5 Things That Will Shape Barcelona's Start to the Season
Barcelona need to hit the ground running at the opening point of the coming season, all guns blazing from the off.
The evolution of the squad from the dying embers of Tata Martino's reign to Luis Enrique's new dawn needs to bear fruit from the very beginning for cules (Barca fans) to jump on board the new Blaugrana bandwagon and buy into what Lucho is trying to achieve.
The club could've done no more to appease its members with a long-overdue close season overhaul. It's a transitional period unlike any we have seen for some years.
Let's take a look at five things that could well shape Barca's start to the 2014/15 La Liga season.
Spanish Stars Back into Preseason Earlier Than Expected
Who'd have thought it? Spain being eliminated at the group stage of the World Cup was a shock.
That scenario might actually be the biggest blessing in disguise for the Blaugrana. A full two weeks extra of unexpected rest should see some freshness in the legs that has been missing for the last few years.
Lest we forget, last summer the Spaniards had the Confederations Cup to contend with; the year before it was the European Championships.
A refreshed Spanish contingent, still bruised after a poor season for club and country, should now be champing at the bit to prove the doubters wrong.
Training Camp in England/European Based Preseason
It makes a change for Barcelona to spend their preseason close to home.
After travelling thousands of miles for tours to the likes of Asia and America, heading to Naples, Helsinki, Nice and to England for a private training camp will be manna from heaven for these travel-weary folk.
It's perhaps the trip to St. George's Park in Burton-on-Trent, England, that will represent the best part of preseason for Luis Enrique and his squad.
Open training sessions are all well and good, but the secluded nature of the English F.A.'s jewel in the crown will allow the team to be away from the glare of public gaze whilst getting down to serious business.
The benefits are obvious.
The Lack of Neymar and Luis Suarez
Not only because two of his best players are unavailable for selection, but because any tactical variations and patterns of play aren't able to be bedded down sufficiently and in good time.
Indeed, conservative estimates place Neymar's return to action towards the end of September and Suarez a month after that.
Perhaps the Brazilian benefits from already having spent a year in Catalonia but Suarez is a different proposition altogether.
Hardly an ideal scenario.
How Quickly Luis Enrique Can Impose His Will on the Squad
It's fair to assume Luis Enrique will have very different ideas to his predecessor, Tata Martino.
This will be evident both on the training pitch, where a lack of intensity is believed to be what was behind Barca's poor form last season, per Mark Doyle of Goal.com, and in general play perhaps by way of tactical variations.
Lucho has a lot of food for thought given the revolving door for incoming/outgoing staff he has encountered since his unveiling (above).
It's said, per Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football, that the manager has very clear operational ideas, but how quickly can he impose those on his new squad?
A team that has been used to playing a rigid 4-3-3 template might not adapt so well to a 4-2-3-1 for instance.
Perhaps the manager's famed personality is all it will take to get his players singing his tune. Sky Sports' Guillem Balague noted on Sky Sports News:
Luis Enrique can control almost anything. He’s a mixture of Pep Guardiola - in the way that he’s absolutely fundamental in his Barcelona ideas and how he wants to play - but at the same time he’s got the personality of Jose Mourinho – he’s very, very strong minded; he was as a player, he was as a manager as well and he’s convinced he can manage all of these.
Lionel Messi's Fitness Level
Lionel Messi's general well-being has been a concern for a while now.
Graeme Yorke of the Daily Mail noted back in March Messi was going to be sent to doctors to determine the cause of episodes of sickness on the pitch.
His lacklustre performance in the World Cup final might be attributed to the same after it was confirmed the Argentine had become ill on the biggest stage of all, per Tony Manfred of the National Post.
Messi's father Jorge told Folha de S. Paulo his son was exhausted and “Leo said it looked like his legs weighed 100 kilos. He was very tired.”
With Neymar and Luis Suarez unable to be called upon until well after the season has begun, Messi's initial absence could be catastrophic for Barca's chances to a good start.
However he clearly needs to rest and recuperate fully in order to deliver his best work.