Barcelona's Liga Title Defence Will Be Hampered by Limited Squad Options

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistAugust 24, 2015

BILBAO, SPAIN - AUGUST 23:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates with Lionel Messi and Sergi Roberto after scoring Barcelona opening goal during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona at San Mames Stadium on August 23, 2015 in Bilbao, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Firstly the positives. Barcelona's La Liga title defence started with three points on the board.

Three points earned, away from home, against Athletic Club, who just 10 days before had walloped the Catalans 4-0 at the San Mames.

Three days later they earned a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou to lift the Spanish Super Cup.

The Basques weren't afraid to show it off, parading the trophy in front of their fans minutes before the match kicked off, reminding Barcelona of their recent failure.

Their stumble in the Basque country wrecked their bid to win the sextuple, which had been the buzzword of the summer.

Whenever any Barcelona player was asked what their aim was for the new season, they said they wanted to emulate what Pep Guardiola achieved in 2009.

Neymar said, in an interview with Sport: "Treble is a beautiful word, but I have learned another that I like more - it's sextuple. And this has to be our objective, we have to prepare ourselves to be ready to conquer immediately."

Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he was unable to help his team-mates in any of the three clashes against Athletic, after somehow picking up mumps, despite being vaccinated against it.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

It was so bizarre that Dani Alves could only laugh about it, joking that Neymar is just a child (video in Spanish).

But when Barcelona were beaten black and blue by Athletic it wasn't a laughing matter anymore.

Most Cules braced themselves for the worst as the team kicked off one more at the San Mames late on Sunday afternoon.

They were right to do so; this was another bruising affair, one which Barcelona left with two injuries and one goal. Fortunately for Luis Enrique's side, they didn't let any in this time.

Other positives saw Thomas Vermaelen come in to feature in only his third official game since signing for the club a year ago, and excelling.

He was picked over Marc Bartra to partner Javier Mascherano in the centre of defence to add height and aerial ability.

Aritz Aduriz, Athletic's 34-year-old striker, had destroyed Barcelona here, but this time Vermaelen shackled him expertly.

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

He had been the only player not at fault in the back line during the Super Cup humiliation and playing again here was his reward.

The other positive was the brilliant performance of Sergi Roberto at right-back. Oddly, he looked a lot better there than when he has been deployed in his natural, centre-midfield position.

Sergi Roberto was Barcelona's man of the match, powering forward in an Alves-esque style, setting up one chance for Luis Suarez and hitting the woodwork himself.

But in a way this revealed Barcelona's problem for the weeks ahead, until January at least, when they will be allowed to register new players.

They have signed Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, both of whom would have been useful here, but neither of them could play thanks to the sanction.

Barcelona's Turkish midfielder Arda Turan (R) kisses a girl as they sit on the grandstands during the Spanish Supercup second-leg football match FC Barcelona vs Athletic Club Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on August 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO / QUIQ

The squad is threadbare at the moment, with Neymar out with the mumps, Adriano and Douglas also injured.

Gerard Pique is suspended for three more matches, while Jeremy Mathieu missed this game through suspension but will return next weekend against Malaga.

Luis Enrique says he doesn't think the injuries to Alves, who had to be substituted early on for Sergi Roberto, and Sergio Busquets, taken off on a stretcher, will be too serious, per Sport.

But it's just an example of how fragile the team will be, how vulnerable to any injuries they will be, over the next few months.

Barcelona's midfielder Sergio Busquets is stretched out during the Spanish league football match Athletic Club Bilbao vs FC Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on August 23, 2015.  AFP PHOTO/ ANDER GILLENEA        (Photo credit should read ANDER

The bench for the match was incredibly weak, with Lucho only having players who have been through the youth system, or Barcelona B, at his disposal, with the exception of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

For a team that won the treble last season to be in this position is quite surprising.

Barcelona have lost Pedro Rodriguez and Martin Montoya while being unable to replace them, thanks to the transfer ban.

They are still favourites for the title, but for the next few months they will be living dangerously.