Messi and Neymar for 2015-16 Barca

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As the Champions League begins to start up again, we take a look at last year’s champions: FC Barcelona. The Catalan club claimed a Copa del Rey and La Liga title, along with their European crown last season, and early signs are pointing toward more of the same this year.

One hindrance to Barca’s quest for a second successive European treble this season is their ongoing transfer ban. After signing the likes of Claudio Bravo, Marc-André ter Stegen, and star striker Luis Suárez last summer, Luis Enrique’s club was forced to spend the summer trying to convince some of the best players in Europe to sit out half the season in order to play at the Nou Camp. Barca’s transfer ban allowed them to purchase players from other clubs, but these new singings would be unable to officially register with the club until after the January transfer window. Despite this lack of competitive playing time for the first three months of the season, Barcelona was still able to attract two La Liga stars to the club in the form of Atlético Madrid’s Arda Turan, and Sevilla’s Aleix Vidal.

Turan and Vidal came at a reported cost of over €50 million, and brought an unprecedented depth to Blaugrana. Both players were perennial starters for their respective clubs, and both have become seasoned European veterans in their careers. Turan, who spent four years at the Vincente Calderón Stadium, was part of the Atlético’s 2012/13 Copa del Rey triump, 2013/14 La Liga title, and nearly helped them claim their first ever Champions League title in 2013/14. The Turkish midfielder typically plays on the wings, but can also slide into a more central role for Barca’s 4-3-3 formation. The sale of Pedro to Chelsea over the summer may create chances for Turan to line-up in the front three should Lionel Messi, Suárez, or Neymar suffer an injury, but expect him to play more in the heart of the park.

On the other hand, Vidal, who played in Barcelona’s youth system many years ago, is coming off of a UEFA Europa League title in his one and only year with Sevilla. The 26-year-old perfectly fits the description of Barca fullbacks: speedy and talented in the attack. With Dani Alves, 32 years old, coming closer to the end of his peak physical ability, the chances for Vidal to find a place in Luis Enrique’s starting lineup are very high when he joins the team in January.

Messi scores for Barca

Even without the additions of Turan and Vidal, it is very easy to think that Barcelona could’ve challenged for another treble with their existing squad. Anytime you have either Neymar, Messi, or Suárez in your lineup, you have a chance to win. When you’re able to have all three of those superstars in your team week-in-week-out, you’re expected to win every time you step on the pitch. Last season, the terrific trio scored 122 goals through all competitions. That number includes 25 strikes from Suárez who was forced to spend the first two months of the season watching on the sidelines due to his infamous FIFA suspension. If they can manage to score just a fraction of this unbelievable tally this year, the Catalans are arguably the most dangerous attacking team in the world.

In defense, Barcelona possesses four world-class center backs on their roster in Gerard Piqué, Jérémy Mathieu, Javier Mascherano and ever-injured Thomas Vermaelen. Last year, this star-studded lineup allowed a league-low 21 goals in Spanish competition while also recording over 30 clean sheets between all competitions. Only eight games saw the Barcelona defense allow more than one goal into the back of the net. This staunch defense has an average age of 29.75 years old, and injuries *cough* Thomas Vermaelen *cough* have limited Luis Enrique’s options for portions of the season. Without any new additions to this position over the summer, Barca fans will have to hope their brick wall can stand up to another long season.

Barcelona’s Champions League group includes BATE Borisov, Bayer Leverkusen and AS Roma. Roma and Leverkusen should provide interesting opposition to the Spanish champions, but they just can’t come anywhere near the star quality at the Nou Camp. With all due respect to BATE, it’s going to take a miracle for them to win one game, let alone beat/draw Barcelona. The group stage should come very easily to the Catalans and I would be shocked to see them finish anywhere else but top of the group.

A favorable European draw, paired with an unprecedented depth in attack and defense make Barcelona one of the favorites to reign over Europe once again. With all of these things in their favor, I think it’s reasonable to think that anything other than at least two trophies could be considered a failure for the Barca faithful.


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