Crisis may be an overused word in the world of Spanish football, but it barely does justice to the state of FC Barcelona off the pitch, as the club gets ready to kick off the 2020/21 season. Leo Messi is staying for now, as is Josep Maria Bartomeu, leaving new coach Ronald Koeman with the tough task of turning the tide at what currently feels like a club that is rotten to the core. Read on for our 2020/21 Barcelona season preview.
Last Season – 2nd
Barcelona went into the 2019/20 season as favourites to win a third straight league title. They were still in a strong position to do that when they sacked Ernesto Valverde in January. Despite only taking a point from the two Clasico clashes, they were still top at the time LaLiga restarted in June, with Quique Setien now at the helm.
However the frailties that many suspected were always there, were exposed in the latter stages of the season as Real Madrid overhauled the Catalans to win the league with a game to spare. Worse was to come in the form of yet another embarrassing European exit – this time in the form of a humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich ensuring it would be a trophyless season.
Barcelona Summer Transfers
Miralem Pjanic | from Juventus | €60m
Francisco Trincão | from Braga | €31m
Pedri | from Las Palmas | €5m
Matheus Fernandes | from Palmeiras | €7m
Arthur | to Juventus | €72m
Marc Cucurella | to Getafe | €10m
Carles Pérez | to Roma | €11m
Arda Turan | to Galatasaray | FREE
Ivan Rakitic | to Sevilla | €1.5m
(Transfers up to 21st September 2020.)
Coach – Ronald Koeman
Ronald Koeman arrives at Camp Nou to try and pick up the pieces. It’s a difficult job but given everything that has happened over the past few months, few Barcelona coaches can ever have come in with expectations lower than they presently are. Even if Barcelona do bounce back and win trophies this season, there’s a good chance Koeman will be replaced with a new president to be installed in 2021 and with Xavi Hernandez waiting in the wings as their most likely next coach.
It’s not exactly ideal circumstances for Koeman who has left his job as Dutch national team boss to take this role. He is of course something of a legendary figure at the club having scored the goal that made Barcelona champions of Europe for the very first time in 1992. However while he is Dutch and spent six seasons at Camp Nou playing under Johan Cruyff, it’d be a real stretch to call him a Cruyffista.
Supporters of his previous clubs have often bemoaned his style of football and his coaching CV is a bit of a mixed bag. What he is though is a strong character and somebody who won’t be afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the Barcelona dressing room. He has already upset some in Catalonia and beyond by suggesting he doesn’t see talented academy graduates such as Riqui Puig as having much of a first team role to play this season. Only time will tell whether he is the man to clear up this mess and restore a sense of order, or whether his pugnacious nature will only make things worse.
Possible Barcelona Line Up 2020/21
Barcelona are by no means the only club in Spain to find their ability to invest in new players this summer severely limited by the current economic climate. Their outlay of around €100m is severely skewed by what was effectively a swap deal with Juventus involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic. The only other major arrival is that of Francisco Trincão from Braga, in a deal that was finalised in January. Any further additions will be dependent on players first leaving which means that the side will have a relatively familiar feel to it, although we are likely to see a few significant shifts.
At the back, arguably the area of the team that needs fresh blood the most, little has changed. Marc-André ter Stegen will be the undisputed number one with a back four of Alba, Lenglet, Pique and Sergi Roberto looking most likely with Nelson Semedo on the brink of joining Wolves. Barcelona are hoping to sign centre-back Eric García from Manchester City and he’ll be pushing for a starting role should he arrive.
We are expecting to see Barcelona line up 4-2-3-1 this season. Frenkie de Jong will occupy one of the holding midfield roles with his former national team boss at the helm. Sergio Busquets could see his status as a first team regular come under real threat from new arrival Miralem Pjanić.
Leo Messi and Antoine Griezmann are also secured their places in Koeman’s first XI and we may see them alternate between the number 9 and 10 roles, perhaps even during games. With Luis Suarez out of favour and potentially out the door, their ability to play together and form an effective partnership will be key in determining the success or failure of Barcelona’s season.
In the wide roles, Ansu Fati’s rise suggests he could become a first team regular this season with Ousmane Dembele the most likely candidate on the opposite flank if he can stay fit. The return of Philippe Coutinho will feel like something of a new signing though and he should get plenty of football this term too, be that out wide or in behind the striker.
Key Man – Leo Messi
Leo Messi remains the main man at Barcelona and has held on to the captaincy despite that interview and his very clear desire to leave the club this summer. This may very well now be Messi’s final season at Camp Nou, and while his performance level in 2020 hasn’t been quite at the level we’d come to expect, he is still the best player in LaLiga by a clear margin and the undisputed star of this Barcelona team.
Clearly he is not particularly happy at this football club right now, and certainly not with this board. He’s not alone in that but when the drama of this summer starts to fade, and when the attention turns to matters on the pitch, Messi will still be the driving force in a Barcelona side that is hungry to regain the league title and finally put a stronger European challenge together. Whether his teammates are up to the task is another question.
One to Watch – Francisco Trincão
Barcelona have some very talented young players but with Koeman indicating the likes of Pedri and Riqui Puig may be loaned out, this now looks less like it is going to be a season where young players are going to get their chance in the Barcelona first team.
Ansu Fati is a special case and even though he is just 17, he already feels like an established member of this squad. One other young player to keep an eye on is Francisco Trincão. Eyebrows were raised when Barcelona chose to spend over €30 million on the Portuguese winger in January. He wasn’t even established in the Braga first XI at that point but has since showcased his ability to both score and create goals from the right flank and he could just surprise a few people this season in Barcelona.
Barcelona 2020/21 Targets
In terms of the domestic picture, winning LaLiga is still clearly the aim despite the turmoil at the club. Real Madrid are defending champions but they aren’t an unstoppable force by any means with a lack of goals a genuine concern for Zinedine Zidane’s side who haven’t exactly been active in the transfer market either, at least not in terms of new arrivals.
While it now seems pretty clear that Barcelona are not on the same level as the current elite teams in Europe, they still have a squad capable of making a strong challenge for LaLiga. A forward-line consisting of Messi, Greizmann, Fati and Dembele is exciting but they’ve failed to fix those clear defensive flaws and you sense they may still be something of a soft touch on the road, something which may leave them having to settle for 2nd place again.
LLE Prediction: 2nd
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