6 Bold Predictions for Barcelona in 2014
The reigning La Liga champions head into 2014 in reasonably good shape with a number of key players on the verge of returning to action.
Debate continues to rage over the way Barcelona are playing their football; the shift in philosophy is not a million miles away from what was seen before, but the differences are there both obvious and discreet.
Here are six predictions to look out for over the course of the next 12 months.
Messi to benefit from the injury suffered at the end of 2013
Few players come back stronger from a six-week layoff. The recovery period of the individual back to full-match sharpness can in some cases be as long as the rehabilitation of the actual injury.
The physical side effects mean he may overcompensate for the weakness, and mentally, he might subconsciously pull out of certain challenges.
Not Lionel Messi, though, the super-human scored a hat-trick in an open training session on his return. The rest from match-day duties and normal training regime will re-energise the forward.
This will help Barcelona as the hunt for silverware begins, whilst Argentina should have their talisman at his peak for the World Cup.
Barca Will Finally Buy That Elusive Centre-Back
Pep Guardiola's ideology was for the team as a whole to defend and attack in equal measure. That meant the pressing from the forwards not only enabled his side to catch the opposition high up the pitch but also stop his defenders from regularly being attacked.
Javier Mascherano's speed and ability to read the game outweighed his lack of height when balls were rarely crossed into the box.
With this more of an issue under Gerardo "Tata" Martino and with Carles Puyol on the verge of retiring, a proven centre-back is needed more than ever.
How about another striker?
Another Guardiola caveat was the need to change the side in attack before rivals could devise a plan to stop them.
This led to Zlatan Ibrahimović replacing Samuel Eto'o and then Messi dethroning the Swede.
When you have the world's greatest player destroying the opposition in a central role, it's a brave decision to alter the dynamic of the team.
Martino's occasional directness might just benefit from a central striker. Alexis Sanchez can of course play the role, using his pace to run onto balls over the top, but he isn't the greatest at holding it up and bringing others into play.
Martino to leave at the end of the season
Recent reports from Argentina (via IBNLive) state that Gerardo Martino has told those close to him that he is looking to move back to his homeland at the end of season.
Whilst five months is a long time in life, never mind in football, it's certainly an early indication that the coach isn't content.
Speaking in a press conference days later, per FourFourTwo, he insisted he was "happy" before stating: "The future is not something I can guarantee because every three days things change depending on results and performances."
It was hardly a refusal to accept that it was a possibility. Supporters and the local media are displaying displeasure even though the club has been top of the league every day since he arrived in Catalonia.
The Renaissance of 'Tiki-Taka'
When Cesc Fàbregas spoke to The Guardian's Sid Lowe in October, he was talking about the differences in style between the Guardiola and Vilanova eras to now with Martino.
"When we attack, Tata likes things to be a little more anarchic – just a little – which means that with the ball you can move away from a set position without any problems."
From now until the end of May, it's possible that some of the fundamental traits of "tiki-taka" will return; after all, the pressing off the ball has seen improvement in recent weeks.
Should the coach depart in the summer, the new man would more than likely be an in-house promotion or a manager schooled in the philosophy such as Luis Enrique.
Barcelona to win nothing
Having spent the entire 2013 as league leaders, it would be safe to assume the title is well within their reach.
However, with Atlético Madrid matching them all the way and Real Madrid still in touching distance, it's far from a drawn-out conclusion.
The head-to-head battles with the Madrid clubs are of huge importance, whilst negotiating their way past Manchester City in the Champions League is a very different proposition than from last season.
The lessons given out by Bayern Munich are still to be learnt. Instructions are not so clear or as methodical, and that will hurt them when trophies are at stake.