FC Barcelona: 2011-2012 Extensive Season Preview Part 1
The 2011/2012 season will start this weekend for FC Barcelona, with the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Fellow FC Barcelona Featured Columnist Andrés Ehrli, and I have teamed up to offer you a rather extensive FC Barcelona season preview. The following are 20 questions which we believe cover pretty much all bases. In the odd questions, I answered first and then Andrés replied to me, and in the even questions it was the opposite
Here's Part 1, with questions 1-10. Part 2, with questions 11-20, can be read here.
In Part 1, we'll analyse, among other things, how the club did in the summer market and which youth players might have role to play this season. Enjoy!
1. What's Your View on Barcelona's Summer Buys?
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Well, so far the club has only made one signing (for the first team, that is): Alexis Sanchez. I liked it. It’s definitely a pretty good signing.
Not only is Alexis Sanchez a world class talent, but he fills a need that was apparent at the end of last season. Pedro, Villa and Messi were the only world class forwards at the club and they had to play pretty much every match last season, with the latter two being visibly tired toward the end.
Sanchez’s arrival will allow for better rotation this season, thus keeping everyone fresh.
I'm with Manuel here.
I was a Alexis Sanchez doubter, to be honest. Especially when they were talking about €40 million-plus to sign him. But in the end I think the €26 million-plus incentives formula is a good one, and I'm excited to have him.
If they land Fábregas, for under €40 million though…I'll be VERY happy with Sandro Rossell and Co.
2. What's Your View on Barcelona's Summer Sales?
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There are good and bad parts.
The Bojan operation is tricky at best. At first glance one could think it's fantastic to get rid of him for €12 million with a buy back clause, but under closer inspection, it's actually a two-year loan deal with the mandatory buy.
And on top of that, on the off chance he gets better, Roma have can buy him for €28 million.
Anyone out there thinking that's the most complicated transfer ever? Yeah, me too.
Getting rid of Jeffrén for €5 million and Càceres (a huge bust) for €3 million is good news.
But Keirrison, Henrique and Hleb are still leaching Barcelona. Shame on them and on the club for still having them around.
So if it were school, Zubizarreta would never get a B- from me.
I mostly agree with Andrés. The best part about the Bojan and Jeffren deals is that if they develop into world class players, Barcelona can buy them back at a relatively cheap price, the same applying to Oriol Romeu at Chelsea.
While AS Roma, Sporting CP and Chelsea FC aren’t European giants by any stretch of imagination, they’re among the top clubs at competitive leagues and should provide a great platform for the likes of Bojan, Jeffren and Romeu to develop. These were very smart sales in my opinion.
Keirisson, Henrique and Hleb are indeed nuisances at this point, but there’s not much than can be done about it. I’d personally be in favor of releasing these players for free, especially Hleb, who’s quite possibly the worst player to wear the blaugrana jersey in recent years (Keirisson never actually played for Barcelona).
3. How Would You Rate the Club's Transfer Season Overall?
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It was a decent transfer season. It was not particularly great (how could it be? There’s not really that much room for improvement in one of the all-time great squads) but not horrible either.
The signing of Alexis Sanchez is clearly beneficial for the club, as are the glorified loan deals for Bojan and Jeffren. These two Barcelona youth products will have the chance to prove themselves and maybe one day return to the club (if they develop into top quality players, of course).
Overall, it was a pretty decent transfer season, which can improve with the possible signing of Cesc Fabregas, a player that Pep Guardiola covets so much.
Agreed. OK transfer season seems to sum it up. Not bad but not fantastic either.
As I said, good signings, average job at selling.
The fact that Henrique, Hleb and Keirrison are still Barcelona players and how the Bojan sale was negotiated are all quite annoying.
4. How Does This Year's Squad Measure Up to Last Year's?
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It's much better, obviously.
Alexis alone makes the forward line better. Thiago makes the midfield better. And Abidal will be a force as full-time CB. If Cesc arrives...Well, you get the point.
I'm not even counting youth players, either. So expect this year's to be a much better squad all-around.
I wouldn’t say it’s much better. After all, last year’s squad was one of the all-time greats, so there’s not that much room for improvement. That said, I also believe this year’s squad is better (although not by much) and especially deeper.
There seem to be more quality options in every area, and some of the dead wood has been released.
That said, I’ll change my stance completely if Puyol doesn’t return to full fitness. Without a fully fit Puyol, the squad would undoubtedly be weaker.
5. Do the Club Need Cesc Fabregas?
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Of course not. It’d be pretty ludicrous to suggest that FC Barcelona need Cesc Fabregas (if they did, they would have signed him a long time ago).
By no stretch of imagination is Cesc on the same level as Barcelona’s fantastic midfield duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, and midfield depth is something that the club have in abundance.
Seydou Keita, Ibrahim Afellay, Thiago Alcantara and even Sergio Busquets can all play as center midfielders. It’s obvious that there’s no need to sign Cesc Fabregas.
That said, while not absolutely needed, his signing would improve the squad, add even more quality depth to Barcelona’s midfield. Definitely a luxury signing, though and one which would not even be considered if Francesc weren’t a La Masia youth product and a Catalan citizen.
But Pep Guardiola wants him, and the addition of a world class midfielder with “Barca DNA” would surely make the squad even stronger.
I'll partially agree with Manuel on this one.
Do they need him? No. Should they buy him? Absolutely.
Barça would automatically have the best AND second best midfields in the world.
I think it's safe to say that's a good thing.
6. Can Thiago Alcantara Have an Impact During the Coming Season?
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Thiago's preaseason has been awesome, so expect him to be a big part of Barça's success this season.
