A pause in club football provides an opportune moment to do some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.
FC Barcelona will travel to France to square up against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on Tuesday. On paper, the Parisians are Barcelona’s strongest opponents in Group F of the UEFA Champions League and should be Luis Enrique’s toughest match yet. PSG have certainly caused trouble for Barcelona in the past, nearly knocking out Tito Vilanova’s weakened side in the 2012/13 UCL quarterfinals. It took some dramatic late heroics from a half-fit Leo Messi to defeat Carlo Ancelotti’s men, but much has changed in the last year and a half. How will the French giants stack up against Barcelona this time around? Read more after the jump.
Luis Enrique finds himself in a tricky spot as Barcelona host Granada on Saturday. The team are fresh off a disappointing draw against Málaga in which they registered no shots on target – a first in over a decade – from which they must bounce back. On the other end, Barça travel to Paris next Tuesday to play Paris St-Germain in the most important fixture of their Champions League group. Luis Enrique must simultaneously deliver a rejuvenated performance and rotate his squad so they will be fresh against PSG. And Granada are no easy proposition.
Let’s be clear: No detail about the match at La Rosaleda yesterday bears recapping. Nor is there any point to picking apart the performances of individual players – by and large, Barça’s front six were terrible, and Málaga’s defenders were excellent. Málaga put on the performance of a lifetime, with Roberto Rosales and Sergio Sánchez particularly deserving of praise, while Barça’s players failed at the most basic levels. Passes were misplaced, players were constantly dispossessed, and the overall tempo of the game was sluggish and uninspired. None of which bears analysis – these games happen. The more interesting question is what Luis Enrique does in the face of such challenges.
Ten minutes into the game, it was a familiar scene. Barcelona were away from home on a shoddy pitch, patiently working the ball back and forth as they tried to break down the two banks of five men defending deep in front of the opposition goal. Then it happened – a stray pass in midfield fell to Levante, who broke quickly into the spaces left behind the fullbacks. Down Barcelona’s left, evading a desperate challenge from the exposed centre-back, then crossing to the unmarked man on the opposite flank. An easy goal – Barcelona have seen it too many times over the past two seasons.
Luis Enrique’s men earned an important three points against APOEL on Wednesday, but it was far from a comprehensive victory. While the game may not have been much to watch, it touched on a number of key issues for the season and left the Barça coach with plenty to say. Xavi Hernandez,Dani Alves, and Marc Bartra – all returning to the starting lineup – added comments of their own. Read on below for more.
Much has been made of the overhaul Barcelona’s first team has undergone this summer. 2014 has seen the departure of Victor Valdés and Carles Puyol, over 150 million euros spent in the transfer market, and what feels like a return to Pep Guardiola’s values with Luis Enrique. In particular, much has been made of Luis Enrique’s use of the youth team in preseason and the first two Liga games, in which 19-year-olds Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez each made their first-team debuts and scored.
A statistic making the rounds of late shows that Luis Enrique has already featured Barça B players more than Gerardo Martino did all last season. With Luis Suárez still banned and a sulking Gerard Deulofeu shipped out on loan, culés are delighted to have a seemingly ceaseless conveyor belt of talented youths to fill the gaps. Indeed, Barcelona B is brimming with talent in nearly every position, and seems perfectly situated to supplement the first team through the 2015 transfer ban. The timing couldn’t be better. Yet amidst the overwhelming focus on Luis Enrique and Andoni Zubizarreta’s renewal of the first team, few have drawn attention to the quiet work at Barcelona B over the last few years that have brought these talents to the surface. Read on after the jump.
Barcelona’s Munir El Haddadi has continued his breathtaking rise to stardom. Just days after making his debut with the Spain under-21 team, he has been called up to the senior team to replace the injured Diego Costa for the first match of the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Munir is eligible for both Morocco and Spain, so Vicente Del Bosque’s call may well be aimed at strategically tying down the youngster for the future.
It is not clear if Munir has officially accepted the call, but he has been quoted saying “It is a dream come true.” In addition, Munir’s spot in the U-21 squad has been filled with yet another Barcelona youngster, Sandro Ramirez (19). The conveyor belt of talent from La Masia shows no signs of stopping.
Barcelona have named their official Champions League squad: all 24 first-team players, as well as eight Barça B players. Diawandou Diagne, Edgar Ié, Alejandro Grimaldo, Sergi Samper, Alen Halilović, Adama Traoré, Sandro Ramirez, and Munir El Haddadi. The full squad is available here. In the past, Barcelona often used B-team players in the 6th group stage game, when there was nothing to play for. However, it should be noted that since Barça’s final group game is against PSG and could well determine who finishes first in the group, it is less likely that fewer youngsters will get Champions League experience this season.
