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The show must go on: Predicting Barcelona’s 2021/22 season

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Photo via Imago

The 2020/21 season for Barcelona will be unlike any other. At least unlike any in the last decade and a half. The #10 spot in the locker room will go unpicked after the exit of Lionel Messi for the club, which makes everything a lot more difficult, both practically and mentally.

The show must go on, though. Barça Universal writers run the rule over Barcelona’s 2021/22 season, predicting several aspects of it. A lot of it might come back to bite us, so you might want to come back to this in May, 2022.

Udhav Arora

La Liga

2nd

A close battle against Atletico Madrid in the second half of the season but Barça might not have enough in their bag to take the defending champions all the way.

Champions League

Round of 16 exit.

Not sitting in pot 1 for a change, Barcelona might have to come up against the likes of Bayern Munich or Manchester City, AND Manchester United/Chelsea/Dortmund as early as the group stages. Not sure they have the firepower to hold them out, and more in the Ro16.

Copa del Rey

Winners

Worst case scenario, runners up. It’s Barcelona’s competition. More so this season.

Top scorer

Antoine Griezmann

Without Lionel Messi at the top of the pyramid, Antoine Griezmann will have to take up a large chunk of the responsibility as the senior-most (fit) attacker in the team. Moreover, he’ll have his favoured positions at his disposal now, and should be able to continue improving.

Most assists

Jordi Alba

Alba is now among the captains, and needs to step up. (Photo via Imago)

One might thing Alba’s productivity will reduce this season without Messi, but the Spaniard was an extremely reliable creative outlet for the Spanish national team at the European Championship. His connection with Pedri was evident throughout the tournament, and with goal-hungry forwards like Memphis Depay and late-runners like Frenkie de Jong at the club, Alba’s crosses will have more targets than one might imagine.

Best player

Frenkie de Jong

De Jong rated his last season as a slight improvement over his first season at Barcelona, but fans know how important he was to the team. Not only did he adapt to a new manager and new system as a box-to-box midfielder, the Dutchman was arguably the most consistent player for the club. Some already see de Jong as the most important Barça player now that a certain Argentine has left, and it will hardly be surprising to see him stepping up.

Breakthrough player

Yusuf Demir

Making his name in the Austrian Bundesliga, Yusuf Demir has already made earned fans for Barcelona courtesy of his performances during pre-season. He’s gifted with brilliant pace, agility, and has a decision making ability way beyond his years. 9/10 Football Manager players would recommend.

Best signing

Memphis Depay

Ronald Koeman has wanted Memphis in his team for nearly a year now, and with his wishes now granted, there is little to no reason for this transfer to fail. The Dutchman was undoubtedly among the elite class of forwards last season with 32 goals and assists. He’s carried on the form in pre-season, and we can expect him to be among the goals all the time.

Hot take

Clement Lenglet will have an impressive season.

Oh well, this is the tough one. Lenglet was arguably the worst player wearing the Barça shirt last season, and despite the minute improvements in the second half of the season when the formation changed to a 3-5-2, he was among the mistakes all the time.

That said, Lenglet is a more than decent footballer with a special ability on the ball. He might not be Koeman’s first-choice this season, but the decision to not sell him for a low-balled offer will be one that Barça will not regret. It might take some time, but the Frenchman knows this is the fight or flight season, and I believe he will fight.

Shivraj Duggal

La Liga

1st

Being Ronald Koeman’s second season, his competition is stiff with Atletico Madrid — not so much with a diminished Real Madrid — but with a more convincing balance of youth, experience, and talent; I believe Koeman’s men will reign domestic champions.

Champions League

Round of 16

It’s more likely that Barça will still finish first in their group this season, meaning their chances of getting past the round of sixteen will be decent. However, with other competitions in the mix, it seems unlikely that will reach the quarters.

Copa del Rey

Semi-finalists

Good competition across the board in Spanish football means it’ll be difficult to win the domestic knockout tournament without the likes of Lionel Messi.

Top scorer

Antoine Griezmann

Given that it is his third season here, and the type of attacker he can be, I believe it’s likely he’ll score the most goals in the squad. While Memphis Depay seems a strong competitor, a large chunk of his goals come in the form of penalties. However, even with the Dutchman’s talent, Griezmann will finally be able to play in his preferred role for the Blaugranas, and he will have runners in behind the defence to occupy defensive lines. This means positionally speaking, he will be primed to get into his most favoured attacking spaces. He will be the top scorer for Barça

Most assists

Antoine Griezmann

With the likes of Depay, Ansu Fati, Yusuf Demir, and Sergio Aguero to play alongside, Le Petit Prince will have several attackers to feed from more creative areas and rack up a high number of assists — as he did so last season. However, as we can expect him to see more of the ball, I think he can be the top assister of the team. Jordi Alba may be another contender, but having lost that telepathic connection with Leo, the odds favour Griezou.

