Football

Barca in a spot of bother

Champions begin title defence without 
four casualties and Olympic-engaged Neymar

BARCELONA v REAL BETIS
(Tomorrow, 12.10am, StarHub TV Ch 213)

Barcelona head into the new season looking to wrestle the Champions League trophy back from Real Madrid, while defending their Spanish La Liga and Copa del Rey titles for the third year running.

Having already started the season in the best way possible, by beating Sevilla and lifting the Spanish Super Cup, Luis Enrique has won a magnificent eight trophies out of 10 competitions since his appointment in 2014.

Expectations are so high for his side that anything but another treble will be interpreted in some quarters as disappointing.

However, the Catalan club will need to negotiate their opener against Gus Poyet's Real Betis tomorrow morning (Singapore time) without captain Andres Iniesta, defenders Jeremy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano, and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen because of injuries.

Forward Neymar is also unavailable due to the Olympics football final against Germany tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

It is a time for the new blood to make their mark.

Barcelona had been active in the transfer market, spending around 
80 million euros ($122m) to bring in Samuel Umtiti, Denis Suarez, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes.

There is a clear transition plan at the club, with all the new signings aged 22 when they joined the club.

The long-term hope is that they can replace four of the veterans.

Barca have searched long and hard for a centre back to partner Gerard Pique. Thomas Vermaelen and Mathieu are just two of the men who failed to dislodge Javier Mascherano.

The hope is that Umtiti, who impressed in the Spanish Super Cup against Sevilla and is set to make his debut against Real Betis, can do so.

Enrique had carefully managed Iniesta's minutes last season and both Suarez and Gomes could prove to be his successor in midfield.

The squad now have the depth that Barcelona need to compete on three fronts, with last season's stutter towards the finish line down to tiredness.

"We have reinforced the squad brilliantly," said Enrique.

"On paper, I have the best squad in my three years here. All the new players have settled in well.

"They have quality and will have to compete for a place."

OPTIONS

Midfielder Sergio Busquets was also keen to emphasise the value of adding new players, even though some claim Barcelona have too many options in the centre of the pitch, with 10 players capable of playing there.

"Already in pre-season, you can see how important it is to have a deep squad," said Busquets.

"We have been left without four teammates due to injury going into La Liga and it's good to have players available in each position.

"The players who have arrived are really good and I hope they adapt well." - AFP.


BY THE NUMBERS

8

With their Super Cup victory over Sevilla, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has equalled Pep Guardiola's 
record of winning eight out of 
the first 10 titles on offer.

Football