By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Barcelona enjoyed a successful season in 2012-13. Tito Vilanova's team ran away with La Liga as they racked up 100 points to equal Real Madrid's record from the previous campaign and also reached the semi-finals of both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. Anyone unhappy with that, the Catalan coach claimed last week, has a very short memory.
However, the nature of the team's defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals left a bitter taste in the mouth for Barca as the realisation hit home that this is perhaps no longer the era they had been dominating. Seven goals shipped over two legs told a torrid tale for the Catalan club and served to highlight many problems which had been lingering behind Lionel Messi's incredible goalscoring stats.
The Argentine's absence in key matches revealed Barca's unsatisfactory attacking alternatives, while problems in defence were not suitably addressed last summer and that cost Tito's team against the very best sides at home and abroad. Much to rectify this time around in the transfer market, then.
With that in mind, Goal looks at the potential comings and goings at Barcelona this summer and the changes likely to take place at Camp Nou ahead of the coming campaign.
Barcelona have acted early in the transfer market to bring in a player wanted by many of Europe's top teams, a man who they hope can solve their Messi dependence in 2013-14.
Neymar was unveiled at Camp Nou on Monday amid a party atmosphere as over 56,000 fans turned out to welcome the brilliant Brazilian to the Catalan capital. The 21-year-old, who has signed a five-year-deal, spoke of helping Messi remain the best in the world as Barca showcased their star signing on a sunny June afternoon. At €57 million, he will be the club's most expensive new arrival this summer.
But the Catalan club may yet bring in another forward and are searching for a striker who will accept a secondary role, much like Henrik Larsson did under Frank Rijkaard. Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku, who spent last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion, has been offered to the Catalan club but is likely to be part of Jose Mourinho's plans at Stamford Bridge. Lazio's veteran Germany frontman Miroslav Klose is another under careful consideration, along with his international colleague Mario Gomez, who is likely to be surplus to requirements at Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich next season. Roma's Pablo Daniel Osvaldo was a hit in his time in Barcelona with Espanyol and is also on the list of possible new strikers, along with Brazil's Leandro Damiao and Manchester United's Mexican forward Chicharito.
With goalkeeper Victor Valdes now confirmed for one final season at the Catalan club before leaving on a free contract in 2014, Barca will wait until next summer before signing a replacement, with Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Borussia Monchengladbach's Marc-Andre ter Stegen currently the team's top two targets for what is a problem position historically at Camp Nou.
Then there is the defence, perhaps the most important area of all to be addressed this summer - especially as the signing of Neymar has now been sealed. Barcelona's top target is still Thiago Silva. However, the Brazil defender has claimed he wants to stay at Paris Saint-Germain, while his agent has also said the defender will be going nowhere this summer.
The former AC Milan man is Tito's preferred player for the defence, as the Catalan club seek a long-term replacement for ageing captain Carles Puyol, but there are other options to pursue. Chelsea centre-back David Luiz is one, although any move for the Brazilian will depend on Mourinho's plans at Stamford Bridge, while sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta is keen on Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels. Valencia's Adil Rami is another alternative who has long been linked with the Catalans, while Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic is interesting Barca too as the Spanish champions seek a more defensive-minded full-back as cover for the more attacking pair of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, whose forward runs left the team exposed against the top teams at times in 2012-13. In fact, Barca could even bring in two of the above players this summer, while Portuguese youngster Edgar Ie may be given an opportunity after impressing with the B side recently.
With possibly five players coming in to the Catalan club this summer, there are likely to be several departures as well.
Eric Abidal's exit was announced last Thursday. The French full-back had hoped to stay at Barcelona, but was only offered a non-playing role and is keen to extend his career. He played his final game for the Catalan club with a substitute appearance against Malaga and looked good enough to do a job for another season. As Abidal said himself, however: "The club didn't see it that way..." Abidal is currently considering his options, but any move will depend on the player proving his fitness after he recently recovered from a liver transplant. Paris-Saint Germain, AC Milan and Tottenham have all been linked previously.
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes had also been expected to leave this summer, but is now set to stay and see out the final year of his contract before moving on in 2014.
One player who looks almost certain to move is David Villa, who has interested both Arsenal and Tottenham but seems more likely to move to White Hart Lane after a very positive meeting with Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas recently.
Meanwhile, Barcelona will hope to keep Thiago, but the Catalan club could be in for a fight after failing to field the midfielder for 60 per cent of the total minutes this season. That has seen his release clause plunge from €90 million to €18m until August and a number of Europe's top teams are monitoring his situation, including Manchester United, Manchester City and Bayern Munich. Chelsea have also been linked, along with Real Madrid, although president Florentino Perez claimed on Monday night that he would not be making a bid for the Italian-born midfielder. Cesc Fabregas has also been linked with a summer move, but Barca do not want to sell the former Arsenal captain.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Afellay, Bojan Krkic, Andreu Fontas and Isaac Cuenca all return from spells away on loan and Barca hope to sell the first three, while the latter is expected to be sent away on a temporary deal again next term, although the winger is currently recovering from a knee operation. Thiago's brother, Rafinha, is also set to leave on loan, along with winger Gerard Deulofeu, who is of interest to Dortmund. Defender Marc Muniesa, meanwhile, is out of contract and close to agreeing a deal with Real Sociedad, although Ajax are also interested. Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello are expected to stay, while Barca are searching for a buyer for Mexico midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, who is no longer part of the club's plans.
Tito Vilanova's debut season as coach was blighted by his health problems as he suffered a relapse of his cancer in December and spent two months receiving radiotherapy treatment in New York after Christmas.
The Barca board are keen to avoid a similar situation next season, but are fully behind the Catalan coach and Vilanova himself has claimed he has no intention of stepping down, despite concerns from friends and family over his health and the high-pressure environment at the Camp Nou club. "I can say it louder but no clearer: I will be here next season," Tito told the media before last Saturday's 4-1 win over Malaga.
So unless the coach's condition deteriorates this summer (and that looks unlikely after his last routine check-up in New York was put forward to the end of the season and showed no new problems), Vilanova will still be in place when the season starts again in August.
Should he need to take time out again next term, Barca may decide to bring in an experienced interim coach, but the club currently believe no changes will be necessary now or in 2013-14.
Barcelona remain the best team in Spain and will be expected to retain their Liga crown next term, although Real Madrid will also boast an exciting project for the coming campaign, with Zinedine Zidane in charge of player recruitment and Carlo Ancelotti set to take over as coach.
Whatever happens in Spain, Barca needed to strengthen their hand for the tough European games and Neymar's arrival should lighten the burden on Messi in attack. How quickly the Brazilian can adapt to playing in Europe could hold the key to the Catalans' success next term, while the signing of an experienced striker will also aid Tito's team, providing tactical variations for the toughest tests in 2013-14.
The most important signing now, however, will be a central defender. Barcelona could bring in two top centre-backs this summer and will also be looking at one of them to cover the full-back position as well. With Puyol now a fading force, Marc Bartra still young and Abidal allowed to leave, the Catalans must identify two top players to shore up a back line which struggled all season.
If they can find the right man to make a seamless switch to their defence and form a promising partnership with Gerard Pique, with Neymar clicking quickly alongside Messi in attack, this could be a memorable campaign for the Catalan club. But they have to get it right this summer.