Despite winning the treble, Luis Enrique admits that there is a lot of work to be done before the new campaign starts. Although they were without a whole raft of first team players, their lack of strength in depth may have some worried.
With Lionel Messi, Dani Alves, Neymar, Javier Mascherano and Claudio Bravo all recovering after a Copa America (which saw nearly all of Barca’s participants in the final) Luis Enrique introduced a whole raft of youngsters duringBarcelona’s pre-season. Prodigious talents such as Alan Halilovic, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha all got a good run in the team, but none were able to make a decisive impact asBarcelona slumped to three straight defeats.
While the shootout loss to Chelsea wasn’t down to poor performance, losses to Manchester United and most recently, Fiorentina, show that Barcelona have some holes they need to plug. Not one to be complacent, Luis Enrique is firmly committed to improving his side, with or without his main players.
Without Messi and Neymar, Barcelona were still a team dependant on a select few to create chances
Barcelona’s pre-season began on a luke-warm note, with a closely fought win over LA Galaxy. Following this, they had back-to-back clashes with Premier League giants Manchester United and Chelsea. Despite having their fair share of chances against Louis van Gaal’s side, Barcelona were unable to capitalise, succumbing to a rare 3-1 defeat. Despite having many first team defenders, Barcelona’s well documented and unfavourable record of defending set pieces was exhibited again, through Wayne Rooney’s opening header.
The following 2-2 draw to Chelsea, which ended in penalties, was a marked improvement, yet the 2-1 defeat to Fiorentina had Luis Enrique back at the drawing board.
In an interview with the club’s website, Enrique lamented:
“[The defeat] has to serve as a stimulus for the team,” the coach said. “We are very good if we are at 100 percent but if we are not then we are not so good.
“When an opponent gets the better of you in a game, normally they close off the space inside and force you wide. We worked that situation well and we were able to get into their box. We just needed to score.”
Enrique will however judge him team’s form and performance more closely, after their upcoming UEFA Super Cup tie with fellow Spaniards Sevilla.
“When the game finishes at the Super Cup we will know whether we were in good shape for the match. At the moment we are in pre-season and it would be dangerous for the players to be at 100%. That is not our objective at the moment, it needs to be progressive.”
Barca will have to fire on all cylinders if they are to repeat the sextuple triumph of 2009
With Lionel Messi and Neymar back in training, Barcelona will look to re-integrate the heroes of the last season with the up and comers of the pre season. One such figure that stands out in the latter classification is Rafinha Alcantara. Though not as prodigious as his brother Thiago, Rafinha has been on an upward curve this past campaign.
Given a handful on starts, Rafinha is fast repaying the faith that Barcelona have showed in him, with sparkling performances, most notably against Manchester United, where he scored adevastating volley from outside the box.
Luis Suarez too, shone when given the role of leading the attack. Fast, decisive and frighteningly effective, Suarez looks destined to have the season of his career, if he doesn’t land himself in any further trouble. The in-form Uruguayan has worked telepathically alongside Messi and Neymar, with all signs showing that the trio will pick up from exactly where they left off.
Barcelona have a favourable record in the UEFA Super Cup, winning it every time they’ve lifted the Champions League. They will be wise however, not to underestimate Unai Emery’s Sevilla, who will prove to be the perfect test for the treble winners heading into the new campaign.