Barcelona are heading into the 2020/21 season in absolute turmoil.
After a trophyless 2019/20 ended with them getting smashed 8-2 in the Champions League, club captain and best player on the planet Leo Messi declared that he wanted to leave the club. A week of panic ensued before Messi said he would stay, but only after accusing the board of breaking their promise to let him go for free at the end of the season.
So, yeah, it’s been pretty bad. Quique Setién has been replaced by Ronald Koeman and the club is looking to start a big rebuild. Old veterans have left and will be leaving as the club desperately tries to start a new era under the cloud of the Messi situation and presidential elections at the end of the 2021 season.
But just how will 2020/21 go for Barcelona? What will happen to the Blaugrana? Here are five predictions:
1. Champions again
Of the 12 seasons of La Liga football since Pep Guardiola’s 2008 revolution at Barcelona, the Blaugrana have won eight of them. Of those four title defeats, three of them went down to the final day. In that decade-plus of football, every time Barcelona lost their title they won it back the very next season and usually in impressive style.
Last season they lost their title to Real Madrid, throwing it away in particularly embarrassing fashion during the run-in. Now, we expect veterans of previous reclamations like Messi, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba will lead the way as the Blaugrana bid to win their 27th La Liga title and reclaim their position as kings of Spain.
William Hill’s* La Liga outright odds for 2020/21:
Real Madrid: 4/6
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2. There will be a changing of the guard
As much as that quartet of veterans will feature, 2020/21 will be a new-look Barcelona. With a Dutchman at the helm for the first time since 2008 when Frank Rijkaard was the boss, Barcelona will be clearing out much of what had become a very old side in the Catalan capital.
Ivan Rakitic has already gone, Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal are expected to join him. And of those that stay there is no guarantee of a starting spot for Sergio Busquets or Jordi Alba. It will be a new-look team with the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Ousmane Dembélé and Junior Firpo given plenty of chances to establish themselves as the new leaders for Barcelona.
And this is saying nothing of any potential new signings like Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum (the club also haven’t totally given up on bringing Lautaro Martinez to Catalunya) adding new dimensions and new ideas to the side.
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3. La Masia (and the kids) to steal the show
Of all the new blood that the club will bring in, the most show-stopping talent is likely to arrive for free. After years of being neglected, Barcelona’s famed youth academy La Masia is ready to take centre-stage again.
Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig shone in brief cameos last season, with Ansu in particular setting records wherever he went as Barcelona’s youngest everything. The pair were exhilarating and should be given bigger roles this season, with Ansu even mooted as a potential option as a striker.
Add to them the returning Carles Aleña who has always done well in Barcelona’s system and proved himself most useful at providing thrust from midfield. Non-Masia young players such as Pedri and Francisco Trincao, attacking players absolutely fizzing with explosive ability, will also be on show. For a side that was achingly old and slow, there’s every chance that next season could see all these youngsters leave Barcelona looking like one of the fastest sides around full of flair and fun.
4. Griezmann’s woe to continue
While most people involved with Barcelona would have cheered Messi’s decision to stay at the club, Antoine Griezmann will probably not have been one of them. The Frenchman is a world-class talent, but only in his natural role. Unfortunately for him, that role is the exact same one occupied by Messi, who is obviously superior to Griezmann.
In his debut season in Catalunya, Griezmann cut a frustrated figure as he tried desperately to fit into a side that needed a different player to the one he was. It was telling that he never looked happier or better than in the thrashing of Real Betis, a game that Messi didn’t feature in.
In that week where it looked like Messi was leaving, eyes turned to Griezmann who is keen on a central role under Koeman. That seemed like the obvious replacement, and suddenly that strange transfer began to make sense. But now Messi is staying the Frenchman is back to trying desperately to find a space for himself in the XI. Poor guy.
5. Leo Messi’s Last Dance
Messi will stay at Barcelona for the 2020/21 season. The greatest player in the world had been so disillusioned at the only club he’s ever played for that he was preparing to leave for free by activating a clause in his contract. Yet when Messi was into a position where he’d likely have to sue the club to leave, he decided to stay. Messi said he could never take the club he loves to court.
So now he stays. And there will be some that hope Messi’s mood can be lifted by a good season, a winning season. After all, this is a player who was disillusioned in 2014 after a season spent carrying his side, but was brought back into the fold with a Treble win in 2015. Or for Argentina when he retired after years of frustration with the AFA, only to return six months later.
So, as Messi can be convinced to walk back big decisions, he will surely decide to stay at Barcelona beyond this season, right?
Messi is done at Barcelona. Whatever happens this season is irrelevant. Even if Barcelona win a Treble, he will leave. His problem isn’t a lack of trophies, it’s frustration at the institutional failure of the club to create a coherent sporting project.
The only thing that could possibly keep him at the club is a new board, since he has watched this current one decimate what was the greatest club side of all-time. And the club’s elections will come too late for Messi, as he will be inundated with contract offers from January 1st, 2021.
Nothing short of an emergency vote of no confidence could remove the board before that, and to pull that off seems impossible. And so with this board sticking around for a season at least, this will be Messi’s last one at Barcelona.
He will depart as the greatest player in the club’s history, this is most definitely Leo Messi’s Last Dance.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Champions League winner odds:
Man City: 4/1
Bayern Munich: 9/2
Real Madrid: 10/1