*Click to enlarge images

If thereai??i??s anything thatai??i??s constant itai??i??s change. ClichAi??d of course, yet holds water. And neither the game nor the clubs are exempted. Barcelona are undergoing a change and a rather big one at that. It is akin to the metamorphosis that a larva undergoes to evolve as a beautiful butterfly. However, whether the end result is a beautiful one is a matter of time (and perspective) but the club has seemingly lost its way after a brilliant start to their transfer campaign.

To start with, Barcelona did not delay in relinquishing all ties with Tata Martino and installed ex-captain Luis Enrique as the new manager. It is an extremely difficult task to shed the stigma of being an ex-Madridista and become a Barcelona fan favourite. Lucho, as Enrique is fondly called, has achieved the impossible ai??i?? he wasn’t just a player but also a captain later and an inspirational one at that. And today, he is set to pick up from where Guardiola left, as the manager of Barcelona.

The Transactions

On a scale of 10, the recent series of business conducted by Barcelona will fetch a 5 at best. They started off well with the acquisition of Marc Andre Ter-Stegen. While many will rate Thibaut Courtois better than him, it must be kept in mind that he was a Chelsea player on loan to Atletico. And why would Chelsea relinquish control of perhaps the best goalkeeper of tomorrow? So in a way, aged just 22, priced ai??i??12 million, Ter-Stegen might just be a tad too expensive, especially with a reputation of some really appalling mistakes. However, Barcelona aren’t averse to goalkeeping errors, and while they cannot replace Victor Valdes, Ter-Stegen is perhaps the next best choice.

Claudio Bravo_Chile(c)CelebrityhairstylesWhile the next goalkeeper bought was not quite good business. the addition of Claudio Bravo might just be a reason to be worried about. Goalkeepers usually have a longer shelf-life and at 31, Claudio Bravo is perhaps at his peak ai??i?? and that is exactly where the problem lies. Ever since his contest with Asier Riesgo at Real Sociedad in 2006, he has always been a first choice keeper for his club and national team (heai??i??s the captain of Chile) and despite Ter-Stegen being more promising than him at 22, it might not go down well with Bravo to have to contest with the young German for a place in the starting XI.

Last time Barcelona bought a reserve (or back-up) keeper was in 2008 for just ai??i??500,000 ai??i?? this time doesnai??i??t matter if its Bravo or Ter-Stegen the cost is significantly higher ai??i?? ai??i??12 million. Bravo doesnai??i??t have the passing ability, which is essential for Barcelona and he too is known for some inexplicable mistakes (a la the one against Napoli) which might cost the team. A deal for Julio Cesar (essentially as a back-up keeper to Ter-Stegen) would have made more sense and saved some money too.

The best move by Josep Bertomeu and Andoni Zubizarreta is the acquisition of Ivan Rakitic. At 26, Rakitic is yet to enter his peak years as a midfielder and if last season’s form is anything to go by, this might just be the game-changing move by Barcelona to challenge both Real Madrid and Atletico on domestic and continental front.

Having won the Europa League with Sevilla last season, it is only natural for Rakitic to go for the next big continental trophy ai??i?? UEFA Champions League, and at a club like Barcelona he is well poised to add yet another medal to his already impressive resume. And it’s not surprising that he’s got the coveted jersey number 4 for himself at Camp Nou.

According to Squawka, Rakitic might have rather unassuming statistics compared to the Barcelona midfielders of last season (Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets) however, he records more key-passes than any of them and only Fabregas has more assists. His average pass-length too is the highest among them ai??i?? a key indication that he can find the right guy even from the depth of midfield.

Rakitic Comparison

Rakitic is akin to an engine ai??i?? he runs and runs at length, defends, passes, shoots, assists, scores ai??i?? everything that is expected from a midfielder. A player of his dimension ai??i?? good in attack and equally adept in defense is something which Barcelona lacked. He can be the iconoclast that Barcelona needs, a non-conformist to their short-passing and patient game, Rakitic can push ahead when needed and give the team a must needed burst, which was often lacking in the last couple of seasons.

However, not everything is bright and sunny with Ivan. His pass completion rate is significantly lower than his new Barcelona teammates, and he maybe prone to losing the ball ergo leading to counter-attacks. If Luis Enrique has taken notes from the recently concluded World Cup, this is exactly where he should place Javier Mascherano, perhaps the best in his position, to shield the Croatian, giving him enough leeway to weave his magic.

