FC Barcelona: 10 Things to Expect in 2013
The Voice of FC Barcelona is back!
Imitators and haters, play time is over.
Happy 2013 to all of you. Hope this year goes as well as Lionel Messi’s 2012 went.
For my first article of 2013, let’s look at what to watch for this year for el blaugrana. While 2012 was a somewhat disappointing season for Barcelona—only winning the Copa del Rey as far as major trophies—the 2012-13 Liga season has become the most historic for the Catalan club, as FC Barcelona are now the holders of the greatest start in La Liga history.
Lionel Messi will look to continue his legendary play in 2013, as the Argentine—fresh off 91 goals in 2012—will look to lead his team to a UEFA Champions League title. Andres Iniesta had a big 2012, and will look to continue his tremendous play all year long.
This year may bring major changes to the club. David Villa is expected to not move this January, but may be on his way out in the summer. Alexis Sanchez is another player at risk of being loaned out in the summer if his poor performances continue.
This year is going to be a big year for Barça.
Here are my ten things to expect from FC Barcelona for 2013.
Barcelona Will Win La Liga
OK, I'm not going to spend too much time on this one.
As we saw in Barça's 4-1 win over Atletico in December, Diego Simeone's team is good, but they're not good enough to beat this Barcelona team. Atletico also lost 2-0 to Real Madrid in December, as well.
Given that both of Atletico's Barça/Madrid games were on the road, Atletico Madrid did not show me that they have championship pedigree.
Let's not talk about Real Madrid.
Minus-16 says it all.
Sorry, Barça haters, but this FC Barcelona team will not lose enough games to allow Atletico Madrid back in the race. Plus, it would take Atletico to go essentially unbeaten, with minimal draw games, to win La Liga.
It's not going to happen.
Don't even suggest Real Madrid could come back. That's just sad if you think that.
I'm looking at you, Sergio Ramos, and the comments you recently made. By the way, has NASA found the ball you kicked in last year's CL semifinal penalty shootout?
La Liga is FC Barcelona's in 2013!
David Villa Will Be Let Go in the Summer
It's been fun while it lasted, David Villa. But it's time for you to go.
It's not that I don't like el guaje. I love Villa.
But at age 31, Villa is at end of his prime, just like Raul was in 2009-10, for Real Madrid. And like Raul was let go by Madrid in the summer of 2010, David Villa will be let go by FC Barcelona this summer.
Villa had a great first season with Barcelona in 2010-11, helping them win the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final 3-1 against Manchester United, contributing a golazo to seal the title.
David Villa suffered a season-ending injury in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2011 as he broke his leg against Al Saad. Villa returned to action in August of last year, but by then both Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello, especially, had shown promise, putting Villa on the bench for many games.
David Villa is still a good striker, and he's shown it in La Liga this season. But with Tello signed long-term and the potential of Barcelona signing Neymar this summer (more on that later), David Villa deserves to start on a team. It's best for Villa and Barcelona to part ways.
And that's exactly what will happen this summer.
I know there are many Villa fans who want el guaje to stay, but as I said earlier, David Villa is in the latter of his prime, and he's no longer truly needed at Barcelona.
David Villa will be OK. There will be plenty of teams across Europe who will look to get his services.
Alexis Sanchez Will Not Be Loaned Out, Despite the Market for Him
Alexis Sanchez has not been a complete bust at FC Barcelona, but the Chilean has been disappointing since he arrived at Camp Nou in the summer of 2011.
This season Alexis Sanchez has just one more goal than you, the reader, and I have: one goal—and that's in all competitions.
Despite his struggles, I am here to tell you Alexis Sanchez will not be loaned out this summer.
In the past few months, there have been rumors about Sanchez potentially being sent on loan to Liverpool, as well as a possible move back to Italy with Juventus. But despite all of this, Tito Vilanova already told ESPN Spain in November that there is no way Alexis will be loaned out anytime soon.
"The boy (Sanchez) is fine and still has a long contract. I hope that he continues to play here for a long time."
As disappointed as I've personally been with Alexis' play, I don't think you fix a problem with another problem—which would be sending him out on loan. Sending Sanchez on loan would further demoralize his confidence and would essentially look like a €26 million bust.
