Madrid, Aug 19 IANS | 3 months ago

It has been a busy summer at the FC Barcelona offices in the Camp Nou Stadium as the club worked to put together a competitive squad for the current season after the disappointments of a 2013-14 campaign which saw them end empty-handed as Atletico and Real Madrid swept the trophy board.

The club moved swiftly to confirm Luis Enrique, a former player and B-team coach as the new man in the dugout, hoping his aggression will transfer to a squad which looked at time to be running on empty under the guidance of Gerardo 'Tata' Martino last season, reports Xinhua.

Martino may have been too easy on his charges in training, but the fact is that his squad last year also had serial weaknesses, which the club has looked to fix. This summer it has been revolution in the Camp Nou after years of evolution.

It has been obvious to most for two years that Barca lacked cover in central defence, especially as the attempt to convert Alex Song into an emergency center back failed to such an extent that Javier Mascherano, a fine central midfielder, has spent two years playing at the back to support Gerard Pique.

In an attempt to solve that problem in have come Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia and Thomas Vermaelen from Arsenal. Mathieu has shown himself to be strong, fast and powerful in the air and the fact he is left footed should give much needed balance to the back line.

Vermaelen meanwhile showed at Arsenal that he is quick, comfortable on the ball and solid in the challenge. However, the fact he has arrived with a hamstring injury must worry those who look at his poor injury record over the past two seasons.

In midfield the club has signed Ivan Rakitic to take some of the weight off the aging Xavi Hernandez, whose 34-year-old legs won't take as much as they used to. Rakitic is smart, sharp, has vision and delivers a mean free kick and will give further options as will Mascherano, who presumably will be pushed forward after the arrival of Mathieu and Vermaelen.

If Mascherano does push forward, that may imply Luis Enrique is introducing some subtle changes into Barca's almost sacred passing game: the Argentinean wins nearly every tackle he goes for, but his movement of the ball lacks some of the spark which Xavi or Andres Iniesta can provide.

It's all change in goal as well for Barca with Victor Valdes, who was injured for the last three months of the campaign, and Jose Pinto both leaving to be replaced by Ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo.

Bravo is under the microscope after an error in a pre-season friendly against Napoli, but his years of experience with Real Sociedad mean he has tones of experience, while Stegen is a typical German keeper, tall, fast and strong, although he could improve with his feet. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod when the season is underway.

And of course there is one man who is destined to make headlines: Luis Suarez. The controversial Uruguay striker is suspended until the end of October because of his famous, or perhaps infamous, biting incident but once he returns he should guarantee goals, especially when paired with Leo Messi and Neymar.

Suarez's arrival could even mean Luis Enrique at times rests one of his fearsome attacking trip, which could be a blessing to Messi, who spent much of last season looking below his best. He still scored plenty of goals, but something was missing from the little Argentinean, who at times looked an almost peripheral figure in some matches.

Likewise Neymar still has plenty of credit, but this is the year the Brazilian needs to take the step up and show he can mix it with the best in Europe. He has shown he has the skill and the pace and with Luis Enrique he has a coach who will demand it of him week in week out.

The new arrivals mean there is depth on the subs bench as well as Pedro Rodriguez, Marc Bartra, Adriano, Martin Montoya and youngsters such as Sergi Roberto all try to stake their claim.

It all means that on paper, Barca have a more competitive squad and a more competitive coach. The big question which needs to be answered is. Will that be enough?

(Posted on 19-08-2014)

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