Barcelona: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering La Liga Season
Luis Enrique had set his stall out immediately upon his arrival, suggesting to the board exactly what was required for him to make an assault on silverware.
In the main, the Catalans have done reasonable business in the transfer market, and as we await the first game of the season against Elche, here is a report card for the players available for each position for the Blaugrana.
Grades have been calculated on pre-season or the latter part of last season's performances, and if there are any players who can play in more than one position, they are in their natural position here.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Just 22 years of age, a lot is expected of Barca's young German goalkeeper, but Barca fans will have to wait a while longer to see him in action after he was injured in training and ruled out for the first three weeks of the season, per Miles Chambers of Goal.com.
He'll certainly be worth waiting for. Whilst he didn't represent the World Cup-winning national team, Ter Stegen enjoyed a decent campaign for Borussia Monchengladbach, making 35 appearances.
Forty-three goals conceded, per Sky Sports, was only bettered by three of the top four finishers and helped the club to European competition for the coming season.
Per FCBarcelona.com, Ter Stegen was involved in roughly 60 separate actions per game and ex-Barca, now Bayern Munich, manager Pep Guardiola is in no doubt as to the youngster's importance: "Ter Stegen is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He’s very good with his feet."
Only starting in the pre-season game against Nice, Ter Stegen has acquitted himself throughout the warm-up games.
The only World Cup participant of the three, Chile's Claudio Bravo has had a busy summer indeed.
Captaining his country with aplomb, any Barca supporters watching would surely have noted that the club had got themselves an experienced goalkeeper of very high quality.
However, a simple error on his debut that saw Napoli edge out the Blaugrana in pre-season gave an insight into the "other side" of Bravo—a side that Real Sociedad fans saw on a number of occasions throughout last season.
Fifty-five goals conceded was the worst record of the top 11 teams in La Liga; however, only seven conceded in the last six games was a sign of an improvement leading up to the World Cup.
As long as we see more of the World Cup form, then there's no reason why the 31-year-old can't be a realistic challenger to Ter Stegen.
And with three weeks to prove himself, he could persuade Enrique the jersey belongs to him before the German even gets back into match contention.
Barca B's Jordi Masip has finally been entrusted with a spot on the first-team roster.
Waiting patiently in the confines of the Catalans' reserve side for the last six years, Masip is well aware his route to a first-team start is far from an easy ride, per FC Barcelona.com:
High demands are going to be made of all three goalkeepers, but such competition for places can only be good for the team.
Luis Enrique already knows me, but he doesn’t really know Ter Stegen or Bravo yet. I was heartened by his words, and they’ve motivated me to keep working as hard as I can … Luis Enrique has always had faith in young players.
If he has to play someone very young then he will, and that’s added motivation for the reserve team players. We have to do all we can to make things harder for the people who’ve been here for longer.
A steady rise at best, Masip delivered some impressive performances toward the back end of last season to help the youngsters to a third-place finish.
The case of Dani Alves is a strange one.
It's fairly clear that the club wanted him moved on over the summer, but his wages have proved a stumbling block, even for clubs as cash-rich as Paris Saint-Germain.
With no other option than to keep him, Barca are now toeing the party line that Alves remains an important player for the club, per The Score.
However, the Brazilian remains a liability at right-back.
Yes, he still bombs forwards and can be relied upon to contribute in the assists column, but his primary role is one of defence.
As his World Cup in Brazil proved, it's a role that he is unable to undertake to the level that Barcelona require these days.
Many was the time last season when Alves would be caught out of position. Even when in position, he would often wander from his sentry, allowing opponents to score the simplest of goals.
Martin Montoya simply has to make the right-back slot his own this season.
More defensively minded than Alves, the youngster's problems are the reverse of his contemporary. Far too often, when finding himself in wonderful crossing positions and as a supplementary attacker, Montoya appears unable to provide quality ball.
A passing accuracy of 87.6 per cent, per WhoScored.com, is as good as any, and with Alves' future elsewhere after this season, then Montoya needs to step up or be shipped out.
An ill-timed pre-season injury did nothing to aid his cause, and while his performances over the last few weeks have been adequate, they've been nowhere near good enough to knock Alves from his perch.
