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Can Barca Be Challenged This Season?

CampNou_1

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.

Barcelona march towards historic back-to-back treble

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Barcelona salva el partido y le gana 1 –” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  MULADAR NEWS 

Barcelona’s quest for a historic back-to-back treble hit a slight bump in the road when Villarreal came from two goals down to earn a point in their La Liga clash.

Ivan Rakitic and Neymar put the Catalan club ahead in the first half but Cedric Bakambu and an own goal from Jeremy Mathieu earned a point for the home side at El Madrigal.

Luis Enrique’s men still hold a comfortable lead at the top of the table with the team nine points in front of Atletico Madrid and 10 ahead of their great rivals Real Madrid when this article was produced.

The Catalan club are in an extremely strong position as they pursue glory in all three competitions and earn their place in history.

They brushed aside Arsenal with ease in the round-of-16 stage in the Champions League, beating Arsene Wenger’s men 5-1 on aggregate without playing at their peak.

Barcelona now face a showdown against Atletico in the quarter-finals, which will feature a fierce contest between Spain’s most potent attacking force and its best defence. Meanwhile, only Sevilla remain as their final obstacle to clinch their 28th Copa del Rey crown.

The trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have almost singlehandedly guided Enrique’s side to the Primera Liga title. They have scored 69 of their 86 goals, while also netting 15 of their 20 strikes in the Champions League.

They have been unstoppable since their formation as a three-pronged force after notching over 100 goals between them in the last campaign, which guided the club to their second major treble.

Although Messi has not scored the ridiculous amount of goals he did last season, the 28-year-old’s game shows no signs of decline and the form of Suarez and Neymar may extend his dominance at the top. The burden for him to fire every week has been eased by his fellow South American duo.

Suarez has been the leading man for Barca this season, firing 26 goals in his 28 appearances in La Liga trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo in the goal charts.

The Uruguayan has been in equally fine form in Europe with six strikes in seven matches as well as three assists, while Neymar completes the fearsome trio with 21 goals in La Liga and another three in the Champions League.

Not even the Bayern Munich duo of Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski can match the trio’s efficiency in front of goal, which is why the oddsmakers have Enrique’s men at odds of 1/200 in the La Liga football betting and 6/4 to secure a European crown for the second year on the spin.

One glimmer of hope for Barcelona’s opponents will be with their displays at the back, with their 2-2 draw against Villarreal hinting that fatigue may be beginning to take its toll on the Catalan club due to their heavy fixture schedule this season.

Atletico will – for once- be hoping their city rivals, Real, can produce a victory in El Clasico at the Nou Camp when La Liga resumes after the international break to give them a glimmer of hope in the title race.

However, should Barcelona prevail, it’s difficult see any side stopping them from recording a historic back-to-back treble.

Vermaelen ready to return for FC Barcelona and feeling confident

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cc by Leandro’s World Tour

It is difficult to believe that Thomas Vermaelen has now been a Barcelona player for some 14 months.

Snapped up for £15 million from Arsenal in the summer of 2014, the Belgium international was considered to be quite a coup, and a player who would slot seamlessly into the fold at Camp Nou.

Comfortable in possession and strong in the tackle, Vermaelen fit the Barca mould perfectly – with healthy competition provided to the likes of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano.

His struggles in Catalunya since then have been well documented.

The 29-year-old arrived nursing niggles, but offered enough to Barcelona’s medical staff to suggest that he was worth spending big on.

A series of unfortunate fitness issues followed, preventing Vermaelen from making his competitive debut until the final game of the 2014/15 La Liga season – against Deportivo La Coruna.

He was, however, to work hard over the summer and returned better prepared to fight for a regular role this time around.

Luis Enrique has been prepared to offer him those opportunities, and the classy defender has impressed during his seven outings in all competitions.

He was, however, to be struck down again shortly after September’s international break, with an untimely calf complaint picked up during the first half of a meeting with Atletico Madrid forcing an early exit from that contest and preventing him from playing any part in Belgium’s final Euro 2016 qualifiers and subsequent rise to the top of the FIFA World Rankings.

A pause in domestic duties has given Vermaelen an opportunity to ease his way back to full health, though, and he has been a notable presence on the training ground this week.

He could now come back into contention for Saturday’s home date with Rayo Vallecano – a contest they are 1/7 to take maximum points from within La Liga betting markets.

His availability is likely to be welcomed by Enrique, with Barca having found it uncharacteristically difficult to keep the back door bolted of late.

You have to go back to August 29 to find the last clean sheet secured in all competitions, with seven fixtures having come and gone since then.

Vermaelen is no miracle cure, but he is a useful option to have at your disposal and is a player full of confidence again after coming through the most testing period of his professional career.

He admits to feeling better about his game, life in new surroundings and the start he has made to the current campaign.

All concerned at Barcelona will be hoping that Vermaelen’s most recent setback proves to be his last for the foreseeable future, allowing him to show his true colours in a role that was seemingly tailor-made for him.

Age obviously of no concern in new Dani Alves deal

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cc by Gerard Reyes

 

There is, rather unfairly, a feeling within football circles that once a player passes their 30th birthday their career is only going to head in one direction.

Certain goalkeepers are the obvious exceptions to the rule, with many of those competing at the highest level until well into their 30s, but many outfield performers are considered to be spent forces at a point in their lives where most professions would look upon their experience as invaluable and a commodity to be embraced.

However, modern day sportsmen and women are among the most highly-tuned performers on the planet and a willingness to embrace healthy eating habits and to work hard in training is delivering greater rewards.

No longer should a 30th birthday be looked upon as a downturn in the career cycle, with there every reason to believe that those at the very top of the game have many fine years ahead of them.

That is an approach recently adopted by Barcelona during lengthy contract extension negotiations with Dani Alves.

Admittedly there was never any talk, in public at least, of age or of the Brazilian suddenly becoming a piece of the puzzle no longer required.

Discussions dragged on, though, for longer than any of those concerned would have liked, with there a very real threat at one stage that he could depart Camp Nou this summer at the end of his previous deal.

There were no shortage of suitors willing to snap him up, with Manchester United and Paris St Germain among those to be heavily linked with a free agent approach, but they have ultimately been left to turn their attention elsewhere.

On the back of a Treble-winning campaign, which reached its climax in the Champions League final, Alves has committed to another two years in Catalunya.

Images of the smiling 32-year-old putting pen to paper suggest all is well in the Barca camp and that murmurings of discontent have been quickly forgotten.

It is easy to see why both parties should be pretty happy with their lot, with Alves avoiding the need to pack his bags for pastures new – which would have resulted in another settling in period – while the reigning Spanish champions and general 8/11 shots within La Liga betting markets to defend that crown next term still have one of the finest attacking full-backs of his generation still on their books.

There appears to be no reason why the Brazil international cannot remain in that elite bracket through to 2017, with his numbers in 2014/15 actually showing an improvement on the recent past.

Last season saw Alves take in more minutes, both domestically and in Europe, than he has since 2011/12, suggesting that there is still plenty of fuel left in the tank, while his return of 29 starts in the league has only been bettered once in the last five years.

He also provided more assists, six compared to three, than he did last season, put in more tackles per performance, 4.1 compared to three, more crosses and enjoyed a higher pass completion rate, 88.5% compared to 87.3.

Alves’ career curve, it would appear, is on the rise, rather than the decline, and Barca can consider his contract renewal to be one of the shrewdest pieces of business they will carry out this year – even if he is the wrong side of 30.

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