He won't start, but his contribution from the bench will prove invaluable throughout.
I couldn’t agree more. Despite his young age, Thiago is a fabulous player, who would start for most teams in the world. The problem is that Barcelona aren’t most teams. As good as Thiago is, trying to displace Xavi and Iniesta is pretty much a losing battle for anyone.
But I’m still confident that he’ll get plenty of action. Guardiola will surely rotate his midfielders and Thiago will have plenty of chances to showcase his skills.
I even dare say that there won’t be a very noticeable drop in quality whenever Thiago is on the pitch instead of Xavi or Iniesta.
7. What Other Youth Players Might Have a Role to Play During the Season?
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Well, Andreu Fontás has been promoted this season as well, and he’ll surely have a role to play. He’s still too young and experienced to be a regular starter, but he might be a useful rotation player.
Other youth defenders like Bartra and Muniesa might also get their chance to contribute, since Barcelona’s current defensive depth is nowhere near as extraordinary as their midfield and attacking depth.
But Thiago Alcantara definitely seems to be the most talented youngster at the moment and by far the likeliest to shine.
Manuel kind of cheated with Fontás and Thiago as they're nominal first team players already.
Fontás is poop, so we´ll definitely see some Bartra. Muniesa I'm not so sure, to be honest. Sergi Gomez could see some time as well if both Fontás and Bartra fail to live up to the promise.
In the midfield, if tragedy strikes, Sergi Roberto and Jonathan dos Santos could see some time, but it's not looking likely right now. And it will be even less so if Cesc arrives.
You can also expect to see some Isaac Cuenca and Gerard Deulofeu minutes up top as well.
8. How Important Is Carles Puyol's Full Recovery to the Squad?
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IF he makes a full recovery AND a time machine to 2005, very important.
If not, then he'll be a quality player to sub-in for Abidal or Alves.
In any case, I'm confident both Mascherano and Abidal have what it takes to fill in at CB if Tarzan is not fit.
2005? I believe that whenever fit, Puyol is Barcelona’s best defender. He might not be as fast as in 2005, but his 2011 version is still one of the best defenders on the planet. To me, it’s merely a question a fitness. If Puyol recovers, he’ll be a undisputed starter.
If he doesn’t, I believe Barcelona’s defense will suffer greatly. He’s called Tarzan for a reason.
Mascherano and Abidal are very good, but they’re just not Puyol. Even if he can’t get recover from his operation completely, his minutes should be managed in order to have him fit for the big matches.
Giving him a sub role might be just the way to do that, but I still prefer to believe that Puyol will recover.
9. Will Any of the Older Players Slow Down This Season?
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Puyol looks like he might. There are many question marks over his fitness at the moment. I still believe he will fully recover from his surgery and be a rock in the Barcelona defense as always, but that might well be wishful thinking on my part (I hope not).
Carles Puyol will turn 34 this season, but he’s still Barcelona’s best defender when fully fit. Before retiring, at Barcelona as a legend like him deserves, he still has one last task to perform.
There are only two footballers in history who captained three different Champions League-winning squads: Franz Beckenbauer and Carles Puyol.
Before retiring, Puyol must still captain Barcelona to a fourth Champions League title, thus becoming the sole holder of this record. If he recovers from his surgery, he’ll surely be a very, very valuable asset to the club.
As for the club’s other veterans, Abidal and Xavi, who’ll both turn 32 this season, they don’t look like slowing down at all, especially Xavi. By watching Xavi play, you’d never think you were watching a 31-year-old.
Xavi’s fitness is maginificent; despite his age, he has been playing 50 games a season + internationals with no signs of fatigue, despite the fact that he often covers more distance than any other player on the pitch.
We’ll still see a lot of Xavi Hernandez in the coming years, as he cements his already legendary status.
Agreed. Puyol and Xavi will take a step back. Puyol will have a hard time coming back from this injury. The fact he hasn't even trained full speed the whole preseason is good testament to this being true.
Messi could be the other one to slow down a bit (only logical).
Villa could also be a possibility.
Everyone else should be fine, though.
10. Can Lionel Messi Mantain/improve on His Level from Last Season?
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Statistically, no way in hell. I'd be VERY impressed if he could match his numbers from this season.
But level wise, he could (and should) maintain his level.
Well, I’ve been watching football since the turn of the Millennium and I can safely say Messi is the best player I’ve ever seen, for the simple fact that he delivers pretty much every week. It’s hard for fans to get excited when Messi does something extraordinary because the extraordinary has become routine for Messi. Ronaldinho was a great, great player for Barcelona, but not even the great Brazilian was able to deliver sublime performances with the same consistency as Messi, which is saying a lot.
I definitely wouldn’t put it past Messi to be even better this season. He’s just 24, not even in his peak years yet, meaning that he’ll only get better as a player. I agree that it’s almost impossible to rack up 53 goals and 24 assists again, but that’s irrelevant. Messi’s all-around game is so good that goals are just a small part of what he brings to the table. I don’t know if he’ll score 30 or 50 next season, but I do believe he’ll be an even better player, a scary prospect for defenses all around Europe.
After last season’s Champions League final, Pep Guardiola stated that Messi was so superior to his peers that he feared he might get bored. The way things stand, boredom is really the only thing than can stop Messi.
Stay Tuned for Part 2
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So this is it for Part 1, we hope that you have enjoyed. Make sure to read Part 2 to find out, among other things, whether it's possible to repeat last season's success and what the keys are to winning the competitions Barcelona are involved in.