I believe Alexis Sanchez can improve with this team. If this were Alexis' third season with Barcelona, then I'd say send him away to see if he improves, but this is still Sanchez's sophomore season.
Alexis needs to score a goal more than anyone on the Barcelona squad. He needs to stop being so predictable when he has the ball on the wing, and he must create plays.
Alexis Sanchez has been disappointing this season, but let's hope he is finally able to turn it around with goals and creativity on the pitch in 2013.
Isaac Cuenca Will Be Loaned Out, Ibrahim Afellay Will More Than Likely Be Sold
Two players who will not have very much playing time with FC Barcelona in 2013 are Isaac Cuenca and Ibrahim Afellay.
Isaac Cuenca signed an extension with Barça in December of 2011, keeping him with the club until 2015. But just because he signed an extension doesn't mean he'll see much playing time. With Cristian Tello establishing himself as a first-team player in 2012, as well as signing an extension with Barcelona, Cuenca could be seen as expendable—especially if a certain Brazilian is signed in the summer.
Recently, rumors have surfaced about Valencia being interested in acquiring Isaac Cuenca on loan in January, according to Sport.es (Spain). It wouldn't be surprising if that happened. But do expect Cuenca to be loaned out for the 2013-14 season. It'd be best for him to be loaned out and play than for his talents to be wasted on the Barça bench.
Another player that will not see much playing time with Barcelona in 2013 is Ibrahim Afellay. The 26-year-old Dutch international was a steal for the Catalan club when he was acquired from PSV for €3 million in 2010. Afellay was solid in early 2011, as he was part of the Champions League-winning Barcelona squad. But in late 2011, Afellay suffered a knee injury and was out for most of the season. In August of last year, Barcelona sent Ibrahim Afellay on loan to Schalke 04.
While Afellay is very talented, there may not be room for him in 2013. I expect Ibrahim Afellay to be sold to another team—perhaps his current squad of Schalke. The only way I see Afellay coming back to Barcelona is if the club does not sign Neymar and is in need of finding a player to fill the spot vacated by David Villa, who is almost certainly on his way out this summer.
For those who may be wondering, I'd take Afellay over Isaac Cuenca if I had to pick one player to fill the roster.
It will be very interesting to see what Sandro Rosell does this summer with both Isaac Cuenca and Ibrahim Afellay.
Bayern Munich Will Be Barca's Toughest Competitors in the CL, Look Out for Juve
Barcelona will not have a problem with AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, so let's move beyond that.
While we obviously don't know who will be Barcelona's opponent in the quarterfinals and so on, I will predict the two teams that could be trouble for Tito Vilanova's men: Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Perhaps the team that needs to be talked about more outside of Italy is Juventus. La Vecchia Signora went 49 games of undefeated football from the penultimate game of the 2010-11 season to their first loss against Inter Milan this past November. Juve won the Scudetto last season and are currently the leaders in Serie A.
With their tough defensive style, Juventus could give Barcelona problems if they were to meet up in the Champions League. Remember, the counterattack is Barcelona's great weakness, and Juve has the players to strike.
I see Juventus having a "2012 Chelsea"-like threat this CL season. Even if Juventus faces Barcelona at some point in the CL, I still think el blaugrana would move on, but it wouldn't be easy.
But the team I believe that could give FC Barcelona the toughest test in the UEFA Champions League is Bayern Munich.
The finalists of last season should be able to pass by Arsenal in the Round of 16. Bayern are on top of the Bundesliga and are looking like a serious threat again in the Champions League.
As we saw last year in the CL semifinal against Real Madrid, Bayern are more than capable of going into a hostile environment and winning a game. For me, Bayern Munich are the team I consider being the biggest threat to FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.
A wildcard could be Borussia Dortmund. Keep an eye out for them.
For those wondering about Manchester United or Real Madrid, of course both of those clubs are threats. But as we know, they will meet up, thus eliminating one of the two. Madrid is always a threat, but as we've seen in La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League, this 2012-13 Real Madrid team is vulnerable, and I don't expect Barcelona seeing Real Madrid in the Champions League—although it would be tense and entertaining.
