Barcelona need Messi, Neymar, Suarez to mask defensive deficiencies
Madrid: After a year of political turmoil in the board and court rooms and disappointment on the pitch, Barcelona have not taken a first trophyless season in six years lying down. Facing two transfer window signing bans, a summer of revolution in the Catalan capital saw former captain Luis Enrique installed as coach and over 150 million euros ($200 million) invested in the squad.
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez
However, doubts remain over how wisely that money has been spent and whether Barca have truly addressed their weaknesses from last season. The headline purchase has been the 81 million euro capture of Luis Suarez from Liverpool.
The Uruguayan won't even be able to play a minute of competitive action until late October, though, as he serves a four-month play ban for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Moreover, whilst a trio of Suarez, four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and Brazilian superstar Neymar is beyond the budgets of even the majority of fantasy football managers, it remains to be seen how the three dovetail.
All are coming off bitter disappointment at the World Cup in their own way. Suarez's tournament ended in disgrace, Neymar's in a very nearly crippling back injury and, despite being named player of the tournament, Messi failed to secure his place as one of the best of all time as his Argentina side lost out to Germany in the final.
Yet, it is a triumvirate Barca need to work if they are to have any chance of challenging European champions Real Madrid and La Liga title holders Atletico Madrid over the course of the season with more major concerns in other areas of the pitch.
Veterans Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol ended their playing days with the club at the end of last season, signifying the breakup of the side coached by Pep Guardiola that dominated Europe in his first few years in charge.
Chile captain Claudio Bravo and 22-year-old Marc-Andre Ter Stegen will battle it out to be Enrique's number one 'keeper after being signed for 12 million euros each with Bravo set to start the campaign after the German picked up a back injury. Of even more concern has been the recruitment of two new centre-backs in 30-year-old Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia and Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen for nearly 40 million euros.
Mathieu has spent most of his career at left-back before moving to a central position last season, whilst Vermaelen had lost his place in the Arsenal side over the last two years. Both signings, though, give Barca some much needed depth at the heart of the defence and should allow Javier Mascherano to return to his favoured position in midfield, where he shone at the World Cup. - Midfield lethargy - Mascherano's own future has be
en secured by a new contract that will run until 2018 and his aggression is what Enrique hopes to return to a midfield that has become lethargic in recent seasons. "I am very happy with the desire and ambition with which the players are training. That makes me optimistic," Enrique said of his preparation for the new season. "We need to press in an organised and concrete manner. Obviously it is important to have the ball, but so is to recover it as quickly as possible."
Enrique has already had coaching success at Barca as he succeeded Guardiola as Barca B coach and led them into the second tier of Spanish football in 2010. However, his coaching style is a little more pragmatic than his former teammate. Gerardo Martino was criticised throughout his sole season in charge for not being loyal to the Barca style of play.
But with the figurehead of "tiki-taka" Xavi Hernandez also likely to play a much reduced role this season, Enrique will continue a trend towards moving the ball quicker into the final third. A style and season that will succeed or fail by how their star attacking trio click.