2016-17 Season Preview: Barcelona

Coach: Luis Enrique

Key signings: Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez, Samuel Umtiti

Key sales: Dani Alves, Marc Bartra, Adriano

Last season: 1st

This season (predicted finish): 1st

With four trophies, a 39-match unbeaten run, 141 goals in all competitions between their front three as well as a nine-point La Liga lead by March, Barcelona enjoyed the perfect season – that is, if you excuse their spring slump, when they lost three games on the bounce and nearly lost it all, winning the League by just a point or their Champions League exit at the quarter-final stage.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. But in Barcna’s world, where the extraordinary seems mundane, perfection is held in high regard.

As brilliant as Barca were for most of the season, they showed flashes of vulnerability, perhaps fatigue, after their exploits in the Club World Cup. Without that distraction and having tweaked his squad, Luis Enrique’s side are perhaps in a position to win it all now.

While not the costliest of transfer windows, it has still been a big summer for Barca. Out went decorated and experienced players such as Dani Alves and Adriano, in turn opening the door for Sergi Roberto to make the right-back position his own.

Marc Bartra, meanwhile, has gone to Borussia Dortmund in search of more first-team football, as has promising midfielder Alen Halilovic to Hamburg.

On the recruitment front, La Blaugrana’s ‘MSN’ attack was little short of perfection. And you can’t improve on perfection, so for now Lucho hasn’t (although if rumours are to be believed, Valencia striker Paco Alcacer may be heading to Camp Nou). Instead, the Coach has bolstered other areas of his squad.

At a paltry 3.5m, it was a no-brainer to bring back Denis Suarez via his buyback clause. He has adopted the No 6 shirt previously worn by Xavi. He was quickly followed up by Alcacer’s former Valencia teammate European Championship winner Andre Gomes for a potential 55m.

And at the back, two of France’s Euro 2016 squad members in Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne have been signed from Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain respectively.

Every one of their signings is 22 years old, which gives a handy indication of Barca’s intent in the transfer market – their focus on young, energetic players who can give the squad necessary depth but still possess great quality.

Enrique now insists he has the best squad he has ever managed during his two-year tenure at the club, which gives him no excuse should they not see success again this season.

While they have the squad to compete for the season, however, the Catalans will have to do without some big players early on. Jeremy Mathieu, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Marc-Andre ter Stegen all start the campaign injured, while, Neymar and Rafinha were summoned by Brazil to the Olympic Games and are unlikely to take part in their club side’s opening few matches.

While Barca often do their own thing, they will be looking over their shoulder in the direction of their rivals and won’t want to lose ground too early. Real Madrid know the consequences all too well as they endured a turbulent first half to the previous campaign.

La Blaugrana won’t have that luxury this time round and should expect as staunch a challenge as ever from both Madrid and Atletico Madrid. It could be a La Liga season that goes down to the wire. But it is a challenge the former are more than capable of meeting. With Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, anything and everything is possible.