Best player

Sergio Busquets

Busi will do all his talking on the pitch. (Photo via Imago)

As Barça’s premier captain this season, Busquets will have to put up performances mimicking those excellent ones that he showed throughout the Euros. One can safely expect him to do so; without Busi’s immense anticipation and his ability to think one step ahead, the whole team falters. With more responsibility on his shoulders than ever before, Busi will be the key to Barça’s success, with more prominence than he has held in all his past seasons as a Blaugrana.

Breakthrough star

Yusuf Demir

While Pablo Gavi would have been a very tempting choice for this category, it is likely that this season’s breakout player will be the young Austrian starlet, Yusuf Demir. His arrival and integration into the team almost mimic that of Pedri’s last season (however, they play in different positions). Demir has less competition upfront, given Messi’s departure and various injuries to Barça’s other forwards. Given his talent, it is likely that he will.

Best signing

Eric Garcia

Garcia has proven himself more than fit to play in positional play systems like those of Barça’s. Throughout the Euros and Olympics, the young starlet shined and took on a leading role in defence. In fact, his leadership skills have been widely documented, and the Blaugranas could surely use such an attitude in the locker room. Given the lack of depth in Barça’s backline, the youngster has many possibilities to shine throughout the season.

Hot take

Barça can improve as a team without Messi.

While the obvious, glaring holes his departure leaves are enough to lose all hope, the club will not benefit from mourning all season long and playing with nervousness. The only way Messi can be replaced is if the coach and the team come together and enhance their automatisms, tactics, positional play, and performances. Barça is stacked with quality, with the right set of tactics mixed with the great individual talent mean they can, in fact, improve as a team even without Leo in the ranks.

Jan-Michael Marshall

La Liga

2nd

Champions League

Round of 16 exit (if we’re lucky)

Copa del Rey

Winners

Top scorer

Memphis Depay

While Antoine Griezmann deserves a shout, I predict Memphis Depay will end up as Barça’s top scorer this season. Whether on the left or central, Ronald Koeman will likely play Depay in advanced positions, relying on his goalscoring ability like during his tenure in the Dutch national team. Still, expect him to be his usual creative self too. Additionally, Depay will likely be the team’s first-choice penalty taker, as evidenced by his 11 scored over the last two seasons.

Most assists

Jordi Alba

Without Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba will be a consistent target to make crosses into the box and create in the final third. More than ever before, he will be counted upon for his goal-creation. After registering 13 assists last season, he should (hopefully) hit around the same mark this season. The only thing is, his reliable go-to option in the box won’t be there anymore.

Best player

Sergio Busquets

After a rough 2019/20, Busquets emerged from the ashes last year, showing his importance and crucial role in the team. Without Messi, his creativity and ability to control the game will continue to be the backbone of the team. Ideally, the emergence of Nico Gonzalez will give him more breathing room too. My other choices were Frenkie De Jong or Pedri, but you can’t go wrong with Busquets.

Breakthrough star

Yusuf Demir

Barça have an abundance of youngsters coming up the ranks, but none stand out more than Yusuf Demir. A low-key signing, Demir has all the tools, skills, and potential to take the world by storm in 2021/22. More importantly, he has already caught the eye of Koeman and should be a regular in the squad. The youngster is a creative outlet who excels out wide or in the number ten role. Expect great things from the 18-year old.

Best signing

Memphis Depay

I predict Depay will not only be the top goal scorer, but prove to be this season’s best signing as well. His pre-season was as bright as one could expect (three goals in four appearances), and he looks to fit seamlessly in Koeman’s set-up. Also taking into account the age and expected role of Sergio Aguero, along with the lack of “flash” with defensive signings Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal, Depay should stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Hot take

Antoine Griezmann will not step up.

Do or die for Antoine Griezmann this season. (Photo via Imago)

The last thing I want to be is a pessimist, however I can’t ignore the signs right in front of me. Even in matches without Messi last season, Griezmann failed to carry on the mantle. Now with Depay who is not the out and out striker to compliment his skill set, the same problems may still persist. I expect a similar goal tally (20) and his usual defensive workrate, but not the “step-up” cúles (or my fellow predictors) expect. In all, I hope this hot take is proven to be freezing cold.

Michael Gathige

La Liga

1st

It may be very bold, perhaps absurd, but I see Barcelona finishing the season first. Last season Atletico overperformed, while Barcelona underperformed. The battle for La Liga will be tight, but this is one I see Barça winning this time. It’s much better to aim high and miss than low and hit the target.

