakitic gets my vote for this answer out of elimination. One of the best players outside the top 3 last year, Rakitic will be a straightforward replacement for Cesc Fabregas. Arguably more suited to this role than his predecessor, expect big things from the Croatian.
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