5 Bold Predictions for Barcelona in 2016

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2016

5 Bold Predictions for Barcelona in 2016

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Barcelona achieved a lot in 2015—more than anyone would have dreamed at the end of 2014, when things were shaky under Luis Enrique and the team was yet to gel.

    They pulled themselves together within a few weeks and went on a storming run to the end of the season, winning the treble. They later added the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup to the tally, rounding off a spectacular year.

    So where could 2016 take Barcelona? Here are five bold predictions for the Catalans this year.

Thomas Vermaelen to Replace Javier Mascherano in the Lineup

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    Koji Sasahara/Associated Press

    Javier Mascherano splits opinion among Barcelona fans.

    Some adore his work ethic, his leadership and his sheer bravery. He puts his body on the line for the team without regard for his own well-being whenever he plays.

    Mascherano said he doesn't feel good when he plays football. Per Sport, he explained: "I don't enjoy the games, I suffer football. During the 90 minutes I have to concentrate. I only have fun in training."

    That demonstrates the type of player he is and his commitment to the cause. It also shows why Luis Enrique likes him.

    In a team full of skilful, crafty players, sometimes you need someone who will scrap and scurry. But there is an argument that says sometimes he's not at the same level as his team-mates in terms of the intelligence of his play.

    He was all at sea for Espanyol's opener in the Copa del Rey clash on Wednesday, with Marco Asensio and Felipe Caicedo running amok. Mascherano is one of the more error-prone players in the Barcelona team.

    Meanwhile, although Thomas Vermaelen's chances have been limited, he has impressed whenever he has been selected.

    The one exception was the 4-0 crushing by Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup back in August, but nobody played well for the Catalans that day.

    In his next gamealso against Athletic in the Basque Countryhe helped Barcelona keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win before scoring the winning goal at home against Malaga in the team's next outing.

    Other appearances have been strong, including in the 4-0 win over Real Betis and the 3-0 triumph over BATE Borisov.

    If Mascherano is injured or suspended and the Belgium international gets a run in the team, he may be difficult for the Argentinian to dislodge.

Neymar to Win the Ballon d'Or

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    Lionel Messi's name seems written on the 2015 Ballon d'Or award, with the Argentinian widely hailed as the key figure in their five trophy successes.

    However, 2016 could be Neymar's year. He gets better and better as the weeks tick by, harder to handle and more mature in his running.

    He has been named in the final three for the first time, alongside Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Neymar is likely to feature for Brazil at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro too, and he could even play in the Copa America before that.

    If he can help Barcelona continue their success at club level, all the while playing a more integral roleas well as restoring some pride back to the Brazil national teamhe could usurp his team-mate and do enough to win the award for 2016.

Barcelona to Sign David De Gea

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    On paper, it seems unlikely. But then again, there are various reasons why Barcelona might opt to move for Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.

    One is Marc-Andre ter Stegen's itchy feet. Per the Mirror (h/t Sport), he is the subject of Liverpool interest and would consider a move because he's not getting the playing time he wants in Catalonia.

    The Sun (h/t the Express) claimed De Gea has a £30 million release clause in his contract, and if Barcelona do sell Ter Stegen, they could use that money toward a deal for the Manchester United man.

    De Gea is widely thought to want to return to Spain despite a move to Real Madrid falling through in the summer.

    However, he might be equally amenable to moving to Barcelona instead. That would be a more respectable move if you take his history at Atletico Madrid into account.

    Barcelona would also be pleased with the chance to rub Madrid's failure to sign him in the summer in their face again.

    And De Gea is one of the bestif not the bestgoalkeepers in the world. So that's not a bad reason to sign him, either.

Barcelona to Win the Sextuple

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Considering they won five trophies in 2015, perhaps saying they may win six in 2016 is not that bold.

    But nobody has ever won the UEFA Champions League in its current format twice in a row, so that is a huge challenge for Barcelona and probably the most likely place for them to fail.

    With Real Madrid disqualified from the Copa del Rey, they are now comfortable favourites to retain the trophy.

    They will also see Madrid's managerial disarray as a boost in La Liga, with Atletico top, Barcelona in second place with a game in hand and Los Blancos third.

    With Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal reinforcing the side, the Catalans are likely to improve in the weeks ahead.

    The Champions League is a difficult competition to control, though. A lot depends on form and fitness, as well as luck, given games are played over at least 180 minutes.

    Win those three again and you would not expect them to make another mistake in the Spanish Super Cup, while we already know they can succeed in the other two competitions.

Luis Enrique to Leave in the Summer

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    Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press

    Luis Enrique does not enjoy dealing with the media. The Barcelona coach is usually defensive and tetchy in his press conferences.

    That is one of a number of things he doesn't particularly like about working at Barcelona, with such a heavy focus on his dealings with the press.

    He is also being obliged in the transfer market. According to AS, he wants to sign Nolito, but the club is not stumping up the money for the deal.

    Furthermore, dealing with players such as Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez is never easy, with none of the three liking to be rested or even substituted.

    And Barcelona is a crazy club at which anything can happen. We saw it in 2015, with the club in crisis in January and world champions in December.

    It is not beyond belief that something could take place that provokes the coach into wanting to leave.

    Or if he manages to win the treble again, he may choose to walk away, knowing he is leaving the club with an astounding record.

    Perhaps he may feel he isn't getting the respect he deserves for what he has done and makes a move accordingly.

    Of course, this is all hypothetical; he could just as easily remain at the club and try to start a dynasty. But his spells with Celta Vigo and Roma indicate he doesn't like staying somewhere for too long.