Reports from Spain suggest that Luis Enrique is planning to move to a more dynamic formation ai??i?? from 4-3-3 to 3-2-3-2. To say the least, the latter will give Mascherano the condition where he can finally thrive and give his best.

In Brazil, Mascherano showed that he is one of the best defensive midfielders on the planet and it is to Barcelonaai??i??s disadvantage that they did not utilise him in that role all these years. In a 3-2-3-2, the Mascherano-Busquets combo will be nothing short of a dream ai??i?? a perfect amalgamation of steel and flair.

Lionel Messi has always been the centre of everything that pans out for Barcelona and this season shouldn’t be an exception.

In a 3-2-3-2, stitting just ahead of the Mascherano-Busquets duo, Messi should ideally have Rakitic (sometimes Xavi and/or Cuardado if Barcelona manage to sign the Colombian, that is) his right and Iniesta to his left. This can be a blessing in disguise. With Suarez and Neymar upfront, in direct confrontation with either of the opposition centre-backs and two of Iniesta, Rakitic, Xavi and Cuardado (conditions applied), taking on the fullbacks, teams will have to field an extra defender or a double-pivot in midfield to counter the threat posed by the little Argentine.

Upfront in Neymar and Suarez, Barcelona perhaps have the most creative pair. Their guile, ingeniuty and sometimes genius will make them handful enough to deal with. Creative ai??i?? yes; aggressive ai??i?? yes; genius ai??i?? yes; effective ai??i?? only time will tell.

While shelling out ai??i??81 million for Suarez is excessive, Barcelona could have done well for themselves had they chosen to place their faith on yet another mercurial offensive player ai??i?? Marco Reus. With a market value of ai??i??55 million (According to Transfermarkt.co.uk) and very recently Karl-Heinz Rummenigge of Bayern Munich revealing that Reus has a buy-out clause of just ai??i??25 million, Barcelona could have acquired the services of Reus for a sum almost half that of Luis Suarez – ai??i??40 million, give or take five.

With the savings there, they could then have accumulated the sum invested on Thomas Vermaelen (from Arsenal for ai??i??15 million + ai??i??4 million) and Jeremy Mathieu (from Valencia for ai??i??20 million) ~ ai??i??70 million. Enough to land a truly world-class centre-back.

However, the rationale behind not going all guns blazing for Reus is that he is predominantly a player who operates from the left and with Iniesta still having a good 2-3 years left in him and Neymar yet to mature, Reus would have been too big a name to be on the bench. But that still doesn’t justify the ai??i??81 million spent on Luis Suarez.

With a 3-2-3-2, the defense needs to be extra caution. This formation in a way renders the attacking fullbacks useless. Such a formation calls for centre-backs in all three positions at the back. This of course puts the fate of Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Martin Montoya in the hands of Enrique, who may deem the Brazilian a surplus to requirements.

Gerard Pique is no longer the one he used to be under Guardiola and even if he regains his old self, he will never have the presence of Carles Puyol or even Eric Abidal for that matter. And Marc Bartra still needing more gametime to mature, Barcelona needed a leader in defense. They needed either a Mats Hummels or a Mehdi Benatia or a Vincent Kompany or a Neven Subotic. Instead they chose to spend almost ai??i??40 million on two players ai??i?? one injury-prone and nearing 30 and the other a smoker, never really world-class and is already on the wrong side of 30.

The recent fascination with has-beens has been as appalling as it gets. Over the years after being associated with the top defensive talents on the planet, Barcelona have had to settle with Vermaelen (who couldn’t even break into the first team at Arsenal last season) and Mathieu, who isn’t world-class by any stretch of imagination. They were also linked to yet another ageing star ai??i?? Daniel Agger. Why were the Spanish giants even looking at Premier League outcasts is a mystery and may just haunt them during the business end of the campaign.

However, in choosing the lesser of the two evils, Barcelona may just have been marginally correct to go with Vermaelen rather than Agger. While Vermaelen was more dominant aerially and a better passer than Agger (going by last season’s statistics), the Dane outdid him in the number of tackles per 90 minutes.

A comprehensive comparison, thanks to Squawka, shows how Barcelona chose to establish their status as a profligate club in transfer markets.

