After last year’s La Liga and Copa Del Rey double, Barcelona enter the upcoming season in good form.
However, after losing Andres Iniesta and seeing Real Madrid win their third straight Champions League title, there’s only added pressure on the Catalan giants.
In order to consider this season a success, Barca will need to rise to the challenge in European competition. Their embarrassing implosion to Roma in the previous campaign’s quarter-finals made it three straight years without a semi-final appearance.
With new signings and a plethora of starlets at La Masia, they have a deep enough squad to compete on all fronts. Here are five Barca youngsters who could make their first team breakthrough in 2018/19.
1. Carles Alena
Having made seven appearances for the senior team last season, young midfielder Carles Alena will hope to see more playing time this season. Despite being expected to miss the start of the regular season with a muscle bundle injury, Alena will want to get up to speed before the season escapes him.
Any combination of Arthur, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal is probably going to occupy the two attacking roles in midfield with Sergio Busquets positioned just behind them. However, Alena is likely to be used as rotation player, replacing injured or fatigued teammates.
If Barca end up having a difficult La Liga or Champions League campaign, it may open the door for Alena to lock down a starting spot in the domestic cup competition. A flurry of league appearances also appears more than feasible.
Alena is committed to the club until 2020, signing a three-year contract last summer that includes a buyout clause of €75m. Being Barca’s most highlighted La Masia talent since Thiago Alcantara, the 20-year-old will hope to have better luck at the Camp Nou than his predecessor.
2. Marc Cucurella
The successor to Jordi Alba in Barcelona’s starting eleven is more than likely to be Marc Cucurella. The 20-year-old has risen through the Juvenil sides and is currently a regular in Barca’s B team.
A classic La Blaugrana fullback, Cucurella has an incredible engine and will constantly overlap the midfield to create width for his team’s attacks. Also impressing with his no-nonsense tackling, Cucurella has proved he isn’t shy when it comes to the game’s physical side.
37 appearances in La Liga 2 have given him some much-needed experience, with a run out against Real Marcia in the Copa Del Rey granting him a first team debut. Having renewed his contract with a €12m release clause, Cucurella is committed to Barcelona for the long haul.
With Lucas Digne’s recent transfer to Everton, it leaves the door open for young Cucurella. If boss Ernesto Valverde is to favour squad rotation sometime during this long campaign, the prodigy will battle with Juan Miranda for minutes.
3. Abel Ruiz
Possibly the most likely to make the breakthrough from Barca’s academy, Abel Ruiz has impressed at various international youth levels. Captain of the U-17 side that won the European Championships, Ruiz also took home the silver boot for top goalscorer.
With 27 goals in 37 matches at the U-17 program, Ruiz has since moved on to U-19 level and sits with a level goals to games ratio after three appearances.
Speaking with Diario AS earlier this year, Ruiz commented: “I’m a more direct player, a good finisher.
“I’ve been told a lot of times that I remind people of Van Basten… I’ve seen videos of him; he was a great player.”
Like Puig, Ruiz played in the triumphant UEFA Youth League campaign. Getting on the score-sheet in the final, the striker helped his team make easy work of Chelsea in a 3-0 victory.
According to SPORT; Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City are all interested, but Ruiz sees himself as Barca’s first choice striker in the future. If Paco Alcacer is to move on, the traditional number 9 could become Suarez’s understudy. Not a bad teacher.
4. Ricard Puig
At only 18 years of age, Ricard “Riqui” Puig has become one of Barcelona’s most exciting young prospects. Straight from La Masia, the Catalan-born midfielder has been touted as a future La Blaugrana mainstay.
Standing at a diminutive 5ft 5in, Puig lets his feet do the talking. As a member of the Barca team that won the UEFA Youth League last year, Riqui played in all 10 games providing three goals and three assists throughout the competition.
Having already trained with the first team, Puig is seen by Barca as a truly promising talent. Tied down until at least 2021, the technical starlet has a release clause of €100m.
When playing against Spurs in the International Champions Cup, young Ricard went toe-to-toe with Christian Eriksen and didn’t look the least bit intimidated. Keep an eye out for Puig’s likely appearances in the Copa Del Rey’s early stages.
5. Carles Perez
Last but by no means least is Carles Perez. Having scored seven goals in nine games to help Barca win the UEFA Youth League last season, the winger has a real eye for goal coupled with great positional play.
Perez was one of the stars of the B team last season, with performances that included a hat-trick within 36 minutes against Tenerife and incorporating a cheeky double nutmeg.
With game time under his belt against Roma in Barcelona’s pre-season tour of the United States, he will hope to push on from the Segunda Division to the senior squad. Perez might be able to expect some playing time in the Copa Del Rey or rotation minutes in La Liga, and will have to take his opportunity when presented with it.
Much like his teammate Puig, Perez has recently committed his future to Barca. With a new two-year deal, it’d also take a €100m transfer to prize the exciting wide man away from Catalonia.
As a long range specialist whose play has drawn parallels with Philippe Coutinho, Perez has all the attributes to eventually become a star for Barcelona.