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Barcelona had their league title wrestled away from them by arch-rivals, Real Madrid last season. We look at how they shape up this season in their quest to take back their crown.

Barcelona
FORMATION
4-3-3


Tito Vilanova has been promoted from assistant to head coach and is not expected to make many changes to the team’s system or personnel. Even though Pep Guardiola experimented with a 3-5-2 formation last year on occasion which worked to good effect, his successor is likely to persevere with the tried, tested and mastered 4-3-3 formation that really brings out the best of the talent they have at their disposal.

Sergio Busquets is the first choice midfield anchor to sit behind the sublime duo of Iniesta and Xavi. Lionel Messi will be the central figure in attack playing as a false number nine and being complimented on either side by able attackers. David Villa is not 100% fit to resume his role on Messi's left so that position will be occupied by either Fabregas or Afellay while Sanchez or Pedro will feature on the right side.

In possession, the Catalans will camp in the opposition’s half, applying ever increasing pressure until they make a breakthrough. This involves the full-backs pressing up the pitch and almost operating as wingers while Pedro and Villa drift inside and outnumber the defenders centrally. Ibrahim Afellay and Alexis Sanchez will be fighting to win a place in the starting XI and with Cesc Fabregas on the bench, it gives a hint of the luxury of talent available at Camp Nou.


Barcelona
THE MANAGER

Three consecutive league titles, two Champions Leagues, two Copa del Reys, two UEFA Super Cups two FIFA Club World Cups and three Supercopa de Espana in just four seasons in charge, that is the kind of quality and leadership that walked out of the Nou Camp this summer in the form of Pep Guardiola.

Tito Vilanova will certainly have some big boots to fill but inheriting a squad of such exquisite class should be helpful. Furthermore his experience as Guardiola’s number two should hold him in good stead. His familiarity with the players, their playing style and the philosophy of the club as a whole is a major advantage of his appointment as opposed to that of a completely new manager. However, the 42-year old will be thrown into the deep end as he will encounter Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid at the start of the season in a two-legged Spanish Supercup final.

Barcelona
TRANSFER ZONE

Signings made:

There isn’t much you can do to improve on the current crop of players at the Camp Nou but Barcelona have found a way to do just that by adding the energetic full-back, Jordi Alba to their ranks. It’s something of a homecoming for the Spanish international having initially learnt his trade at Barcelona’s La Masia academy over the course of seven years before being released in 2005.

Eric Abidal’s battle with cancer has left Barcelona a little short of personnel in the left back position although Adriano has featured well in that role in the Frenchman's absence. Alba however, will be a fantastic acquisition after enjoying a great couple of years for Valencia and the national side.

Potential signings for crucial positions:

The Catalans haven’t been too busy in the transfer market but reports suggest that they are closing in on a deal for Arsenal midfielder, Alex Song. His assists last season may well have attracted the Spanish giants while he is also capable of slotting into the defence.

Song is the closest thing Arsenal have to a defensive midfielder so it’s safe to say that he will operate in a withdrawn midfield role if Barcelona complete the move. The club were also interested in Javi Martinez but Bayern Munich seems to be the likely destination for the 23-year old Spaniard. Barcelona may still require more cover in the center of defence but a signing in that department seems unlikely.

Barcelona
SRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES

Strengths:

Barcelona can proudly boast the best central midfield partnership in club football. The duo of Xavi and Iniesta are key to their style of play while the genius of Lionel Messi ahead of them is an immeasurable advantage over opposing teams. Their possession-based system enables them to compress the play in the opponents half and ping the ball around, creating a plethora of chances.

Their strength in depth in midfield is phenomenal with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara, unable to secure a regular starting role while the three up front are sufficiently backed by Alexis Sanchez, Ibrahim Afellay and Isaac Cuenca.

Weaknesses:

Their strength can at times also be their weakness. The tiki-taka style of play looks good on the eye but in moments of desperation a plan B is required and that normally involves the employment of a target man up front. Barcelona’s stubborn refusal to whip aerial crosses into the box restricts them to attempting to pass their way through teams who would resort to holding each other's hands in order to keep things tight centrally.

When they pressurize teams, they operate with a high defensive and normally have their full-backs pushed up in support of the attack. This leaves them vulnerable to a swift counter-attack. Their inability to deal with aerial balls in their own penalty area continues to be a problem.

Barcelona
PRE-SEASON FORM
Hamburg SV
Al Hilal 1-2 Manchester City Barcelona
Raja Casablanca
Dynamo Dresden 0-8 Manchester City Barcelona
Paris Saint-Germain Besiktas 2-2 Manchester City Barcelona
Manchester United Arsenal 0-0
(0-2)
pens
Manchester City Barcelona
Dinamo Bucarest
Malaysia XI 0-2 Manchester City Barcelona

Barcelona
PLAYER TO SHINE

When they have the best player on the planet in their line-up, it's hard to consider anyone else to be their player to shine. Several players will always be brilliant in their own right but perhaps not enough to escape the massive shadow of the little genius, Lionel Messi. The Argentine broke some great records when he reached staggering new heights by scroing a sensational 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona last season having appeared in 60 games. The fact that he also recorded 29 assists is testament to the forward's quality.

However, in spite of his phenomenal statistics from last season, Barcelona were unable to defend their La Liga and Champions League titles. The Catalans endured a disappointing season and Messi was at the center of it when he missed a crucial penalty against Chelsea during the Champions League semi-finals. The Argentine will rue his miss and will be eager to make amends this season. Cristiano Ronaldo was instrumental in Real Madrid's title winning season and having also enjoyed a good spell at this summer's European Championships, many believe that he will beat Messi to win the prestigious Ballon d'Or. If that does happen, Messi will have all the more reason to prove himself although it's almost impossible to imagine him getting any better.

Barcelona
FANS SPEAK

Benjamin D'souza

As the transfer window is about to close, most people would feel that Barcelona have not made much of a difference in the transfer market, but with the signing of Jordi Alba, one of the best full-backs, secured and the likes of David Villa and Carles Puyol returning to action, I think we are ready for Real Madrid.

The addition of Alex Song from Arsenal would just be the cherry on top. We definitely missed Villa and Puyol during the end of last season and that cost us the title. Hoping to see Tito Vilanova getting one more new face in our defense and that should seal the deal and we will be set to kick off this season. Viva La Barca...

Clyde Dias

I think Jordi Alba is a great addition to the side. Eric Abidal was excellent and may still return from his health condition but in the meantime we needed a top class left back and we have that now in Alba. The physio recently suggested that this could be Lionel Messi's best season yet physically and I'm hoping that we will see more from the little genius although I'm not sure how anyone could get any better than he is at the moment.

Tito Vilanova was pretty much like Guardiola's shadow while he was the assistant coach and so he knows all that there is to know to keep Barcelona ticking over in the same way. He will be tested early on with the fixtures against Real Madrid for the Spanish Supercup and hopefully he can come through it with flying colours. It's important that we get back our La Liga title this season and once again contest for the Champions League.

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