Can Barca Be Challenged This Season?

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It seems an arrogant question to ask just one match into La Liga play, even if that one match was a 6-2 drubbing of Real Betis that showed the club looking as dominant as ever. Incidentally, that win came with Andres Iniesta sidelined due to injury and Neymar still playing in the Olympics, where he scored the winning penalty for Brazil in the gold medal match. But it’s still just one win, and against a middling opponent at best.

The real reason this question bears asking so early in the 2016/17 campaign is that as we approach the end of August, it appears Real Madrid just isn’t structured to compete up to its typical standard. As Betfair’s football tipsters noted in their section on La Liga heading into the season, many still view the league as a two-horse race. But Real Madrid was not active at all on the transfer market despite the fact that their chief rivals and defending champions went out and made a few acquisitions to become, possibly, even more dominant.

Barcelona acquired Samuel Umtiti to improve the defence (though as we’ve written, this could also mean the departure of Jeremy Mathieu to Arsenal); they signed Lucas Digne as yet another defender capable of getting creative with the ball; and they added young midfielders André Gomes and Denis Suarez to bolster their depth in an area of strength. There’s not one headline move in that bunch, but altogether it’s a comprehensive summer effort for a club that really didn’t even need to improve very much.

By contrast, Real Madrid largely stood still, despite the fact that Zinedine Zidane didn’t seem to view his own side as a very competitive one even as they hung in down the stretch in the 2015/16 season. The club brought back Alvaro Morata after the striker spent a few seasons on loan with Juventus, but otherwise there really wasn’t an acquisition to get excited about. Madrid made a lucrative offer for Bayern’s David Alaba and were turned down; there are whispers of Cesc Fabregas interest, but Zidane has effectively shot them down; and the club was fruitlessly linked to Paul Pogba (though most major European clubs were at one point or another) before the former Juventus star signed with Manchester United.

Of course, it’s not as if Real Madrid needed to do a whole lot. By any measure it’s still one of the most talented rosters in the world. However, it’s a little bit puzzling that Madrid failed to take advantage of the summer window given the likely impending transfer ban in January. As noted in BBC’s football section, FIFA suspended this ban (as well as one on Atlético Madrid) back in January, and both clubs are appealing. However, it’s currently expected that the ban will ultimately be imposed on Madrid this winter, which means they could effectively be stuck with what they’ve got for the duration of La Liga.

Again, it’s not as if that’s a bad thing for 99 percent of teams. Madrid is still a dynamic and talented club. A single dominant stretch or a few favourable head-to-head contests with Barca could put them right back in the mix at the top of the league. But the way things are starting off, and looking at the two rosters, the gap appears to have widened a little bit between the defending champions and the rest of the league.

It feels fair to say now, perhaps more than in past seasons, that if Barcelona performs to its potential, La Liga will be no contest.

Gunners plot move for Barca defender

Following the arrival of Samuel Umtiti from Lyon, compatriot Jeremy Mathieu has found himself further down the pecking order at the Camp Nou. As a result, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has added the Frenchman to a list of candidates to help ease his injury crisis at the Emirtates. Mathieu has provided defensive cover for the likes of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano since his arrival from Valencia in 2014, however with just 49 first team appearances in that time, it is perhaps now time for the 32-year-old to seek pastures new.

 

Despite the Gunners seemingly close to agreeing a deal for Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi, Wenger is thought to seek further recruits, with Per Mertesacker and Gabriel on the sidelines at present. is set to sign from Valencia in a big-money deal and it would now appear as if Mathieu is also being lined up. Mustafi is currently odds on in the football betting market with bookmakers Coral to secure a switch to the Emirates before their next fixture, while Mathieu remains an outsider for a similar move despite mounting speculation. For those looking to put money on such a move, today’s bet of the day at Coral is certainly worth backing.

 

Barca take on Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup this weekend, with a first leg tie at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to look forward to. Luis Enrique’s men are 4/6 on with Coral to secure a first leg lead, despite their stuttering pre-season performances this summer. Enrique will certainly be looking to ensure that his team are firing on all cylinders come their opening La Liga match against Betis on August 20.

 

According to many sources, Barca are now finally close to announcing the signing of a much anticipated forward. Having been linked to numerous players over the off-season, a back-up option to the trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar Jr is imminent. Former Barca man Jonathan Soriano is believed to be the most likely arrival, with the 26-year-old currently odds on at Coral to return to the Spanish giants.

How Barça’s players fared in the 2016 Copa América group stage

Despite playing just 75 total minutes in Argentia's first three games, Lionel Messi was the star of the group stage. / FIFA.COM
Three of the four current Blaugrana players competing are still alive, including Messi, Mascherano, and Bravo

Of the four FC Barcelona players who have seen action in this summer’s Copa America Centenario, three of them are still alive as the prestigious tournament heads into the knockout phase. If you love to bet, you can find all football betting options at one place – William Hill.