Champions League

Semi-finalists

Real Madrid have shown on quite a regular basis that results can be obtained without necessarily performing at your best. This team isn’t the best in Europe, but winning the Champions League does not need you to be the greatest or most convincing. Only two to four wins separate the round of 16 from the semis. This is something this team, if they can push themselves to the limit, can achieve.

Copa del Rey

Winners

Never has the Copa Del Rey been this valuable. Barcelona are the reigning champions, the ‘Kings of Spain’, and there are few places the Catalans shine as much as this stage. A worst case scenario will have this team finish in the semis.

Top scorer

Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay

The pair will be pivotal to Barça’s success next season. The two have formed some chemistry with one another, and this will bear fruit during the campaign. Both should benefit from Messi’s departure to create more for themselves and each other. 

Most assists

Memphis Depay

In Barcelona’s current squad, only Jordi Alba, Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann amassed more than 5 Expected Assists (xA), none of them getting to 10. Depay meanwhile got a whopping 14xA, and in Barça, a team much more offensive in style and ideology than Lyon, he should finish as the top assist provider next season.

Best player

Antoine Griezmann

Even though I see Memphis Depay scoring and assisting more than everyone else, I see Griezmann as the best footballer the team has at the moment. No one seems a better fit to maintain cohesiveness in the team than him. He is a true altruist, performing far better behind the scenes than he does on the frontlines.

Breakthrough star

Eric Garcia

Garcia probably comes in with the least expectations, which will help him. (Photo via Imago)

Garcia has displayed dexterity beyond his years, and clearly has a bright future ahead of him. The fact he is trusted by Luis Enrique in itself should speak volumes of his character and potential. His ball-playing abilities are reminiscent of a young Gerard Pique, and should he play at the best of his ability, then he will play a huge role in Barça fighting for the title.

Best signing

Memphis Depay

Garcia has displayed dexterity beyond his years, and clearly has a bright future ahead of him. The fact he is trusted by Luis Enrique in itself should speak volumes of his character and potential. His ball-playing abilities are reminiscent of a young Gerard Pique, and should he play at the best of his ability, then he will play a huge role in Barça fighting for the title.

Hot take

Barcelona will score more and defend better than they have in 4 years.

Losing Messi is one of the biggest blows that Barcelona could take offensively. Nevertheless, the Argentine has been replaced with a front three of creative players who can replace his output in attack while providing what he never could in defence: his presence.

The team pressing high and forcing errors from their rivals will result in more goalscoring opportunities being created while also mitigating their concession. With the signings of Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay, Barcelona have a good amount of defensive solidity, creativity and safer ball circulation. 

Attacking more will need the team to defend less, and defending less will mean the team can attack without needless pressure to score. 

Adithya Eshwarla

La Liga

1st

After a surprisingly good season, though, the title race will come down to the final matchday. Or so I hope.

Champions League

Quarter-final exit

Copa del Rey

Semi-final

Top scorer

Memphis Depay

Preseason is a minimal sample size to judge a player. However, in the past two weeks, Memphis Depay has shown that he will be an X factor in the final third.

Though Antoine Griezmann will be expected to step up too, Depay has been given the No.9 shirt for a reason- he will operate as the main source of goals. Moreover, his understanding with Frenkie de Jong and familiarity with the coach and system will play a key role.

Most assists

Frenkie de Jong

There might be more pressure on De Jong than Barcelona fans are imagining. (Photo via Imago)

While there was tremendous pressure on the youngster when he made his move from Ajax, Frenkie de Jong took his time to settle in. In 2020-21, he finally took off and started establishing his reign over the middle of the park.

This season, more of the onus of creativity falls on his shoulders. As he continues to grow and develop, this could finally be the season where we see the No.21 with more direct goal contributions.

Best player

Pedri

Pedri’s importance in the side will improve considerably this season. As Barcelona try to find new outlets of creativity, the young gem could well be one to look out for. He has established himself with the elite, and this could be the season he takes by storm.

Breakthrough star

Yusuf Demir

Demir lit up the pitch whenever provided the chance. His similarity in style with Lionel Messi could just fill the void to an extent. Nevertheless, he is a bright talent to look forward to.

Best signing

Memphis Depay

The Dutchman provides a very similar profile to Messi, dropping deep and ruthless in front of goal. His signing becomes altho more important now, and his current form is highly motivating heading into the next season.

Hot take

Gavi will become a first-team regular by the final third of the season.

The young La Masia graduate has taken the preseason by storm. His ability on the ball and presence of mind are things that cannot be taught.

Ronald Koeman’s desire to sign a veteran midfielder is well known. The circumstances, however, render that impossible.

With Sergio Busquets ageing, Gavi could see more game-time this season in midfield. Similar to Ilaix Moriba in the last season, his involvement in the first team will only rise with every passing game. Moreover, by the end of the season, he could be the first choice to cover for the Barcelona captain.

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