As for United, they are solid, but for me, their style of play is not a threat to Barcelona. Just like the 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals, FC Barcelona would again get the best of Sir Alex Ferguson and his United team. Their weak defense would be no match for Lionel Messi and the Barcelona offense.
Juventus could give Barcelona problems in the Champions League, but Bayern Munich is the biggest threat.
Lionel Messi Wins His Fourth Straight Ballon D'Or
That's right, "four in a row" is coming.
After Lionel Messi won his third straight Ballon d'Or a year ago, most fans were wondering, how will he top a 2011 that saw him enter the conversation of "greatest player of all time"?
For an encore, Messi gave us arguably the greatest individual year in the history of the game.
Leading FC Barcelona to the greatest start in Liga history, stepping up and leading the Argentine National Team to decisive wins in 2014 CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers, and providing fans with endless highlights.
After Euro 2012, it looked like Cristiano Ronaldo had the edge in for the golden soccer ball. But Messi's Liga and Champions League goals, assists and overall dominance, combined with CR7 and Real Madrid's struggles this season, have tipped the Ballon d'Or to Messi.
Breaking Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year sealed it for King Leo.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: we are witnessing the greatest of all time. Cherish every game in which you watch Leo.
Four Ballon d'Ors in a row.
We are truly blessed and honored to witness Lionel Messi's greatness in this, the Messi Era.
Xavi to Be Named Full-Time Captain
Carles Puyol is the heart and soul of Barcelona, no doubt about it. Since 2003, Puyol has been the capitan of the team. But with injuries sidelining him for many games in 2012, including being injured twice already this season, Xavi has taken over many times as the captain.
As much as we all love Puyol's aggressiveness on the pitch, it’s that same aggressiveness that has gotten him injuries. No one, including me, is asking him to stop being aggressive, but at age 34, Carles will more than likely continue to miss time on the pitch due to injuries.
It’s just part of getting older.
Puyol has been a great captain, but injuries may decrease his playing time, and the squad needs a captain who will be on the pitch regularly. Marc Bartra is ready to take the reigns at CB as well.
Plus, after almost 10 years as captain, it could be time for a change.
In 2013, look for Xavi to replace Carles Puyol as full-time captain of Barcelona. Xavi is not as injury-prone, and Xavi is, of course, the conductor of Barça’s on-the-pitch symphony.
Xavi has made over 600 appearances for the club, and he deserves to wear the captain’s armband full-time. I know it might be an unpopular decision, but it's a decision I can see Tito Vilanova making.
Minus winning a FIFA Ballon d'Or, becoming capitan of FC Barcelona on a full-time basis is essentially the last honor Xavi Hernandez needs to accomplish in his legendary career.
La Senyera Jerseys Will Become a Huge Hit
Let's have a bit of fun for a second.
Reports came out late in 2012 that FC Barcelona will wear a very special kit next season: La Senyera.
La Senyera is seen in many flags and coats of arms throughout Catalunya and many territories and regions of the former Principality of Catalonia.
As I reported in my article reporting on the 2013-14 kits in September of last year, Sport.es says that Nike and FC Barcelona have come to an agreement on having the Senyera stripes and colors on the away kit next season.
In November, FC Barcelona announced that Qatar Airways will appear on Barca's kit beginning in 2013-14.
Last month, Sport.es revealed the designs of the 2013-14 Barcelona kits. Sport.es was right about the designs for the 2012-13 kits, and I trust them again for the 2013-14 kits.
And these kits will become a huge hit—especially the road kit.
Barcelona has never worn a kit that meant as much for Catalans, the city of Barcelona, and all of Catalunya like the Senyera kit the Catalan club will wear next year. I can't wait to pre-order it!
I'll probably get two kits: one to collect and one customized "Xoel" kit.
If you're a true Culé, you'll get yourself a Senyera kit.
Sandro Rosell Will Do Everything to Get Neymar This Summer
I know we've been speculating on this for two years, but it feels like 2013 could finally be the year Neymar joins FC Barcelona.
There have been countless rumors and reports that say Neymar is considering leaving Santos for Barcelona. In October, there was a report from Sport.es that said Neymar wanted to leave Santos this coming summer.
It has also been reported that a Neymar-to-Barcelona deal could cost the Catalans $71 million.