“Congratulations to my teammates who won in yesterday’s game against Germany, the first with Tata as manager. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. This team has a lot to give and achieve in the future! #VamosArgentina” – LIO
Lionel Messi posted this on his Facebook after Argentina beat Germany 4-2 in a friendly yesterday.
With the transfer window officially concluded, director of football Andoni Zubiarreta and vice-president Jordi Mestre gave a press conference today in which they discussed Barcelona’s dealings over the summer. In a surprise move, Mestre and Zubizarreta disclosed detailed transfer fees for each of their acquisitions this summer while discussing the state of the current team. This has been a monumental transfer window for Barcelona, as with the transfer ban in effect in 2015, the current crop of first-team and youth players will have to last the club the next 16 months. Unsurprisingly, there was much to discuss. Read on to see what the club officials had to say.
It took 81 minutes, but Barcelona finally managed to break down a stubborn Villarreal side at El Madrigal last night. On the one hand, it was a familiar sight: the home team defending deep and compact, launching counterattacks into open space behind Barça’s high line. But the Barcelona side that met Villarreal on the pitch today was distinctly unlike anything seen in the last two seasons. They created numerous chances against an excellent defensive side, looking relatively composed and solid at the back, before a youth player and out-and-out striker managed to net the game-winner. All new, all exciting.
Barcelona play Villarreal away this weekend at the Yellow Submarine’s famous home stadium, El Madrigal. However, in recent years Barcelona have been nearly as comfortable at El Madrigal as at home, having not lost a game there since 2007. Their last six visits have yielded two 0-0 draws and four wins for the Catalans, including a whopping 1-4 victory in 2010. Last season’s 2-3 win was a tight game, but Luis Enrique’s side will look to dispatch the game early on Sunday.
Luis Enrique was delighted with his first game in charge of FC Barcelona, a strong 3-0 win at home to Elche CF. Goals aside, the match was full of promising signs for the “Lucho era” including high pressing, quick passing, and sparkling performances by debutants Munir El Haddadi and Ivan Rakitić. “The game had a little bit of everything,” Luis Enrique said. “Elche were very organised at first but we gradually started creating chances and showed what resources we’ve got.” Javier Mascherano’s red card “made the game harder for us” according to the Asturian manager, “but we knew we had to take less risks, then individual actions in attack helped us.” Read more quotes from the boss after the jump.
Before last season, FC Barcelona and Elche CF hadn’t played each other in nearly 25 years. But before that, they were frequent opponents for the Catalans, and not without success: Elche has beaten Barça 8 times at home, and drawn 7 out of their 20 games at Camp Nou. Read more about the history of Barcelona vs Elche encounters after the jump.
Ivan Rakitić, Barcelona’s new midfield signing and the star of their preseason, gave an interview with German magazine Kicker. In it he discusses his move from Sevilla to Barça, his role in Luis Enrique’s team and admiration for Xavi Hernández. Read on below for more from the brilliant Croatian midfielder.
Neymar Jr. has been called up by second time around Brazil coach Dunga for friendlies against Ecuador and Colombia in early September. Dunga famously left a teenage Neymar behind for the 2010 World Cup, but with the Barcelona superstar given the medical all-clear after his injury, there was no reason not to pick him. Dani Alves, however, was left out of the Brazil squad for the first time in years as a result of his declining performances for both club and country. Adriano also does not make it and looks unlikely to ever again.
Barcelona teammates Claudio Bravo, Javier Mascherano, and Lionel Messi have all been called up to their respective national teams for friendlies as well.
Rafinha Alcantara has been called up to the Brazilian under-21 team for three friendlies in September which will be held in Qatar. The matches against Qatar, Lebanon, and Egypt will serve as preparation for the under-21s for the 2016 Olympics, which Brazil are hosting. The Olympics are the only football competition that Brazil has competed in but not won, and youth coach Alexandre Gallo is beginning his team’s preparations well in advance to have a better shot at winning gold. Rafinha featured for Brazil with the under-20 team at the 2013 South American Youth Championship.
Marc-André ter Stegen suffered a lumbar contusion (bruise) during the afternoon training session today. The injury will be examined on Tuesday to see when the German goalkeeper can return to training. The team’s next and final friendly is next Monday, August 18th, when they will face Club León for the Gamper trophy.
