Summer ins and outs in La Liga (Part 1)

Mascherano and Koné (Levante). PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
With the Spanish League season set to kick off this weekend, we look at how Barça’s rivals have been working in this summer’s transfer market and their prospects for the new campaign.

Real Madrid:

Last year’s title winners are bound to be challenging again, though Jose Mourinho has, at the time of writing, not been at all active in the summer transfer window, releasing Gago – to Valencia, Pedro León – to Getafe and Alintop– to Galatasaray, whilst poised to make a move for a big-name player before the transfer window closes. Other players may also be on their way out of the Bernabéu, but expect pretty much the same core group that was so successful last season.

Valencia:

Ex- Barça player Mauricio Pellegrino was appointed Valencia manager at the end of last season, taking over from Unai Emery. The loss of Jordi Alba will be a big blow to the team, but they have confirmed the signing of Canales and Gago from Madrid and the exciting Portuguese international full back Joao Pereira from Sporting, as well as the Mexican midfielder Andrés Guardado from Deportivo and the Spanish Under 21 player J. Viera from Las Palmas. It’s a tough start for Valencia with visits to both Barça and Madrid in their first three games, but expect them to again be amongst the front runners.

 Málaga:

After the euphoria of last May’s qualification for the qualifying rounds of the Champions League for the first time in the Club’s history, the hangover kicked in over the summer, with enormous debts meaning the team’s biggest star – Santi Cazorla  – had to be sold to Arsenal. With Ruud van Nistelrooy retiring and the complicated financial situation the club find themselves in could mean that other big names may have to be sold off, with no cash looking likely for new signings, this could be a torrid season for Pellegrini’s side, who need to beat Panathanaikos in the qualifying round to ensure the Champions League windfall the club needs.

Atlético Madrid:

The Europa League winners, who’ll face Chelsea at the end of the month in the European Super Cup, have let go eight players – including Fran Merida to Hercules – whilst signing the experienced ex-Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Newcastle playmaker Emre from Fenerbahce and Argentinean defender Cata Diaz from Getafe. Perhaps most interestingly , the Uruguayan winger “Cebolla” Rodriguez  has been signed from Porto, where he enjoyed a great understanding with Falcao. Simeone showed what he was capable of with this team in the second half of last season and this year they will be expecting to kick on and pose a challenge to the big two.

Levante:

Last year’s historic sixth place and the team’s debut in Europe this season were built on experience and clever, if very cheap, signings and with Del Horno, Farinos and Xavi Venta amongst the eight players who’ve left in the summer manager Juan Ignacio has picked up David Navarro and Michel from Valencia, as well as last season’s loan striker Kone from Sevilla and six other close season signings for what could be a campaign that stretches his limited resources.

Gamper with a taste of Wembley

Koeman celebrates his goal in the 1992 Wembley Final / PHOTO: ARXIU FCB
Twenty years after the first final at Wembley, FC Barcelona once again face UC Sampdoria, this time in the 47th edition of the Joan Gamper Trophy, which is sure to bring back many memories

Party starts at 17.00

One of the biggest attractions of the Joan Gamper Estrella Damm Trophy is always the festivities in the build-up. The gates open at 17.00, five hours before kickoff, where there will be musical entertainment offered by such groups as ‘Els Catarres’, ‘Blues Metal Duel’ and ‘Always Drinking Marching Band’. There will be a host of other activities, such as tattoo workshops, face-painting and puppet shows, as well as shooting machines, water football and an area populated by the Barça Toons. Once inside the stadium the speaker will be providing the pre-match entertainment, with competitions and tributes to the heroes of 1992. Just before the game gets under way between FC Barcelona and UC Sampdoria, the Camp Nou will also enjoy the presentation of the squad and will get to hear Tito Vilanova address the supporters for the first time as first team manager.

After a year in Serie B, Sampdoria is back in the top flight
The third consecutive Italian visitors for the Gamper

The Joan Gamper Estrella Damm Trophy this year is going to bring back plenty of memories. FC Barcelona welcome UC Sampdoria just over 20 years after winning the club’s first ever European Cup on that unforgettable night at Wembley on May 20, 1992. Two decades later, and the club is preparing a much deserved tribute to the players that won the first of the four European trophies that now stand proudly in the club museum.

So there is more than ever to look forward to at the Gamper this year. As well as the activities in the Camp Nou and the presentation of the first team before the match, the forty-seventh edition on August 20 at 22.00 will also be bringing back together the heroes of that night in the old Wembley Stadium. And also appearing as guests of honour will be the club that was on the receiving end of Koeman’s famous free kick in the second half of extra time: UC Sampdoria. Many of the protagonists of that wonderful night in London have already confirmed their presence in Barcelona for this re-encounter.