There have also been several reports that Barcelona president Sandro Rosell has already paid Santos €14.5 million as a down-payment for the Brazilian.
Santos manager Muricy Ramalho recently told La Xarxa Radio (Brazil, via Marca.com) that it would be something special to see Neymar and Lionel Messi together at Barcelona.
"It would be amazing to see a Barcelona side with Neymar and Messi. Barcelona is a very similar side to ours. The players like to pass the ball around. I think Neymar would be best suited to Barcelona. Real Madrid plays a different style of football. The best option for me is Barça."
Recently, Neymar's dad stated that his son will leave Brazil, but not in 2013. Neymar da Silva Sr. told Xinhua that his son will leave Santos in 2014. "It`s his (Neymar's) desire to leave Brazil. He`ll do this in 2014. For this reason we have cut short his contract with Santos from 2015 to 2014."
Neymar Sr. also stated that Barcelona fits Neymar well.
"Barcelona is a wonderful club, not just because they have won titles but because of the way they play. They show the world a different style, a way to play the game that Brazilians are familiar with. The football at Barcelona is similar to the way Neymar plays."
In November, Marca.com reported Neymar as saying that he'd love to play alongside Messi. "To play alongside Messi would be a dream. Even just training with him would make me very happy," .
The writing is on the wall, ladies and gentlemen: Neymar will eventually join FC Barcelona.
The question is: When will he join?
If I had to choose, I'd say he joins this year. But I wouldn't bet any money on it.
But one thing I would bet money on is this: Sandro Rosell will do anything and everything possible to acquire Neymar's services. Rosell will not look to sign another player this summer—not even a defensive player—because his focus is Neymar. Rosell believes locking up Neymar will lock up FC Barcelona up for European dominance for many years to come.
And you know what? He may be right.
Does Barcelona need Neymar this summer? No. With their young stars as well as the Masia-talent rising, Barça's future is already bright.
But signing Neymar would brighten Barça's future up to sun-like levels.
For Sandro Rosell, the summer of 2013 will be Neymar or nothing.
FC Barcelona Will Win the 2013 UEFA Champions League Title
I know it's not tough for me to say that FC Barcelona will win the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League title, but I'm not just saying this as a Culé—I'm saying it as a follower of all football leagues in Europe, as well as evaluating the competition Barcelona could potentially face.
Here's my take:
Like I previously said, the two teams I could see giving Barcelona a tough time are Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Juve because of their defense and their Chelsea-like potential.
Bayern Munich because they are a strong team overall.
I don't see Barcelona running into Real Madrid. I believe Madrid will be out of the Champions League by at least the semifinals—if not already eliminated by Manchester United in the Round of 16—as Jose Mourinho's team is struggling in all tournaments (Liga, Copa, and CL) as well as facing internal problems.
Manchester United can always be down the road, but United's style of play is not a real threat to Barça.
I'm not going to lie: I'm glad Chelsea is out of the CL. Not just because I despise them, but because they have given Barcelona problems in the past (2009 and 2012).
A wildcard may be Borussia Dortmund.
Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and the rest of the clubs left do not worry me. And if you're a Culé, they shouldn't worry you either.
My dream final for Wembley Stadium on May 25th would be FC Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich; I think it'd be a very entertaining game. It'd be a 3-1 FC Barcelona win with Xavi or Carles Puyol lifting up the trophy.
It may not be Bayern that Barcelona faces, but I do see Tito Vilanova's men in London, winning the title.
I believe it will happen.
If I'm wrong, hey, I'm wrong.
But I feel this UEFA Champions League knockout stage is not as strong as in years past, and FC Barcelona are by far the strongest team in the competition. They learned their lesson from last year's CL disappointment, and Lionel Messi and the rest of the team will redeem themselves.
FC Barcelona: Looking to lift the European championship trophy for a third time at Wembley Stadium (1992, 2011) and the club's fifth European title, tying Barça with Liverpool for third-most European titles.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to respectfully comment in the comments section below.
This article is dedicated to my grandfather, Raymundo V. Cárdenas. I love you, Abuelo. See you in Eternity.
Xoel, the Voice of FC Barcelona on the net, period.