2014-15 was a season to remember for FC Barcelona. After lifting the European Cup, the Domestic Cup and the League title, Barcelona became the first club in football history to win the much coveted a treblea twice. Manager Luis Enrique was able to match the success that Pep Guardiola enjoyed at Barcelona by winning the treble in his first season in charge of the Club.
“We won three trophies last season, so there are six cups to win this year. It would be a dream year”, Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu told reporters last week. Expectations always go through the roof at Football Club Barcelona. And why wouldna t they? FC Barcelona has been the most successful football club in Europe since the turn of the millennium winning 4 European Cups, 7 League Titles, 3 Spanish Cups, 2 Club World Cups, 2 European Super Cups and 6 Spanish Super Cups. Blessed with a golden generation of superstars, the Catalans managed to win every major trophy on offer last season in emphatic fashion.
However, replicating the success of last season will be a tough ask for the Blaugrana. Since the inception of the UEFA Champions League in 1992, no team has been able to lift back to back trophies in the history of the competition. Furthermore, the 2 window transfer ban imposed on Barcelona by FIFA in April last year will prohibit their new signings to take the field before January, 2016.
With all the eyes of the football world firmly transfixed upon them, here are 5 things which are to be expected from the Catalans this season:
1. Aiming for the Sextuple
The Catalans will have set their sights on lifting more silverware this season under the stewardship of Luis Enrique, who will be looking to replicate Guardiolaa s achievement of winning 6 trophies in a calendar year. Guardiolaa s Barcelona went on to win an unprecedented sextuple in 2009, winning the FIFA Club World Cup, European Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup in addition to the treble.
Barcelona will kick start their campaign on 11th August when they battle familiar foes Sevilla for the European Super Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia. A few days later they face the Basque based outfit Athletic Bilbao in a two legged affair for the Spanish Super Cup. Lastly, Barcelona will travel to Japan to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup from 10-20 December, 2015 where they will face continental club winners from all over the world.
They certainly have the experience in their ranks to manage this monumental feat. Despite the departure of the effervescent Xavi Hernandez from the club in the summer, the current Barcelona squad still boasts of 6 players who won the sextuple in 2009. These players include Andr s Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqu , Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodr guez.
2. MSN (Messi-Suarez-Neymar)
Powered by the irrepressible trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (MSN), Barcelona brushed aside every opponent on the way to win their second treble in six years last season. The South American superstars scored a combined total of 122 goals for Barcelona last season making them serious contenders for the deadliest attacking triumvirate of all time. An astonishing 80 of these goals were scored after the turn of the year. Of the 31 goals scored by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League in 2014-15, an incredible 27 of them were scored by MSN.
However, it would be unfair on our part to judge MSN solely on the basis of statistics. At times, the magical trio produced such breathtaking display of attacking football, it would leave the most seasoned commentators at a loss for words. Their telepathic understanding, intricate passing, deft interplay, astute movement and deadly finishing was a quite simply a sight to behold for football aficionados all over the world.
It is needless to say that Messi-Suarez-Neymar will be central to Barcelonaa s success this season. Freelance columnist Francesc Tomas summed it up best when he wrote, a As long as they [MSN] can remain healthy, humble and motivated, there is reason to believe the Catalans could very well be celebrating their second sextuple after the final whistle of the Club World Cup final in Japan on Dec. 20.a One really cana t argue much with that.
3. Continued Defensive Solidity
a You cannot win anything without being rock-solid in defence”, declared Luis Enrique in his first pre season press conference at the Camp Nou. It is no mystery that Barcelonaa s scintillating exhibition of attacking football in the 2nd half of last season powered them to a historic second treble. However, the crucial role played by the Barcelona defence in achieving this milestone cannot be overstated.
Barcelonaa s water tight defence was the foundation upon which the treble winning team was built. The defensive discipline instilled in the side by Luis Enrique was as important as the goals scored on the other by its attack-minded players.