Maxi López, an old friend

But the Barça players involved in the game itself belong to a new generation, just like Gianluca Pagliuca, Attilio Lombardo, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini now belong to Sampdoria’s past – a golden period in which Genoa was home to one of the strongest outfits in Europe. The current version only just won promotion back into Serie A at the end of last season, but they have returned with new ambitions, and the target is to restore the club to the same kind of status it enjoyed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

To do this, there has been a change of manager. Former Napoli and Juventus star Ciro Ferrara has been on the Sampdoria bench since early July, and has signed former Barça striker Maxi López to form a forward partnership with Nicola Pozzi, the top scorer for the Italians last season. The player is best remembered for the only goal he scored in a year and a half at the club, and also an assist in the same match, against Mourinho’s Chelsea in the second round of the 2004/05 Champions League.

Second visit

This is the second time that ‘Samp’ have appeared at the Gamper. They also came in 1997, and after AC Milan in 2010 and Napoli in 2011, this will also be the third time running that the guests have been from Italy. FC Barcelona has played as many as seven different Italian teams in the Gamper over the years, namely Inter Milan, Juventus, Parma, Brescia, AC Milan, Napoli and Sampdoria. The ‘Old Lady of Turin’ is the only one of those sides that can claim to have won the Gamper, which they did in 2005, the night best remembered for a breakthrough performance by a young and relatively unknown Argentinian called Leo Messi.

The 47th Gamper is one of three consecutive games at the Camp Nou. The weekend before, Tito Vilanova’s side will return to Liga action against Real Sociedad, and just three days later face Real Madrid in the first clásico of the season, corresponding to the Spanish Supercup first leg. So, the Gamper will be an important test before contesting the first official trophy of the season.

Video: Five-star Messi ready for action

Messi davant el Raja / FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Leo Messi was Barça’s highest scorer of the pre-season with five goals, his best tally in any pre-season. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner is ready for the season to start

Despite missing out on the team’s first friendly of the summer, Messi finished the pre-season as the team’s highest goalscorer ahead of Dani Alves, Deulofeu and Alexis, all of whom finished the pre-season with two goals apiece.

Eleven Barça players away the week before Liga starts

Messi, amb l'Argentina / FOTO: Arxiu FCB
Sis Barça players are flying to Puerto Rico to play for Spain. Valdés, Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro and Cesc have all been called up by Vicente Del Bosque

Afellay has been picked in Louis van Gaal’s first squad, while Mano Menezes is taking Alves to the friendly between Sweden and Brazil

Messi and Mascherano are also in Sabella’s squad for a game with Germany, and Alexis Sánchez will be crossing the Atlantic for Chile’s game with Ecuador

As many as eleven Barça players are away this week for different international friendlies. Just days before Tito Vilanova makes his official debut as FC Barcelona manager in the Liga opener against Real Sociedad (Sunday 19 at 21.00), he will be forced to prepare with the majority of his probable starting eleven absent.

Messi and Mascherano in Frankfurt

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella is talking his side to Frankfurt for a friendly with Germany. The South Americans take on the side coached by Joachim Löw on Wednesday 15 at 20.45.

Alves the earliest

There is no rest for Brazil. Most of Mano Menezes’ squad has only just ended their silver-medal winning Olympic campaign, and now head off for Stockholm to face Sweden at the Rasunda Stadium, the historic ground where Pele first amazed the world at the 1958 World Cup, but which is due to be destroyed this year, now that a brand new venue has been completed. Dani Alves will be appearing in the match at 20.00 on August 15.

Six FCB players in Puerto Rico

Vicente Del Bosque has not included either Xavi or Jordi Alba in his team that travels to face Puerto Rico on August 15. But there are six other Barcelona players making the trip, namely Valdés, Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro and Cesc. San Juan will be the venue for the game that kicks off at 22.30 on August 15.

Afellay picked by Louis van Gaal

The former Barcelona manager is back for his second spell in charge of the Dutch national team, and has announced the name of Ibrahim Afellay among his picks for a game with neighbours Belgium in Brussels at 20.45 on August 15.

Alexis in New York

Chile manager Claudio Borghi has picked the Barça striker in his side that is travelling to New York to take on fellow South Americans Ecuador. That will be the last of the midweek internationals with Barcelona interest, and kicks off at 02.00 on August 16.

 

Top video stories

Iniesta i Cesc, a l'entrenament d'aquest dilluns / FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
A lot of images about blaugrana’s week

1. DYNAMO VS FC BARCELONA HIGHLIGHTS

2. MANCHESTER UNITED VS FC BARCELONA HIGHLIGHTS

3. UNITED VS BARÇA: THE EUROPEAN CLASSIC MATCH

4. INIESTA: “IT’S OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KEEP THIS WORKING”

5. GAMPER’S BARÇA TOONS

6. ABIDAL’S FRENCH TRIBUTE

7. EDMILSON’S INTERVIEW

8. GIRONA’S TRAINING SESSION