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Slow start, but lots to build on: Expectations from a refreshed Barcelona in 2022/23

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Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

It’s finally that time of the year: the return of Barcelona football. Renewed hope enters the psyche of every fan looking to wash away painful memories of the previous campaign.

Culés will eagerly continue flock to the Camp Nou (or their TV screens) to watch a new and improved Catalan side, while rival fans will watch closely for any signs of failure. 

After one of the club’s best-ever transfer windows, hype – and expectations – haven’t reached these peaks in a long time. It’s with good reason, too.

Barcelona signed a world-class defender in Jules Kounde, not to mention Andreas Christensen to round out the backline, one of Serie A’s best midfielders in Franck Kessie, promising youngster Pablo Torre, electric winger Raphinha, and the cream of the crop, Robert Lewandowski. One can also acknowledge resigning Ousmane Dembele. 

Now with a reimagined squad, Barcelona can not afford to sizzle out of the Champions League group stages, or lose La Liga by 13 points like they did last season.

Their stalemate against Rayo Vallecano may have been highly anticlimatic, but it takes time even for the best teams to click with new signings.

Naturally, this brings up one over-arching question: what are expectations for this season? What will make this season considered a success, failure, or something in between?

Squad refresh

Before going through the expected results for each competition, let’s look at what exactly has changed between this Barcelona side and that of last season, and ask what we can expect out of the squad. 

First and foremost, the influx of signings has elevated a mismatched squad into arguably Spain’s best, and one of the most attention-worthy in Europe too. Yes, yesterday they looked like rookies, but there is no question that things will eventually click.

From front to back, the team is balanced in terms of profiles and age. Gone are the days of fielding teenagers with barely any experience alongside elder statesmen near the end of their careers at the top level. More importantly, there is a significant increase in talent. 

In defence, the new possible centre-back pairing of Ronald Araujo and Kounde represents one of the most powerful and reliable partnerships in Europe. However, it remains to be seen if Xavi will play them together, or continue to delegate Araujo to full-back. 

Can Kounde solve Barça’s defensive crisis? (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Christensen, Gerard Pique, and Eric Garcia as rotation pieces are also right where they belong. This will be a common theme throughout this section: players who should not be starting for a team with Barcelona’s aspirations are now properly designated as second-stringers. Still, they do not represent a disastrous dip in quality from the starters. 

The right-back position was not reinforced, and one would hope Sergino Dest returns. If he does, him and Sergi Roberto should suffice – especially if Xavi opts to play Araujo in that role.

The signing of Marcos Alonso is also expected to be completed in the coming days, providing a backup to Jordi Alba at left-back. Alejandro Balde has impressed in the pre-season, but it remains to be seen whether he will be given ample time to shine. 

Overall, Barcelona’s defence has notably improved. This is a backline that should not concede rudimentary goals or make simple mistakes. Hopefully, this stability will also lift Marc-Andre ter Stegen performances, who looked extremely sharp against Rayo.

In midfield, Franck Kessie will provide another dimension in the form of box-to-box havoc. Sergio Busquets will be as crucial as ever, while Miralem Pjanic serves as his backup with Nico Gonzalez out on loan to Valencia.

Expect promising cameos from youngster Pablo Torre, and further development from Gavi and Pedri, who was one of Barça’s most important players last season, if not the most important.

Not to to forget Frenkie de Jong, who will definitely be impactful if he continues with the club. Bernardo Silva would obviously be a cherry on top, but that move is very difficult as it stands.

This midfield should continue to dominate most games like they did last year. In the Champions League, they must remain unphased and confident, which will be their biggest test. 

Up front, the Catalans have no shortage of options (we’ll leave out Memphis Depay since he is likely departing). Lewandowski, as one of the world’s best players, is without a doubt the headliner.

In the centre-forward position, he brings an otherwordly level of finishing, composure, and movement. He was closed down brilliantly by Rayo, but there is little to no chance that continues to happen.

Lewa is deemed to succeed. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will more than suffice as his backup. As a matter of fact, he might be the best backup striker in all of Europe. That is, of course, if he does not leave for Chelsea.

On the wings, Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres will hopefully hit the season running, while Ousmane Dembele needs only to continue his red-hot play from last year.

Newcomer Raphinha will also surprise most, if his preseason performances are any indication of what’s to come. Needs some time to click, though, of course.

Admittedly, Xavi needs to sort out his preferred frontline rotation, and there are plenty of choices. Following the underwhelming display of Raphinha, Lewandowski, and Dembele against Rayo, one can expect things to switch up vs Real Sociedad.

That said, Barcelona’s frontline has undergone the most drastic transformation. This is a group of forwards who should lead the league in goals scored, as well as being one of Europe’s best. Expectations are clear: goals galore and electrifying exuberance. 

All eyes of Xavi

With the squad taking a complete 180 that only occurs in FIFA, all eyes are on Xavi. He’s been granted the signings he asked for, and now the young manager must mesh all these new personalities and styles into his locker room. 

Another reason for heightened expectations is the fact that Xavi and his coaching staff have been given a full pre-season to implement his plans and integrate new players. While some growing pains are natural, the team shouldn’t need more than a month or two (at most) to gel.  

