Ewuola Olushinaola Taiwo
After enduring the torturous months of no league football, elite football is finally back. It started over the weekend with the EPL and the Ligue 1, but we all know that the ecosystem of the cream de la cream in football and footballing systems is the Spanish La Liga.
It is a shame that my British friends — who claim to be the originators of football — will have to resort to illegal streams to watch, on a weekly basis, Messi, Suarez, Griezmann, Ramos, Hazard, Pique, DeJong and many other superstars which may very soon include Neymar Jr. How can you claim to watch elite football without seeing these guys? Tragic!
This season promises to be very interesting. Asides from the wholesome changes in the big teams, especially the Madrid teams, the smaller teams have also made and will still make some key signings –the most shocking for me is the Fekir move from Lyon to Betis. Atletico Madrid replaced Griezmann with Joao Felix from Benfica for a whooping €126mil and also signed highly-rated Spurs’ right-back, Kieran Tripper – that is a massive statement to the world of their intention to compete fiercely for the La Liga title
“Perhaps, we didn’t give it the respect it deserves but in a few years, we’ll realise how difficult it was to do it.” Lionel Messi said, at Barca’s annual pre-season Joan Gamper trophy, referring to Barcelona’s 8th La Liga title in the last 11 years
Even after strolling to the title, the catastrophic losses to Liverpool and Valencia left cules very devastated last season. Messi’s very inspiring speech has built up confidence in the coming season. It has taken Messi to remind the fans of their incredible domestic dominance.
The seeming undervaluation of the La Liga by Barça fans is not surprising. They have won it so much lately, it’s become a birthright. This is by no means as a result of lack of competition, but as a result of their scary consistency and, of course, Messi.
Messi, in your team, almost guarantees you the La Liga title. But Barça isn’t resting on their oars, they have gotten Dejong, Griezmann, and Firpo, and are working on adding Neymar. Amongst the three contenders for the La Liga, Barcelona is the most settled and balanced.
The team also has the deepest squad by a mile. The players who left are mostly fringe players, but they’ve replaced them with the likes of DeJong and Griezmann, world-class players who will fit in seamlessly into the team.
Barça has an untouched defensive partnership. Marc Andre Ter-Stergen will remain the first-choice goalkeeper, and he has shown no sign of retrogression. Pique, Umtiti and Lenglet will battle for the two positions in central back position while Tobido will settle as fourth choice.
Until the latter part of last season, Barça’s defence was almost impregnable; they were the reasons Barça were able to escape with wins in many games where they played poorly. If the defence can replicate such performances this season, then Barça is safe.
Meanwhile. they’ve added one of Spain’s most coveted talents, in Junior Firpo. The attacking fullback/wingback is expected to deputise for mainstay Jordi Alba.
Barça’s poorest department in the last two seasons has been the midfield. Last season, Barça’s midfield was an eyesore –Busquets was losing pace and control, Rakitic lost his workaholism and Arthur was yet to cement his place. The once powerhouse just became a conveyor belt to Messi. There was zero creativity, and this showed whenever Messi was successfully marked out in games.
De Jong has come into the team has spurred hopes of a revival. He is a typical ball-playing midfielder, who has shown his stuff at the highest level. Just like he showed against Napoli in a pre-season friendly, he always wants the ball and handles press from opposition quite well.
Barca are already fantasizing a midfield trio of Busquets – Arthur – Dejong; three midfielders who like to romance the ball. De Jong also can easily play the Busquets role as he as showed with Ajax and the Dutch national team, if need be. No one knows what Valverde plans, but with the Dutch midfield general, Barça’s midfield is expected to receive a massive boost.
Barcelona has Messi. Is there anything else to say? Asides him, Dembele seems to be getting back his groove, especially with the presence of Griezmann, not to forget about Suarez and Coutinho. Barça’s attack is star-studded, and the only problem is for Valverde to devise a system to utilize the abundance of talents.
With Griezmann though, Valverde has so much more to work with. An attacking trio of Messi-Suarez-Griezmann could be particularly devastating for a lot of the mid-table La Liga sides, and points versus these teams are usually a pointer to a team’s true ambitions. Throw in Dembele, Coutinho, and a still-possible arrival of Neymar, and Barcelona will boast not only the best attack in Spain, but maybe in the world.
After a careful look at the three departments, it is safe to say that the Barça team is better than last seasons in terms of quality, chemistry, and balance in all aspects. Given that the Madrid teams are trying to rebuild or redesign their teams, except there is an injury to Messi or something of the sort, it is hard to see how Barcelona would not stroll to the league title.