How Barcelona will line up in 2018-19

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Barca romped to the Liga title last season but after a number of exciting summer purchases will be looking to make an impact in Europe this term

Having reinforced their squad smartly over the summer, Barcelona will prove a formidable adversary to Real Madrid, Atletico and any other challengers to their La Liga crown.

While securing their 25th La Liga title and 30th Copa del Rey were huge positives from a 2017-2018 campaign that saw them go 36 games unbeaten in the league, there was still a sense of lingering disappointment about Ernesto Valverde's first term at the helm.

Indeed, this stemmed from their shattering UEFA Champions League loss against AS Roma in the quarter-finals, where they remarkably blew a 4-1 first leg lead to bow out in a forgettable away leg in the Italian capital.

So with this in mind, achieving big things in Europe will be a key target of the Catalan giants, as they'll look to well and truly put last season's frustrating exit behind them.

Now in his second season, expectations are high that Valverde will deliver on all fronts, especially considering the quality he has at his disposal. Anything less than retaining their league title and going deep into the Champions League will be seen as a failure.


Goalkeepers


Marc Andre ter Stegen Barcelona

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be Barca's undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, the German star now an integral component of the team. Through his astute passing out from the back, his rapid reactions, great awareness, sweeping and competent shot-stopping, he's the perfect No.1 for Barcelona's style.

Who will serve as his number two is an entirely different and uncertain matter, though, with the highly-rated Jasper Cillessen considering his future despite Valverde's desire for him to stay. The Dutch international is desperate to receive regular playing time, but this is highly unlikely at Barca where until now he's had to settle for Copa del Rey action.


Defenders


Samuel Umtiti Barcelona

Boasting the second best defence in La Liga last season, behind only the typically mean Atletico Madrid, Barca will back themselves to be just as measly this time around. The smart acquisition of former Sevilla centre-back, Clement Lenglet, adds vital quality, depth and ball-playing polish, and he will complement starting duo, Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, wonderfully.

Then in the full-back slots, Jordi Alba will continue as the main man at left-back. His backup from last term, Lucas Digne, has left the club to join Everton.

Meanwhile, newly-named joint vice-captain Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo will do battle for the starting right-back spot.


Midfielders


Arturo Vidal

Already spoilt for choice in this area of the pitch prior to club legend Andres Iniesta and Paulinho leaving, the captures of Arthur and Arturo Vidal this summer ensures Valverde will have vast options to choose from in midfield. The former has been described by some as a potential heir to another club legend, Xavi, for the way that he plays the game, while the Chilean has been one of the best midfielders of his generation but has suffered from injury issues in recent years.

Midfield director Sergio Busquets is set to resume his holding role for another season, but it will be fascinating to see who gets the nod for the more advanced midfield roles ahead of him.

With Ivan Rakitic probably locked in for one of these posts, the battle will be on between Philippe Coutinho, Rafinha, Denis Suarez, plus the aforementioned Arthur and Vidal. Valverde is expected to mostly go with a 4-3-3 formation this time around, so competition will certainly be fierce to nail down a starting berth in the middle of the park.


Attackers


Lionel Messi Barcelona Real Madrid 060518

Led by the irrepressible Lionel Messi, who continues to prove age is no barrier for him, much will yet again be expected of Barcelona's fearsome frontline. Although bettering their league-leading 99 La Liga goals from last term will be tough, there's no reason to suggest they won't go close.

After a challenging, injury-ravaged first year at the Camp Nou, Ousmane Dembele will be raring to go and full of confidence after his World Cup triumph with France. He will also be buoyed by a brilliant goal in the Spanish Super Cup win over Sevilla.

Alongside Messi and Dembele, Luis Suarez will lead the line. In light of some noticeable decline over the last year or so, it will be very interesting to see how the dogged Uruguayan fares as he looks to recapture his best form.

If any of the three men above are unavailable for whatever reason, the likes of Rafinha, Denis Suarez and exciting new signing Malcom will give them plenty of impetus in wide areas. Coutinho could also be an option in a more advanced role if required.

Meanwhile, Paco Alcacer or the talented Munir El Haddadi can fill in for Suarez if they don't depart before the transfer window closes.


Manager


Ernesto Valverde Barcelona unveiling

Following a positive first campaign in Catalunya, where he laid some strong foundations in terms of his demands and philosophy, Valverde will attempt to kick things up a gear in the 2018-2019 season.

Even though he has been criticised for his conservative football and reluctance to rotate, he enjoys the backing of president Josep Maria Bartomeu and has been able to bolster his squad with some fine purchases.

As winners of seven of the last 10 La Liga championships, Barcelona’s chief focus will be on retaining their title while enjoying a far better run in Europe. The pressure will be on, but the well-organised and tactically proficient Spaniard has proven his quality so far during his time his charge, so it's understandable why he is seen as the right man to take the club forward.


How Barcelona could line up


Blessed with so many options all over the pitch, particularly in midfield, Valverde has no shortage of talent at his disposal. With the World Cup delaying the return of many of his stars in pre-season, having such enviable depth will be a real luxury as everyone gets back up to speed.

Depending on the opposition and the importance of the match, there's a plethora of combinations the manager can deploy. Last season, Valverde was sometime criticised for using a 4-4-2 system with little width but he is expected to be more offensive this term and utilise the 4-3-3 below much more. Valverde could also decide to use a 4-2-3-1 with Busquets and Rakitic in a double pivot, Messi as the No.10 and Coutinho and Dembele as the wingers supplying Suarez.

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An especially fascinating battle looks set to unfold for the right-back berth, with hardly anything separating Sergi Roberto and Semedo. Equally captivating will be the battle for midfield places, as all of the options will fancy their chances of earning a regular starting spot. Arthur's strong preseason, in particular, will give Valverde a nice selection headache.

Barcelona 2018-19

 

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