MADRID Barcelona salvaged some pride from a disappointing season when they lifted the King’s Cup on Saturday with a 3-1 win over Alaves but attention has already turned to how they can improve as the club begin a new era.
Coach Luis Enrique is leaving and Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu says his replacement will be announced on Monday, with Spanish media certain it will be Ernesto Valverde, who is leaving Athletic Bilbao.
Bartomeu told Spain's TV3 that Barcelona were confident they knew what they had to do to get back on top after finishing second to Real Madrid in La Liga. "Every summer Barca have to strengthen and renew. Players will go and there will be new signings," said the Barcelona chief. Reuters Sport looks at five ways the Catalans must improve if they are to regain power from Madrid and become Spanish football’s dominant force again.
Restore the midfield
One of the criticisms levelled at Luis Enrique has been that his team have become increasingly dependent on attack and less on the midfield. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have torn La Liga teams to shreds but have lost touch with the style that made them so impressive under Pep Guardiola.
They can no longer strangle teams with incisive passing and relentless pressure, which means that when the strikers can be stopped, so can the team.
Sign a right back
Barcelona allowed Dani Alves to sign for Juventus last summer and he helped the Italians to reach the Champions League final.
At Camp Nou, midfielder Sergi Roberto was supposed to replace the Brazilian by playing out of position and, while he did reasonably well, he lacked quality and discipline in crucial moments with some errors resulting in goals against the team, notably against Sevilla and Manchester City.
Barcelona's only natural right back, Aleix Vidal, was frozen out for months by Luis Enrique before suffering a serious ankle injury when he finally broke into the team.
Reports in the Spanish media suggest Barcelona are focussing on the position in the transfer market.
Tie down Messi
Messi has been in splendid form this season, finishing as the league’s top scorer with 37 goals. Barcelona need to finalise the player’s new contract with his current deal set to expire in June 2018. If Messi is kept happy and secure then Barcelona will be able to move smoothly into their new era.
The importance of La Masia
Barcelona’s golden generation saw players such as Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique come through the La Masia youth system.
Less attention has been paid to that area of the club during Luis Enrique’s years with the coach helping to develop only Sergi Roberto.
Centre back Marlon Santos, midfielder Carles Alena and right back Sergi Palencia are three of the most promising young stars who could be given more chances in the new campaign.
Separate wheat from chaff
Barcelona will need to let some players go in the close season to rejuvenate the squad. Jeremy Mathieu and Arda Turan are two names linked with exits in the Spanish media, while Javier Mascherano may also wave goodbye.
Only Samuel Umtiti of the six signings made last year has cemented a regular place in the first team. Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer were both impressive in the King’s Cup final but Lucas Digne and Denis Suarez have not been called on much in recent weeks and goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen plays second fiddle to Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
(Editing by Clare Lovell)