2019/20 Countdown: Barcelona
La Liga – Champions; Copa del Rey – Runners-up; UEFA Champions League – Semi-finals; Top scorer – Lionel Messi (51)
The question: Europe is the aim, but do they have to be watchful in the league too?
Barcelona were there last season. Early May, and, having taken care of the league, were on the verge of a treble. The Catalans were also in the Spanish Cup final – for the sixth year running – and were on the cusp of a first Champions League final in four years, having beaten Liverpool 3-0 in the semi-final first leg. But they collapsed at Anfield, losing 4-0, and later on lost the Copa del Rey final to Valencia. A fifth league title in seven years was still noteworthy, but losing in the other competitions was a stain on their season, and made it seem a tad underwhelming.
That loss to Liverpool was the second season in a row in which Ernesto Valverde’s side have gotten knocked out of the Champions League despite having a three-goal lead in the first leg, after the capitulation to Roma in 2018. And this season, the biggest question surrounding the Blaugrana are whether they can finally get it right in Europe.
There’s a hankering for the Champions League at the Nou Camp, and it has seemingly become an obsession, and could the relentless quest for European triumph overshadow their league dominance. It’s been a summer of big spending, particularly with Real and Atletico Madrid, the other two big guns in the league. Both sides from the Spanish capital will have their eyes on the league title, and with Valverde’s preference of not really rotating his side, Barca focusing on European success might see them take their eye off the ball on the domestic front.
Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong are headline arrivals, joining respectively from Atletico Madrid and Ajax. Goalkeeper Neto joins from Valencia, while Marc Cucurella has been re-signed from Eibar (for the honour of getting loaned out, of course).
Jasper Cillessen has exited, making the opposite move as Neto, while Andre Gomes’ loan to Everton has become permanent, and Denis Suarez has joined Celta Vigo. Thomas Vermaelen has moved to Japanese side Vissel Kobe, and Cucurella has (surprise surprise) joined Getafe on loan. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho is still at the club, despite it looking like neither party wants that.
Barca are Spanish champions who have made smart and pivotal additions to a strong squad and are surely bound to finally get it right in Europe. Plus, in Lionel Messi, they have arguably the best footballer in the world.
Barca have never quite been convincing under Valverde, and their journey in Europe always seems to have an expiry date. With the rest of the top three in Spain having bolstered their squads, even the league title may be a tougher task than usual.
The Gaffer (Ernesto Valverde)
The Spaniard enters his third season at the Nou Camp as a source of discontent for some of the fans, primarily as a result of successive Champions League collapses. The former Bilbao and Espanyol manager still has the backing of the club, though, and will hope to finally bring forth European success.
How will they do
Retaining the league title is surely the domestic aim, and, despite last season’s loss, winning the Spanish Cup is almost a given. Europe is probably where the judgement lies.
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not