Jordi Alba seems to have fallen into the same trap as Dani Alves, often neglecting his defensive duties in preference for a 60-yard dash upfield to revel in goalscoring glory.
His "engine" and turn of pace generally get him out of trouble, but they don't mask the fact that against high-quality opposition, he can be found wanting.
A poor World Cup ended in recrimination when, according to Sid Lowe of The Guardian, Alba threatened to "rip the head off" of a journalist.
That's hardly the behaviour of a man in form or enjoying his football.
His pre-season has been unspectacular to say the least.
Adriano Correia showed himself to be more than an able deputy for Alba last season, plugging the hole with aplomb whenever the Spaniard was injured.
That there was little, if any, drop in quality gives an evidenced-based assessment on the importance of the Brazilian to the side.
After an abnormal heart rhythm was discovered during routine tests, per FCBarcelona.com, Correia was ruled out for a minimum of four to six weeks, so he will be sidelined for the start of the season.
Of the defensive quartet, Gerard Pique is the one with the most to worry about.
A frankly pathetic showing at the World Cup, which highlighted this accomplished defender's shortcomings, followed on from an equally disastrous end to the La Liga campaign.
An eye-off-of-the-ball approach certainly won't impress the manager, but at least the player has identified where he needs to improve, per Mark Doyle of Goal.com.
This has to be the genuine breakthrough season for Marc Bartra.
He has been hammering on the door for a few years now, and after Pique was injured last season, young Bartra showed exactly what he was all about with a string of accomplished performances.
There was never a better showing than in the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid where he capped a Man of the Match performance with a goal.
Deserves to be handed a starting berth this season.
Ex-Valencia man Mathieu has been accomplished when called upon during pre-season.
A towering presence, a €20 million spend will soon seem like a bargain if he continues to produce the high-performance level fans of Los Che were used to seeing at the Mestalla last season.
A tough competitor, age hasn't wearied him, and he remains a fearsome opponent who is both decent aerially and quick across the ground.
He's a first choice.
Many supporters will point to Vermaelen's propensity to get injured as reason enough not to sign the player.
Indeed, despite passing a medical to join the Blaugrana, it transpired two days afterward he was still carrying an injury that will rule him out of competitive action, per BBC Sport.
There's still no denying the Belgian's quality, however. You don't become captain of Arsenal just by accident.
Strong in the air, adept along the ground and a ball-playing centre-half, an injury-free Vermaelen will be a real asset for Barca.
Only the exceptional form of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny kept Vermaelen from winning his place back for the Gunners on a regular basis.
After a disappointing showing alongside Xabi Alonso at the World Cup, Sergio Busquets will be hoping to get straight back into the groove for Barca.
"Simplicity is genius" is a phrase that still perfectly encompasses Busquets' natural game. No frills, he just does his job. And he does it very well.
It's hard to judge on pre-season work as Barca haven't really been tested as yet.
But for Busquets, there's little doubt that Javier Mascherano would've been the defensive-midfield lynchpin long before now.
His performance level throughout the World Cup for Argentina was as good as it gets, and it no doubt gave Enrique some food for thought when considering a double pivot for the coming season.
"Masch" has gone about his business in central defence without argument, but now is the time to restore him to his natural habitat.
Arguably, he's one of the form players in the team.
The quicker Alex Song is moved on, the better for all concerned.
A disastrous World Cup, where he was sent off for a crude challenge against Croatia, just about summed up the Cameroonian's last few months.
Only used sparingly by Barca, his major contribution during this pre-season was to injure goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen in training, per Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football.
Simply unplayable at times, "El Illusionista" has become the conduit through which any good play from the Catalans filters.
One of the first names on the team sheet, only injury will deny him permanent residency from a Barca starting line-up.
Barely a weakness to his game, the failure of the Spanish national team in Brazil will sharpen his appetite for success at club level.
What a buy Ivan Rakitic could turn out to be for the Catalans.
Captain and talisman for previous club Sevilla, he led them all the way to European glory in his last game for the club.
For €15 million, Barca have managed to secure a player approaching his prime, and as he's already shown in pre-season, one who will be a real asset to the midfield.
Goals, assists, work-rate...the Croatian has it all in abundance.
A slight drop-off in performance, and a less dynamic role than previously, shouldn't detract from how important Xavi Hernandez will be in this Barcelona side.
