Predicting Barcelona's Starting XI Next Season
Barcelona's first-team squad is going through something of a transformation during this summer.
A number of players have either been renewed, recalled or are on the verge of signing on the dotted line for the Blaugrana.
Whether wholesale changes are good for the team or not is a matter for debate, but clearly the make-up of the side will look very different to how they finished last season.
Let's take a look at who might start for Barca next season.
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen
Marc-Andre ter Stegen becomes Barcelona's 20th goalkeeper in just 20 years and is also the youngest per FCBarcelona.com.
When you consider that Victor Valdes has really been first choice for the last decade or so, that's another 18 goalkeepers through the ranks in 10 years.
Many have tried and many have fallen by the wayside. Being the goalkeeper of Barca is different to most other clubs.
Playing with feet is as important as hands, all-round excellence the key. And not everyone can withstand the immense pressure that goes with such a role.
Ter Stegen comes very highly-rated from Borussia Monchengladbach, and he will get the nod over Claudio Bravo who has agreed to join from Real Sociedad, according to El Diario Vasco via M. Carmen Torres of Marca.
Although rumours (including this one from talkSPORT) suggest a possible acquisition of Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina, it would be a surprise if Martin Montoya didn't start the season as first-choice right-back.
During last season, Montoya's agent Jose Maria Orobitg had already warned of the consequences of a lack of minutes for his client. From an interview with Sky Italia, reported by the Daily Express via ESPN, he said:
For the moment he is under contract with FC Barcelona until the end of the season. However, the contract extension has still not arrived.
We have talked but there is no certainty that Martin Montoya would hold down a first-team spot, because right now Daniel Alves closes the door.
The transfer window is closed, but I can tell you that the contract extension may not be successful.
The contract extension did arrive and was signed, but given the "ultimatum," it would be fair to conclude that it was on the proviso of more time on the pitch than that which Montoya has enjoyed previously.
Should Cuadrado usurp Montoya and replace Dani Alves, then the youngster is no better off than he was at the beginning of the last campaign.
Jordi Alba, when not injured, has made the left-back position his own.
Although he can be found wanting tactically on occasions, a decent crossing ability and superior fitness will see him supporting the attacks in the last minute as expertly as the first.
His unbelievable speed often sees Barca out of trouble at the right end of the pitch, and even a five-yard head start is no guarantee of winning a foot race with the Blaugrana's very own road runner. Beep beep!
This is a big season for Gerard Pique, make no mistake.
Without Carles Puyol barking orders alongside, now is the time for Pique to take the lead and responsibility in central defence.
As the most experienced defender in a new-look Blaugrana defence, fingers will be pointed in his direction more than ever if he doesn't step up on a regular basis.
Whether being the organiser will sit well on his shoulders is a moot point at this stage.
As with Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra committed his future to the club, signing on until 2017 per FCBarcelona.com.
The youngster showed quite clearly towards the end of last season how comfortable he is in the role, and although he still has a lot of learning to do, he certainly deserves his shot after some immaculate performances at the heart of the defence.
Paris Saint-Germain's Marquinhos has been heavily linked (including by Paul Doyle of the Guardian) but Bartra and Montoya have the knowledge and comfort of trust from their manager, having played for him during an extremely successful period whilst at Barca B.
Whilst signing a new defender and immediately benching him doesn't make too much sense, neither does leaving out an emerging talent who knows exactly what's required of the position.
Is there a better defensive midfielder in the world than Sergio Busquets?
With genuine competition for places right across the squad, restoring Javier Mascherano to his rightful position will also help keep Busquets on his toes.
The responsibility sits well with Busquets who had another stellar season and a 93.1 pass accuracy across the season per WhoScored.com.
With a new captain to be chosen, Busquets is surely one in the frame. He told a press conference via Arnau Marti of Weloba:
I would be pleased if my mates chose me as captain, but there are other veteran players that would play this role very well.
Ivan Rakitic could be the difference for Barcelona this coming season.
The dynamism that the Croatian will bring to the side in place of Xavi Hernandez is likely to be the catalyst for much of Barca's forward momentum.
Whilst Xavi's legendary status at Barca is not in doubt, with only three goals and two assists in La Liga last season per WhoScored, it's clear that his influence is on the wane, whatever supporters wish to believe.
They, and he, will have to accept a more peripheral role next season.
It's not unfair to suggest that he was the fulcrum of the side, at the heart of everything positive that the Andalusians created.
An eight-year age gap over Xavi should mean that, in the end, this is a fairly easy decision for Luis Enrique to make.
Andres Iniesta continues to delight and excite on the football pitch.
There is arguably no more complete player in world football today, and it is an absolute travesty that he has yet to win the Ballon d'Or award for his contributions at Barca.
Luis Enrique should ensure that Iniesta is played in a typical advanced midfield role, tucked just behind the attackers.
If the equally dynamic Rakitic breaks from a slightly deeper position, "El Illusionista" is intelligent enough to drop back and cover.
That seamless integration between the two should ensure that Barcelona's attacks have a solid flow through the midfield areas, and both are likely to give defenders nightmares if not tracked at all times.
There has to be a reason why Gerard Deulofeu was recalled from his loan spell at Everton.
With, potentially, the right-hand spot in a front three up for grabs, the youngster is back in the right place at the right time.
Deulofeu had been flirting with first-team action for a couple of seasons without ever making a dent, but the loan spell in the Premier League has been a godsend for both player and club.
His form and game has come on leaps and bounds thanks to the studious tutelage of Roberto Martinez, and now Deulofeu is primed and ready to unleash his spectacular array of skills and tricks on La Liga.
Lionel Messi will always remain the "go to" man for as long as he plays football.
He can do things with the ball that no one else on planet football can, so it's a fairly obvious conclusion to draw that "Messi dependence" will never truly go away.
Last season is a prime example.
Considered to be his "worst" season for a while, Messi still managed to score 36 in 36 and assist in 11 more goals per WhoScored.com. This despite missing a large portion of the season.
The facts speak for themselves and if he returns to Barcelona on the back of a World Cup triumph and with confidence sky-high, expect much more from the Catalans' miniature marvel.
With no further distractions in terms of media-led campaigns into the minutiae of his contract, impending global tournaments etc., the youngster can put his all into the campaign.
We saw flashes of just how good Neymar can be, but those genius moments were few and far between.
Whilst the player didn't set the transfer fee, he did come with a pedigree. Next season is the time to start living up to those expectations.
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