In contrast to the previous two years, Barcelona have enjoyed the calm of a summer without major changes on and off the pitch after claiming a second treble in six years.
Success breeds stability, but the lack of movement in the transfer market was partly imposed on the club as it served the last of a two-window ban on registering players for breaking FIFA rules in signing minors.
That has not stopped the Catalans splashing nearly 60 million euros (US$66.5 million) on Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal from Atletico Madrid and Sevilla respectively, but neither are able to play until January when the market reopens.
Both were signed ahead of the big event of Barca’s summer — their presidential elections — as Josep Maria Bartomeu attempted to pull out all the stops to stay in power.
There were also new contracts for coach Luis Enrique and Dani Alves, and the elections went swimmingly for Bartomeu as he routed former president and long-term rival Joan Laporta to win the right to lead the club for another six years.
So what can stop a settled Barca side containing a front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, which scored a record 122 goals on the way to winning the UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey and La Liga last season?
At Barcelona a drama is never far away as evidenced by the fact that Enrique was on the verge of the sack back in January before ending his debut season in the hot seat with three major trophies.
Off the field, despite his election success, Bartomeu’s position is likely to come under more scrutiny as he is due to stand trial later this year on tax evasion charges over a controversial deal that brought Neymar to the club in 2013.
Meanwhile, on the pitch, there could also be problems ahead due to a lack of balance as evidenced by a 5-1 aggregate drubbing by Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana and blowing a 4-1 lead against Sevilla before claiming the UEFA Super Cup 5-4 after extra-time just days previously.
Even when Turan and Vidal are free to play, they are likely to be restricted to bit part roles amongst a throng of attacking talent.
The defense has not been strengthened at all and a reliance on Gerard Pique could be exposed in a challenging start to the league season.
Pique was sent off for losing his cool with officials in the second leg of the Supercopa de Espana against Bilbao as Barca’s hopes of winning six trophies in a calendar year slipped away.
As a result, he was expected to be suspended by the Royal Spanish Football Federation later yesterday for Barca’s return to San Mames to face Bilbao on the first day of the La Liga season and for the trip to Atletico Madrid on Sept. 12.
“I want to apologize because the attitude with which I protested was not the correct one,” Pique said.
In midfield, the talismanic presence of Xavi Hernandez is likely to be missed for the first time in 17 years, while doubts remain over the ability of youngsters Rafinha and Sergi Roberto to provide cover to Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic.
Yet, all those worries pale into comparison with those faced by Barca’s opponents in stopping arguably the most fearsome strike force world soccer has ever seen.
With Suarez free to start the campaign unlike last season when he was banned until October and fresh after missing the Copa America from suspension, Barca’s South American triumvirate could easily top their tally from last year.
Having won five titles in the past seven years, Barca remain the team to beat in La Liga.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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