No longer able to withstand the rigours of 60-plus games per season, the difference he makes is still immediately evident when he is in-situ.
A disappointing World Cup saw him retire from the international scene, and but for the intervention of Luis Enrique, Barcelona fans would've seen the last of a player that Barney Ronay of The Guardian describes thus:
Xavi has won 25 major trophies, made more than 180 assists for more than 50 team-mates at Barcelona, and has over the last six years passed the ball more than anybody else, run more than anybody else, and basically played more football than any other human being anywhere.
Enjoy him whilst you can.
Thiago Alcantara's younger sibling is enjoying his homecoming it would seem.
Enrique obviously liked what he saw from the youngster while managing him at Celta Vigo, and it was an easy choice to bring him back to Camp Nou upon the completion of his loan spell.
Tough and uncompromising, but with a great engine and an abundance of skill, Rafinha brings yet another dimension to the Blaugrana. Perhaps the only true box-to-box player in the squad.
A craft honed in the halls of La Masia, as he has shown in pre-season, the player will have no problems adapting when called upon.
Make or break this season for Sergi Roberto and up against those exponents listed above, you wouldn't bet against this being another disappointing campaign for the youngster.
Easy on the eye and with a pleasing style of play when on the ball, there is no escaping the feeling that there is just a little something missing from Roberto's game.
Odd minutes here and there's evidence of a player who has never really won the confidence of those in charge of the club.
He needs to grasp any opportunities with both hands.
The fact that Gerardo Martino preferred Alexis Sanchez throughout much of last season spoke volumes for Pedro's patchy form.
Although far from the player he can be, he was still a valued member of the side, and with Gerard Deulofeu's loan to Sevilla having recently gone through, the Canary Islander has every opportunity to prove to Enrique that he is still the man for the big occasion.
He's another player who will be hoping to put a disappointing World Cup campaign behind him.
Two unfortunate injuries have punctuated Neymar's progress of late; however, there's no point denying that those injuries aside, the Brazilian was a man in form.
A stop-start season was beginning to show signs of consistency that was missing at the beginning of his tenure in Blaugrana, before the season was cut short in the latter stages.
Then came the World Cup, however, Neymar was fighting to fit again and we saw the very best of the youngster in front of an adoring home crowd.
Working well in training, one would hope that he can continue his recent good form and hit the ground running at the start of this season.
Although still the talisman, there was a hint of Messi saving himself for glory in Rio, with some of the latter performances from last season not really conducive to his star billing.
Even so, Messi still ended up at the top of the goalscoring charts and was his team's best player, despite clearly being far from the level we know he is capable of.
Conveniently forgotten was his match-winning performance against England at the tournament.
Not to mention, there's his PFA Player of the Year and Football Association Writers Player of the Year awards for a simply astonishing season with Liverpool.
It was a season which saw 31 goals in 33 games, winning him the Premier League Golden Boot and the Barclay's Premier League Player of the Season award.
He also shared the European Golden Shoe with Cristiano Ronaldo and was ranked No. 1 on "Europe's most influential player" list of the year. Compiled by Bloomberg, he topped a list that included Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
What a shame Barcelona fans will have to wait until the end of October before seeing Suarez in competitive action.
Luis Enrique has had just about the perfect start to his managerial career at Camp Nou.
It's not in results terms perhaps, because they've been a little patchy to say the least, but in terms of re-energising a tired, unresponsive group of players.
The sharpness that was missing under Tata Martino has already returned, and his strength of character is ensuring that even the most senior members of the squad are buying into his methods. Xavi Hernandez told FCBarcelona.com, per Robert Bogunya:
He spoke very clearly to me and made it clear that I was starting anew, just like everyone else and that I had to show what I could do in training, just like the rest of the squad.
I like to feel that way. I know him from way back and I have a good relationship with him. I am starting again, feeling strong and excited.
Training, including at the English FA's St. George's Park facility has been enjoyable and incisive.
In terms of squad personnel, the club have made a sterling effort in ridding themselves of those players whom Enrique considered nothing more than a drain on club finances—the likes of Jonathan Dos Santos, Bojan Krkic et al.
Their replacements in the squad have complemented those already in-situ perfectly.
In short, Luis Enrique has the tools he wanted, now he just has to complete the job.