Arsenal's Hector Bellerin and Paulinho make Barcelona's predicted XI for the new campaign

Our Spanish football expert has analysed the players he believes will be starting for Ernesto Valverde's side next season

Andy West
by Andy West
14th July 2017

article:14th July 2017

Barcelona have endured a difficult summer so far, with the board coming under increasing pressure for their seemingly haphazard approach to improving their squad.

Obvious areas for improvement have been left untouched so far and new manager Ernesto Valverde has not yet given any public indication of his plans to improve his team’s tactical coherence


Fans of the Blaugrana are desperately hoping the club steps up their efforts in the market in the coming weeks, or another frustrating season could be in store.

GOALKEEPERS

In a squad in a considerable state of flux, at least some stability comes for Barca in goal with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen firmly entrenched in their respective roles as first and second-choice keepers.

Ter Stegen will be the starter but must start to cut out the occasional unforced errors which blighted his performances last year, or a goalkeeper debate could start to emerge.

In particular, the German international needs to learn greater discretion with his willingness to show off his ball-playing skills, accepting the idea that sometimes a hasty clearance is the best option.

But his style is likely to remain integral to the team despite the arrival of new coach Ernesto Valverde, who will give ter Stegen every chance to succeed.

Ter Stegen

Ter Stegen

DEFENDERS

The most pressing need for new boss Valverde is to decide the identity of his starting right-back. Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal shared duties in that position last season but neither were convincing – not surprisingly considering both were converted from more attacking roles.

If Barca opt to sign a ‘proper’ right-back, city native Hector Bellerin is the most likely option having started his career with the club before joining Arsenal, although another English-based Spain international, Cesar Azpilicueta, has also been linked.

In the middle, Jeremy Mathieu’s departure to Sporting Lisbon should allow youngster Marlon Santos to receive more opportunities as back-up to Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti. And veteran utility man Javier Mascherano is also likely to stay despite earlier rumours of a possible move to China.

Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique

MIDFIELDERS

The centre of the pitch is a real corridor of uncertainty for Barca, with ambitious plans to sign Marco Verratti from Paris St Germain apparently abandoned and a shock swoop for former Tottenham misfit Paulinho, now with Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, instead being pursued.

Incoming boss Valverde already has plenty of options at his disposal, but it’s unlikely that Denis Suarez, Arda Turan and Andre Gomes will all still be at the club by the end of August if willing buyers can be found.

Valverde has previously preferred to play with a ‘double pivot’ in midfield which would require a new partner for Sergio Busquets, and youth team graduate Sergi Samper could be given a chance to impress after spending last season on loan at Granada.

Ivan Rakitic

Ivan Rakitic

FORWARDS

We know one thing for absolute certain: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will continue to be undisputed starters. But it is currently unclear exactly how Valverde intends to use them, and his tactical plans will make a big difference to the question of whether Barca will make any further forays into the transfer market.

Logically, Paco Alcacer should be given a chance to cover directly for Suarez rather than being stuck on the wing as he was last season, while the returning Gerard Deulofeu provides additional width.

But Valverde may decide he needs a back-up for the role filled by Messi – whatever that role may be – and a big-money move for a similarly creative player like Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool cannot be ruled out.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi (C), Luis Suarez (L) and Neymar.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (C), Luis Suarez (L) and Neymar.


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