Barca Defense Options

A word of caution ai??i?? do not go by Vermaelen’s high scores ai??i?? he has played the least among the five.

The famed Masia too has not been able to provide answers to Barcelona’s defensive issues for quite sometime now, and the recent exodus of quite a few emerging prospects, thanks to the rule of employment in Spain, most notably 18-year-old defender Carlos Blanco to Juventus, isn’t helping either.

Enrique has his hands full. Not only will he have to put in place a smooth integration plan for all the new recruits, he will also have to deal with the upcoming talents from Masia ai??i?? Deulofeu and Rafinha in particular.

Having impressed in their respective loan spells, they will not have a dearth of suitors and callousness will only lead to yet another Thiago Alcantara situation.

All said and done, Barcelona have done a fair amount of business and have spent ai??i??162 million this summer and there’s still a couple of weeks to go for the transfer window to officially shut down.

Perhaps in a year of accomplishments, Barcelona closed the 2013/14 season with a club record income of ai??i??530 million, the first time ever that the end-of-year figure has exceeded ai??i??500 million with net profits this year amounting to ai??i??41 million, a figure previously only topped by the ai??i??49 million in the 2011/12 season.

Their spending too have eventually established them as a ‘buying club’.

However, in the wake of recent events, and the controversies (Suarez’s suspension, Neymar scandal, Messi tax fiasco, et al), how they fare on the pitch is yet to be seen, but off it they have had fair amount of success.

The Transfer Summary & Verdict

Transfer Summary FCB_v1

Point to be noted here is that not all transfers have been remarked as ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘average’ due to monetary reasons. For instance Cristian Tello to Porto for ai??i??2 million is a ‘good’ deal because going by Porto’s expertise at honing bright young talents, it can always be expected that he will return a better player; whereas Bojan’s move to Stoke for a reported sum of ai??i??4 million is ‘average’ because Barcelona doesn’t know how to take care of theirAi??Masia talents or to market them better.

Fabregas’s ai??i??33 million move to ChelseaAi??is ‘average’ becauseAi??for a player of his class and reputation in the Premier League, Barcelona could have bargained better to get something in the region of ai??i??38 million to ai??i??40 millionAi??from Chelsea.

For Alexis, although fetched the most among all the departees – a cool sum of ai??i??42 million, is a ‘bad’ move as he has immense talent and Barcelona should have insisted on keeping him for at least one more season, especially after a brilliant 2013/14 and some outstanding showing at the World Cup.

The Ideal Formation

football formations

Player To Watch Out For

430835_heroaWhile it’ll be tempting to name either Messi or Suarez or Neymar, taking a cue from the man to be featured in this section, here’s a non-conformist perspective. Barcelona’s player of this season might just be Ivan Rakitic. He was by far Sevilla’s best player last season where he eventually won the Europa League, and he will want to win the next big continental championship – UEFA Champions League. In Rakitic, Barcelona has flair, with an element of steel, valour and tremendous work ethics. Moreover the blonde Croatian also gives Barcelona a glamour which hitherto was only Madrid’s fiefdom. A few goodAi??displays and a couple of endorsementsAi??will justAi??endear him to fans.

Season Prediction

While it cannot be denied that Luis Enrique has an ensemble cast, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. The lack of a truly world-class defender is evident, even on paper.

Spanish La Liga: Real Madrid has strengthened considerably. So has Atletico, despite losing a few instrumental players. Barcelona’s disadvantage is that they have a new coach without any considerable achievement, whereas Ancelotti and Simeone have already tasted blood in Spain and they look to be formidable tacticians. However, cutting Enrique some slack, after all who was Pep Guardiola before 2008?

Prediction: 2nd in league

UEFA Champions League: Even if Ancelotti and Simeone mess up a bit in Spain, Mourinho, Rodgers, Guardiola won’t. Without proper defensive discipline, the 5th Champions League looks extremely difficult.

Prediction: Semi-finals

Copa Del Rey: This is a realistic opportunity for Enrique. While Real may want to win the treble and treat this trophy with a lot of respect, Atletico might be focussed more to defend their domestic title. However, Barcelona has a realisticAi??chance of winning this.

Prediction: Winners

Note: All statistics have been incorporated after using the ‘Comparison Matrix‘ tool by Squawka.

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