Barcelonaa s Goal Keeper Claudio Bravo finished the season with a record 23 clean sheets in the League, 9 more than second placed Sergio Asenjo of Villarreal. In fact, Bravo went on an astonishing 754 minute clean sheet run at the beginning of the season which was only ended in the El Clasico by goals from Ronaldo, Pepe and Benzema.
Barcelonaa s back four comprising of Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves were rock solid for Barcelona throughout the season. They were ably deputed by Jeremy Mathieu and Adriano Correia when the need arose. The cluba s dual goalkeeper policy also turned out to be effective in retrospect as both Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen played their part in Barcelonaa s treble triumph.
Gerard Pique was the rock around which the Barcelona defence was built. Changes have taken place all around him, but Pique has remained ever present in the Blaugranaa s defence. With the arrival of wing back Aleix Vidal from Sevilla and the return of Thomas Vermaelen from injury, Enrique will be hoping that Barcelonaa s defence continues to perform as well as did last season.
4. Potential Impact of new signings
The 2 window transfer ban imposed on Barcelona by FIFA has limited the cluba s transfer activity this summer. The ban imposed on them by FIFA a was due to concerns over the international transfer of minorsa . Despite the ban, the Catalans signed right back Aleix Vidal from Sevilla for A?16 million and Turkish midfielder Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid for A?24 million this summer. Both of them will be ineligible to pull on the famous Barca jersey until January, 2016 when the transfer ban is lifted. On the other hand, Xavi Hernandez is the only high profile player to have left the club this summer so far.
Aleix Vidal will compete with Brazilian Dani Alves for the right back position in Barcelonaa s first XI. The Spaniard, who was handed his first International cap for the Spanish National Team by Vicente Del Bosque in May this year, played a key role in propelling Sevilla to consecutive Europa League titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Arda Turan once famously said, a Messi or Ronaldo best player in the world? In the world, I would say Ronaldo. Messi is from another planeta . The 28 year old, who is arguably at the peak of his powers at the moment, will finally get a chance to play alongside the man he admires the most in the football world. It is the lure to play with superstars such as Messi which has perhaps fuelled Turana s decision to leave Atletico, a club where he spent a good 4 years, at such a late stage in his career.
It is unclear if Barcelona will sign any more players this summer, knowing well that they wouldna t be able to play for the club until after Christmas. However, competing for 6 trophies in a single season is bound to take a toll on their current crop of players come the end of the calendar year. Hence, the Catalans will most definitely be looking to reinforce their squad in the January transfer window. Luis Enriquea s biggest challenge post-Christmas will be to integrate Turan, Vidal and the other prospective signings into the Barcelona squad a and that too in the middle of the season.
5. Rivalry with Real Madrid Resumes
The resumption of the age old rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated event of the new season. The El Clasico, as ita s most popularly known, is the clash of the two giants of Spanish football who will be competing with each other on all 3 fronts a La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
a El Clasico is never just any ordinary game. On top of the three points and the bragging rights there are leagues and trophies at stake, momentums to be shifted [and] political agendas to be fulfilled. There are jobs on the line, presidential positions in the frame and there are sub-plots, lots of sub-plotsa wrote Nicholas Rigg for the Independent. The biggest sub plot undoubtedly is the iconic personal duel between Real Madrida s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelonaa s Argentine metronome Lionel Messi, to be crowned the best football player on the planet.
There is also the political angle. The El Clasico is more than just an ordinary football match. It often plays out as a political contest between Catalonia and Madrid. The region of Catalonia in the North-East of the country has been demanding independence from Spain for over four decades. FC Barcelona is an institutional embodiment of the anti- Madrid sentiments harboured by the Catalans. For the people of Catalonia, regionalist fervour trumps nationalist sentiment and their unequivocal support of FC Barcelona acts as the quintessential tool for political expression of their Catalan identity.
It will be a monumental task for Luis Enrique and his troops to improve upon their performances of last season. However, the prospect of winning 6 trophies in a year and creating history will act as a huge motivator for the Barcelona players to give it their all this season. Barcelona fans will be most eagerly looking forward to watch their team mesmerize audiences all over the world by creating magic on the football field — something which they have been consistently doing for the past decade.