An unconvincing win over Sevilla and a comprehensive defeat to Athletic Bilbao - in the UEFA and Spanish Super Cup respectively - have exposed the weaknesses in Barcelona. If the Super Cup games are anything to go by, then Barcelona may have a hard time defending their league title.
Barcelona appeared to be cruising with a 3-1 lead over Sevilla at half time in the UEFA Super Cup. Goals from Suarez and Reyes shortly after the break made the score 4-2 to Barcelona. Even at that stage, Barcelona should have been able to close off the match.
However, Mathieu conceded a clumsy penalty which was slotted in by Gameiro and a great combination play between Immobile - who left Bartra for dead- and Konoplyanka sent the tie into extra-time. Luckily for Barcelona, Pedro grabbed the winner in the 115th minute of the match. In the two-legged Spanish Super Cup, Barcelona were thoroughly thrashed 4-0 away to Athletic and were held to a 1-1 draw at home in the Camp Nou - giving the Basque team their first trophy in 31 years.
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In the space of three Super Cup matches, Barcelona conceded nine goals (eight goals in two games with ter Stegen) which is almost half of the total goals given up by their miserly defence in the 2014/15 league campaign.
However, Claudio Bravo is expected to reprise his role as the number one goalkeeper for the league while ter Stegen - who massively failed at channelling his inner Manuel Neuer against Athletic - will be the choice for domestic and European cup games. Ter Stegen is still a good second choice keeper (after all, he did win two trophies last season) but Barcelona will need the experience and composure of Bravo if they are to retain their league title.
Even with Bravo as the first choice goalkeeper for the league, Barcelona’s defence still needs some improvement. No football fan should ever have to witness the central pairing of Bartra and Vermaelen again: it was a disaster.
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The ideal central defensive partnership for Barcelona is without a doubt Pique and Mascherano. Unfortunately, Pique’s not-so-nice words to the linesman in the 1-1 draw to Athletic will see him miss the first four games of the league, including two difficult away games to Athletic (once again) and Atletico Madrid. The Super Cup matches also proved the inconsistency of Dani Alves: sometimes he is brilliant with incredible runs and accurate crosses, other times he needs a taxi to catch up and a compass to find a decent pass.
Despite Barcelona’s defensive vulnerabilities ahead of the new season, they still boast possibly the best attacking trio in world football: Messi, Suarez and Neymar. When on song, few defences stand a chance. However, Balenziaga and co. in Athletic proved that Messi and Suarez are not unstoppable. After Pedro’s departure, Barcelona have been left with few options on the bench. Though Sandro can be a useful forward for Barcelona, the thought of Munir replacing Pedro is almost inconceivable.
The addition of new signings Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan, who can officially play after the transfer ban expires in January, will be welcomed additions to the team. However, Barcelona’s quest for a 24th Spanish league title will not be without challenges if teams are able to learn from the Super Cup games against Sevilla and Athletic.