Claudio Bravo of Chile, and Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano of Argentina have made it out of Group D and into the quarterfinals.

A meeting in the final is possible, where fans in the United States would be treated to a rematch of last years’ title game.

Luis Suárez was on Uruguay’s roster, but did not play a single minute due to injury. Uruguay was knocked out early after losing their first two games.

Dani Alves, who recently announced he was moving on after eight seasons defending the Blaugrana shirt, was also given an early exit, as Brazil were sent packing after receiving the shock of the tournament, losing to Peru in their third game.

Here’s a closer look at what each current Barça player did in the group stage:

Leo Messi

The Barça striker scored three goals — all in the same game — to lead Argentina to three wins in three tries. He played just 75 minutes total, as La Albiceleste beat Chile, 2–1; Panama, 5–0; and Bolivia, 3–0. A hat trick, a double nutmeg, and a near goal on a free kick were the highlights.

Javier Mascherano

The defensive midfielder was the backbone of the Argentina national team in their first two games – which he started – although he did not play against Bolivia.

Claudio Bravo

The FC Barcelona goalkeeper, and captain of the defending Copa América champions, started and played all 90 minutes of Chile’s three games in Group D. After falling to Messi and Argentina, Chile rebounded to beat Bolivia, 2–1, and Panama, 4–2.

Luis Suárez

The 2015/16 Golden Shoe winner spent the weeks prior to the Copa América recovering from a hamstring injury he sustained in Barça’s Copa del Rey final win in mid-May.

Nevertheless, he was not ready for Uruguay’s first two games, a pair of 1–0 losses to Mexico and Venezuela. With Uruguay mathematically eliminated, Suárez also sat out the team’s 3–0 win over Jamaica.

Argentina, Chile win; Copa América quarterfinal bracket set

Lionel Messi and Argentina are through to the knockout rounds at the Copa América Centenario. / FIFA
Messi and Bravo play, Mascherano sits, as both teams cruise into the quarterfinals

A trio of FC Barcelona stars were once again in action on the same day at the 2016 Copa América.

But this time, instead of going toe-to-toe, as they did on June 6 in Santa Clara, Argentina and Chile, who were last year’s finalists, were playing on opposite sides of the country.

Argentina beat Bolivia, 3–0, at Century Link Field in Seattle, Washington. Lionel Messi did not start, but he came in for Gonzalo Higuaín in the second half and was held scoreless while managing a pair of shots on goal. Javier Mascherano, however, did not play.

Around the same time the Argentina–Bolivia game was kicking off, some 2,800 miles away (4,500km) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chile was putting the finishing touches on their 4–2 win over Panama.

FC Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo played all 90 minutes for Chile and turned in a clean sheet. Bravo made two saves and completed 32 of 35 pass attempts (91%).

Both teams have made it out of Group D and into the quarterfinals.

Argentina, which won Group D with 9 points after going a perfect three-for-three — including a head-to-head win over Chile —  will face Group C runners-up Venezuela in the quarterfinals. That game kicks off at 7.00pm ET on June 18 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Chile’s last eight match pits them against Group C winners Mexico, also on June 18. That game will kick off at 10.00pm ET at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Andrés Iniesta, the MVP king

Iniesta MVP
The FC Barcelona captain was named the best player on the pitch in Spain’s Euro 2016 opener against Czech Republic, winning the prize in five different competitions

Despite now being one of the veterans of the squad, Andrés Iniesta’s influence remains as strong as ever, as demonstrated with another glowing display in Spain’s Group D opener against Czech Republic on Monday.

The FC Barcelona captain curled in an inch-perfect cross for club colleague Gerard Pique to head home from close range with just three minutes remaining, handing Spain a vital three points.

As well as the assist, Iniesta was the most influential player on the park, conducting the pace of the game from midfield and keeping the Czech side constantly on their toes. As a result of his performance, the 32-year-old was given the man-of-the-match award by UEFA, a prize which has become somewhat common for the midfield maestro.

Iniesta was voted the MVP of the recent Copa del Rey final win over Sevilla and has previously won the award in the Champions League and the European Super Cup at club level.

His most memorable MVP awards for Barça are the one in the European Super Cup against Porto in 2011, the Champions League final in Berlin last year, and this season’s Copa del Rey final.

On the international stage, Iniesta was voted MVP in the World Cup, in the final no less, where he scored the game’s only goal against the Netherlands in 2010 to land Spain the trophy. And two years later, in the Euro 2012 final against Italy, he was again the standout player on the field.

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