It is Ernesto Valverde's third year in charge of Barcelona. The Spaniard took over from Luis Enrique at Camp Nou in 2017 and he has already delivered two La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey trophy, and one Supercopa de Espana. Domestic success has been a constant for the ex-Athletic Bilbao manager since he switched to Catalonia, but struggles in the Champions League have cast a dark cloud over his exploits.
Barca were humiliated by Liverpool in the European tournament last season. The Blaugrana threw away a 3-0 goal lead and succumbed to a 4-0 battering at the hands of Jurgen Klopp's men in the semifinals. Adding that to the painful memory experienced in Rome during the 2017/2018 campaign, it's now two years of European misery for Ernesto Valverde's side.
That means the Spaniard enters the new season with huge pressure on his shoulders. Having spent astronomical figures to strengthen the squad once again, Barca chief will be expecting Valverde to deliver in Europe this season. In fact, it is difficult to imagine the tactician's continuity with the club if he fails to win the Champions League.
Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Neto, Hiroki Abe, and Junior Firpo were all snapped up this summer. The club has done a lot to make the work easier. Nevertheless, Valverde still has a very difficult decision to make in setting up the midfield.
Barca's midfield is overcrowded at the moment, with several highly talented players vying for a place in the starting lineup. With eight midfielders battling for just three spots, the manager will find it tough to decide who to give the nod to.
Sergio Busquets remains an unshakable force in the centre of the pitch. With the Spaniard going strong in the early part of the season it is unlikely that he will be dropped anytime soon.
Despite the rumours that erupted this summer, Ivan Rakitic is staying at the Nou Camp for at least another year. The Croatian has been proving his doubters wrong for the past few weeks (or years for that matter) and was one of the standout performers for Barca during the preseason.
He proved himself once again in Barca's opener against Athletic Bilbao a few weeks ago. Coming on for Carles Alena in the 46th minute, the Croatian dictated play with relative ease from the middle of the park and quickly changed the tempo of the game to his side's favour. Although Barca lost 1-0, he was lively throughout his stay on the pitch.
Arthur Melo continues his development into the next Xavi. Barca have high hopes for the Brazilian. The Copa America witnessed his heroics this summer as he pulled the strings from the centre of the pitch to help Brazil on their way to claiming the continental crown. New signing, Frenkie de Jong is also slotting into the team perfectly.
Meanwhile, Carles Alena and Ruqui Puig continue to make huge statements with their performances. The La Masia graduates also impressed in the preseason. They deserve the chance to feature more regularly.
Adding these to the likes of Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto, Barca's midfield is spoilt with options at the moment.
Should Ernesto Valverde stick to the trio of Arthur Melo, Sergio Busquets, and Ivan Rakitic? What of favouring a youth setup of Frenkie de Jong, Ruqui Puig, and Arthur Melo? Should he opt for experience by deploying Arturo Vidal alongside Busquets and Rakitic or should he blend youth and experience by lining up de Jong/Arthur, Vidal/Busquets, and Rakitic/Alena? What should happen to Sergi Roberto? The questions are endless.
Ernesto Valverde surely has a rock to lift this season. He'll probably be scratching his head right now.Published 11 Sep 2019, 12:26 IST