After a turbulent summer season, Barcelona are confronted by plenty of serious doubts as they return to La Liga action on Sunday at residence to Villarreal – and visiting coach Unai Emery will be taking a glimpse to earn a well-known influence along with his new team.
With Barca apparently in disarray, BBC Sport poses five key questions facing the Catalan giants as they strive to dispel the speculation they are a fast-fading force.
Can Koeman persuade Messi?
It’s now not doable to originate an prognosis of Barca’s predicament with any discipline rather than Lionel Messi, following the captain’s aborted strive to leave and his subsequent outbursts against unpopular president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Messi made it obvious on Friday that he’s mute very heart-broken with the club, making a scathing point in his farewell message to departing team-mate Luis Suarez, who has joined Atletico Madrid.
“You deserved a farewell becoming who you are: one of many splendid avid gamers in the historical previous of the club. Now to not be kicked out equivalent to you had been. But truly by now, nothing surprises me,” Messi wrote on Instagram.
For better or worse, incoming coach Ronald Koeman mute has no need but to centre the team’s rebuilding job around the Argentine, whose formula and perspective will proceed to be forever analysed over the coming weeks.
Messi will be free to designate a pre-contract with one more club in January, so Koeman has shrimp time to persuade the skipper that he can make a team price inserting around for.
If the coach would not quickly set aside improving the captain’s dark temper, it will moreover turn very gruesome, very soon.
Who will play up front?
Permitting Suarez to leave was once partly symbolic, with Bartomeu pointedly dismantling the ageing team that suffered Champions League humiliation against Bayern Munich.
But it’s moreover pragmatic: the club is broke – which skill of this truth the acceptance of Wolves’ expose for Nelson Semedo no topic Bartomeu previously describing him as non-transferable – and Suarez’s departure takes a huge strain off a crippling wage bill.
|Lionel Messi – 25||Antoine Griezmann – 9|
|Luis Suarez – 16||Arturo Vidal – 8|
It moreover leaves the quiz of who will lead the dual carriageway. There is no lack of attacking quality, with Messi joined by costly misfits Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, plus talented children Ansu Fati and Trincao.
But rather than the injured Martin Braithwaite, there might be no person who will be categorised as a centre ahead.
Koeman is anticipated to discipline Messi as a spurious 9, however the Argentine will incessantly plunge into the equal deeper areas that Griezmann and Coutinho moreover want to recall – one of many principle reasons they’ve both struggled to shine.
So the coach has the tactical job of devising a machine which encourages his gifted forwards to feature collectively in preference to other folks, collectively with the strategy back of inserting ahead a penalty field presence from a squad lacking out-and-out strikers.
If Koeman solves these riddles, the outcomes will be spectacular. But can it be accomplished?
Where are the defenders?
The 8-2 embarrassment against Bayern made it reasonably obvious that Barca occupy defensive concerns, but Koeman has a startling lack of alternatives to solve them.
Semedo’s departure method the squad’s top correct-support is Sergi Roberto, who’s admittedly a transformed midfielder.
On the opposite flank, 31-year-earlier Jordi Alba stays first need no topic an alarming plunge in performances exact during the last two years, while the club’s desire to sell hurt-hit Samuel Umtiti would moreover leave scarce central alternatives.
The club is attempting to recruit, with Ajax’s Sergino Dest, Norwich fleshy-support Max Aarons and Eric Garcia of Manchester City on the wish checklist. But the dire monetary region outlined above leaves Barca in a feeble position, and not utilizing a ensures that proven new faces will advance.
And wonderful-seeking to round things off, goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, so incessantly the team’s saviour, will be missing through hurt till November.
Can Koeman acquire a collective shape?
As worthy as the identity or quality of the person avid gamers, the team’s death has been in step with the inability of compactness in their total shape.
The wide delivery areas between attack and defence occupy incessantly left the midfield overrun and unable to repel swiftly counter-assaults. That weak spot was once most brutally exploited by Bayern but it absolutely was once moreover generally evident in La Liga, where Barca conceded 13 extra targets than Proper Madrid final season.
Koeman will strive to instil better solidity by employing a 4-2-3-1 formation, with fellow Dutchman Frenkie de Jong joined by either Sergio Busquets or new signing Miralem Pjanic in midfield.
But unless the help four pushes increased up the discipline and the ahead line of Messi, Coutinho and firm are cajoled into playing their segment defensively, it stays doubtful whether a extra purposeful, collective structure can emerge.
Will Bartomeu be forced out?
Overshadowing all the pieces in the help of the scenes is the fate of beleaguered president Bartomeu, who faces a vote of no self belief after better than 20,000 club participants signed a proper motion against him.
Bartomeu’s term of place of work expires in March no topic that job, but his opponents are alive to to earn him leave as soon as imaginable – partly in the hope of persuading Messi to defend beyond this season.
An amazing power of Barca’s ownership model – the club belongs to its 140,000 participants – is that fashioned followers can exert an actual influence over the operating of the club (imagine, for instance, if Manchester United followers had been ready to force out their owners the Glazer family in the equal method Bartomeu is being ejected from the Camp Nou).
But that moreover inevitably outcomes in never-ending rounds of political in-combating, and these bitter squabbles might per chance maybe moreover earn an defective backdrop to a sturdy season which is threatening to solve earlier than it has even begun.