FC Barcelona: Complete Guide for the 2012-13 La Liga Season
The Barcelona fans have become accustomed to may be on the way out.
Pep Guardiola, one of the most successful managers in Barça history, has left. Longtime captain and talisman Carles Puyol has been battling injuries for the last two seasons and more. Worst of all, arch rivals Real Madrid have found their groove under Jose Mourinho, and Cristiano Ronaldo is determined to reclaim the title of world's best player ahead of Barca's Lionel Messi.
Last season, La Blaugrana captured only the Copa del Rey, finishing second and nine points behind Madrid in La Liga. They were sent home in the semifinals of the Champions League after eventual winners Chelsea strangled any hope of offense out of them at Camp Nou.
New manager Tito Vilanova has a tough task ahead of him, but he's got a world-class squad at his disposal.
Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are far and away Barca's best footballers, which is really saying something. Fans know what to expect with that trio, and it's a very good bet they'll get something even better.
Barcelona's fortunes this season are more down to somewhat unknowns.
Spain's all-time leading scorer broke his leg last December, and Barça missed him badly the rest of the season. Villa does one thing: score. From anywhere. With either foot. Whenever you need him to.
David Villa scores.
Barça's lack of a true goal scorer was most evident in the Champions League tie against Chelsea. The Blues were content just to suffocate Barça's potent attack, put all 10 men behind the ball and dare the Catalans to get past them. In the end, they just couldn't score enough, and that was the case in La Liga as well, in which they had seven draws.
Barça need Villa to be back to his old self this year.
Puyol has led Barcelona for years, and when he's not in the center of defense, they are more vulnerable than ever. Javier Mascherano did well for a midfielder, but he can't fill Puyol's shoes for very long.
If Puyol can't stay on the pitch this year, it will be another tough one for his club.
Alba returned to the club he first played for, in the youth ranks, this summer when he departed La Liga's longtime third-place team, Valencia, with hopes of major honors. The 23-year-old will add some insurance to a slightly aging midfield and defense.
The player Barça fought for so long didn't have a huge impact in his first season, but given the players surrounding him, that was to be expected. Not anymore.
Fabregas is the future for Barca, and it's time for the 25-year-old (That's it?) to take control.
With a club like Barcelona, there's never one simple goal for each season. Defending the Copa del Rey and reclaiming La Liga and the Champions League title are the targets.
They don't have their group for the Champions League yet, but a strong performance with five wins and one draw like last year will suffice. In the same vein, fast starts will make a world of a difference with the Copa del Rey.
La Liga was Barca's real weakness last season. Losing to Real Madrid is nothing to be ashamed of, and it didn't cost them the title. That was more due to losses against lowly Getafe and Osasuna, not to mention draws against Valencia, Real Sociedad and Sevilla (a 0-0 at Camp Nou).
Barça won three La Liga titles from 2008-2011 because they dominated every match, especially against the smaller clubs. Last season, Barça lost their focus in these matches, and they can't afford the same mistakes this year.
Mark your calendars now. Barcelona welcome Real Madrid to Camp Nou on October 7, and they'll pay their greatest foes a visit on March 3.
Usually, these two matches determine the league trophy, but with their timing this year, that may not be the case. If the teams are still neck and neck in March, a loss or draw may not be the end of the world.
Madrid stuttered down the stretch last season but did just enough to win the title. If Barça have a healthy squad, Madrid can't afford any mistakes.
Regardless of the date or league positions, these will be the two best league matches of the season.
The Catalans started off great last season, beating their rivals to the Supercopa in August and winning at the Bernabeu 3-1, despite going down in the first minute.
Madrid took control from there however, and their 2-1 win at Camp Nou last April all but wrapped up La Liga for Los Blancos.
If football and sports fans are lucky, Spain's top two sides will face off in the Copa del Rey and Champions League as well this season. There's no doubt these are the two best teams in the world, and viewers should get to see them go at it when a draw isn't enough.
How Will It End?
It's hard to keep a good team down for long.
With David Villa back scoring goals and Carles Puyol keeping them out, Barça will be more consistent than last year and even more dangerous. Xavi and Iniesta still form the most dominant and creative midfield pairing in the world, and somehow, Lionel Messi continues to find ways to amaze his fans and critics alike.
The Champions League is getting harder and harder to win each year with squads like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain entering the fray, and Real Madrid doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon either.
But Barça have a bench to rival most clubs' starting XIs, and they'll be hungrier than anyone to get back to winning this season.
Another Treble could be looming, and who can really doubt them?
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