Season preview: Barcelona

Season preview: Barcelona
© PA Photos
Sports Mole assesses whether Barcelona can retain their league title in the new campaign.

It proved to be a record-breaking season for Barcelona last term as the Catalan outfit reclaimed the league title from Real Madrid in style.

The gap was 15 points at the end of the season, but in truth, the title had been decided a few months before following a strong campaign from Lionel Messi and company.

Here, Sports Mole assesses whether the Catalan outfit can retain their league title under new coach Gerardo Martino.

In: Neymar (Santos), Bojan Krkic (Roma - Buy-back)

Out: Rafinha (Celta Vigo – Loan), Thiago (Bayern Munich), Gerard Deulofeu (Everton – Loan), David Villa (Atletico Madrid) Eric Abidal (Monaco), Andreu Fontas (Celta Vigo), Bojan Krkic (Ajax – Loan)

Last season: 1st

Manager: Gerardo Martino

Three key players:

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his team's second against Celta Vigo on March 30, 2013© AP Photos
Lionel Messi: It may have been a summer of change at Barcelona, but some things always remain the same. It proved to be a disappointing end to the season for Messi as the Argentine was unable to help his side into the latter stages of the Champions League, although injury did not harm Barcelona's fight for the league title. The 26-year-old struck 46 league goals for the Catalan outfit last season, which is all the more remarkable when taking into account the games he missed through injury. One thing is for certain: if the club are to challenge on all fronts in the new campaign, then they need Messi to be firing on all cylinders from the very first whistle.

Santos' Neymar prior to the start of the match against Flamingo on May 26, 2013© AP Photos
Neymar: When taking into account the transfer figures being branded around this summer, £50m for Neymar appears to be an absolute snip. The 21-year-old is yet to prove himself in Europe, but one thing is for certain - he has all the ability to emerge into one of the best players in world football and now, he also has the stage. He left Santos having scored 136 goals in 225 games and has also struck 24 times in 39 games for Brazil - a quite stunning record. If the Brazilian can settle into his new surroundings, then he could form a devastating partnership with Messi, as long as the two players can learn to co-exist.

Barcelona's Gerard Pique celebrates after scoring the opener on December 1, 2012© PA Photos
Gerard Pique: By his own high standards, the former Manchester United defender will admit that he had a poor season last term. In his defence, the Spaniard did not have a regular partner at the heart of the rearguard all season, but in what should have been his time to shine, Pique struggled in the big matches. If reports are to be believed, then Barcelona are still in the market for a central defender this summer, but it will be to play alongside, rather than replace the former Barcelona graduate. As Barca found out last season, it does not matter how good your attack is if you are conceding down the other end.

First game: Levante (H) Aug 18

Sports Mole says: In terms of attacking talent, it does not get much better for Barcelona. They already have one of the two best players in the world in their attack, while Neymar, who is a sensational talent, is certain to score goals for fun in the new campaign. However, you do worry about their defence, especially in the big matches. Unless they can acquire a player in the mould of Thiago Silva, they will struggle against the likes of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. They are also a midfielder short with Xavi no longer able to play every week and Thiago departing for Bayern Munich. Cesc Fabregas should be thrust into more regular action, unless he seeks pastures new with Manchester United. However, the Catalan outfit could be involved in some high-scoring games in the new campaign.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Gerardo Martino
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In profile: Barcelona's Gerardo Martino
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