As promised, Andoni Zubizarreta and Josep Bartomeu seem to have at last delivered the signings that have been demanded for years, giving Barcelona four natural centre-backs for the first time since 2010. Jérémy Mathieu was signed for €20 million, while Thomas Vermaelen has been brought in for a rumored €15m + 4m in add-ons for winning the Champions League. As is inevitable, following both of these signings cules all over the world and online have immediately broken into debate about whether they are good enough for Barça. Mathieu is too old and not a natural centre-back, the argument goes, Vermaelen is old, injury-prone and benched due to poor form, and both are too expensive. While there are some valid points, they are shrouded in the overriding negativity and unrealistic expectations that has surrounded every Barcelona transfer in the last decade. But what happens if you take those criticisms and apply them to Barcelona’s greatest teams?
The results of a vote conducted by the first-team players on Tuesday concerning the captain and three vice-captains for the 2014/15 season have been announced today. Although the captains were democratically elected, they follow the Barça tradition of leading by seniority – Xavi Hernández will lead the team with Andrés Iniesta as his vice-captain, while Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets round out the quarter, replacing the departed Carles Puyol and Víctor Valdés. The four have spent 23, 18, 14, and 9 years at the club respectively. Messi captains Argentina and has worn the Barça armband on occasions when none of the four official captains were present, while Busquets is a true rookie, having never captained his team for club or country. Nevertheless, the choice of Busquets over Gerard Piqué, who he shares seniority with, and Javier Mascherano, who was named by Luis Enrique as a player with leadership qualities, indicates the players’ respect and admiration for Barcelona’s new number 5. These four will be critical in leading Barça through transition as Luis Enrique remakes and reinvigorates the team.
Barcelona lost 1-o to SSC Napoli in their third preseason friendly of the season. The Catalans played well for the majority of the game, but were undone by a late strike from distance which Claudio Bravo mishandled. Ivan Rakitić was particularly impressive, looking more comfortable in the Barça system by the day. Bravo, Rakitić and Pedro Rodriguez all shared some thoughts after the game – check them out below.
Xavi Hernández gave a press conference today, in which he announced that he is staying at FC Barcelona and will see out his contract despite initial hesitations about continuing following a rough end to the 2013/14 season. The press conference was revealing and honest and the Barcelona legend seems to be assured and comfortable under the management of former teammate, Luis Enrique. However, el Maestro has announced that he will be retiring from the Spanish national team. Read on below to hear what Xavi had to say about his two big decisions.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu recently spoke about how he wanted to “transform Barcelona.” In his speech, he praised the club’s economic growth, saying, “Barca’s economic health is not the end goal, but it is a good and essential tool that will guarantee the independence of the Club and benefit athletic and infrastructure investments.” As always, he concluded the speech by noting that Barcelona had reduced the debt and increased revenue to record levels. This has been a familiar party line from Bartomeu and his predecessor, Sandro Rosell, since they joined the board of directors in 2010 (Rosell famously declaring that the club could not afford color copiers). Despite running on a platform of transparency, rarely have these men spoken of the vision they have for the club in anything but vague platitudes – rather, the details and the accomplishments have come in the spreadsheets, in the money saved and the money earned. Read on for more.
FC Barcelona could be very close to signing their first centre-back since 2010 as rumors intensify around Valencia CF defender Jérémy Mathieu (30). The Frenchman was the only member of the Valencia squad who did not participate in a friendly against German club SpVgg Bayreuth on Tuesday, despite no reports of injury – usually a sign that a transfer is imminent. More after the jump.
Attacking midfielder Javier Fernández (18), commonly known as Bicho, has joined Barcelona B on a two-year loan from Deportivo de La Coruña. The terms of the deal are rumored to be very similar to Denis Suarez’s loan to Sevilla: A two-year deal with options to buy and buy-back for both sides. Bicho is one of several reinforcements to the Barça B’s midfield after the departures of Suarez, Javier Espinosa, and Ilie Sanchez this summer. Read on below for more on Barcelona B’s newest signing.
In a totalBarça special, we bring to you the Back and Forth series! Throughout the season rumours and stories come and go. We constantly hear and read articles about players leaving, signing and retiring while others compare players, judge coaches and debate who’s better.
Now Eric and Allison are bringing these discussions to you. Both writers will share their views and opinions regarding a certain matter that has been strongly rumoured as of late. Meanwhile, you vote on who you agree with more and share your views in the comments. Back and Forth’s last edition debated who should replace Carles Puyol. Now, it is time for another debatable topic. Shall we begin?
Should Barça sign Luis Suárez?
New Barcelona signing Ivan Rakitić started for Croatia yesterday as his team crushed Cameroon 4-0, eliminating their opponents from the group and setting up a tense final match against Mexico. Rakitić faced fellow Barcelona player Alex Song, who received a red card for a foolish and bizarre running elbow to the back of Mario Mandzukić, as well as former Sevilla teammate Stephane Mbia, with whom he exchanged kits after the game.