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the four major competitions Barcelona will be playing in this season, and come to a conclusion about expectations. 

Can Xavi pull off a dream season? (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Supercopa de Espana: Win

This is inarguably the least prestigious trophy Barca will be in contention for, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. At the end of the day, for a team that’s won one trophy over the last three seasons, everything counts. Additionally, it could be the first taste of silverware for the team’s new signings.

The Super Cup arrives at the most difficult part of the season: the middle of January. The rush and excitement of the opening first months will have dissipated, and the nail-biting finish of the Spring months is still a ways to go.

As such, it’ll be a worthy test of character and determination. Additionally, it will test Barça’s squad depth, given how jam-packed January can get with the opening rounds of the Copa del Rey alongside La Liga fixtures. 

In last season’s edition of the Spanish Super Cup, Barcelona narrowly lost to Real Madrid in extra-time of the semi-final (remember, there are only four teams in this tournament). Simply put, Barcelona should aim to win it all this season. 

Although their opponents are some of Spain’s elite – Real Betis in the semi-final with Real Madrid and Valencia on the other side of the bracket – hoisting this trophy is entirely realistic. From one perspective, it will only take two wins to earn bragging rights. Potentially beating Madrid in a final is also worth more than just the silverware.

Copa del Rey: Win

The Copa del Rey is another trophy Barcelona should be expected to win this campaign. Spain’s prized domestic cup is always a competition worth watching, filled with twists and turns and surprise results. Anything can happen in, but anything short of winning it all would be a failure. 

Last year, Barcelona were unceremoniously eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in the Round of 16. The season prior, however, they beat Bilbao 4-0 in the final.

In fact, that miraculous run in 2020/21 remains a standout in an otherwise rocky season. What’s to stop this (much improved) team from doing the same?

Winning the Copa requires fortitude, players who can unlock another dimension in the most difficult of times, and of course, a little bit of luck. With game-changers like Lewandowski, Dembele, and Pedri, the recipe for success is there. 

La Liga: Win

Yes, the season opener was far from ideal. But it’s a 38-week competition.

More than either domestic cup – or both combined – winning La Liga would represent a hugely successful campaign for Barcelona. They haven’t won the league since 2019, signalling their longest drought between titles since 2005.

Messi warned fans. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Looking back, they should have won it in 2020/21, if not for a late-season collapse, and optimistically, when considering the table after Xavi took over last season, they gave Madrid a run for their money. 

It goes without saying that winning a league asks for consistency. There are 38 matches that span ten months, and maintaining a steady level of play is demanding, particularly when schedules get congested due to other competitions. 

This is where squad depth trumps all. Xavi must manage his team effectively, weaving players in and out of lineups while maintaining fitness and cohesion.

Fortunately, with six forwards to fill in three positions, five centre-backs, and a plethora of midfield talent, this should be manageable. Their only problem are the full-back roles, and Xavi will have to work his way around that for the time being.

Nevertheless, Barca must hit the ground running. They can not afford to drop too many points early in the season due to a lack of harmony, and most of all, they must win the matches they are expected to win, particularly after starting the season so slowly. 

Winning La Liga sounds like a monstrous task, but it’s one Barcelona can realize. 

Champions League: Quarter-Finals

Last but not least is the Champions League, the most sought-after trophy in European football. Performances here will provide a litmus test on how good the team really is. Barcelona has faired admirably in domestic competitions over the last few years, but the Champions League is where Europe’s best rise to the top. 

It has been over seven years since Barcelona last hoisted the cup, and three since they last progressed to the semi-finals. Last season, they appallingly sizzled out of the group stage; that was a nadir that should never be reached again. 

Chasing Champions League glory. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

This season, no one is expecting Barca to win it all. In fact, a reasonable expectation is just reaching the quarter-finals; round of 16 qualification goes without saying.

Being one of the last eight in Europe’s top competition should indicate how far Barcelona have come in just a short amount of time. Although, it won’t be a cakewalk. 

Admittedly, this is the toughest expectation to achieve. The Champions League and its change of pace and unpredictability have been the club’s foils in recent memory.

This season, especially, should be heavily contested. Manchester City have added Erling Haaland to their arsenal, while Liverpool look strong as ever. Not to forget Bayern Munich, who, despite losing Lewa are firing on all cylinders. And of course, can never rule out Real Madrid.

This is where new signings like Lewandowski will prove most important; his experience will be absolutely crucial. Furthermore, it will be a major test in Xavi’s young managerial career – one that he must pass with flying colours.

Closing Thoughts

To wrap things up, this may be the most highly-anticipated Barcelona season in recent memory. The team looks ready to take on all comers, and this season’s second-stringers may even rival last season’s starting XI.

Xavi proved his chops last season with a thin squad. One can only wonder what he will do with this team. 

This piece asks for a domestic treble, something Barcelona have never achieved – admittedly, it’s a tall order. At the bare minimum, they should win two of the three Spanish trophies at play, and, ideally, make a promising run in the Champions League. 

With a team like this, the sky’s the limit.

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