As defending champions of La Liga, FC Barcelona, coached by Xavi Hernandez, will be the team to beat this season. However, several factors could hinder Barca's title defense and their ambitions in Europe.
The primary point of discussion ahead of the new campaign is that Barca won't be hosting games at Camp Nou Stadium. Due to significant renovations, they'll play at the Olympic Stadium, which seats just under 56,000, far less than Camp Nou's 99,000. Consequently, many fans won't see games in person, and a running track around the field will distance players from fans, potentially affecting the home advantage.
The Camp Nou has always been a stronghold for Barca. But with the Olympic Stadium not offering the same aura, coupled with potential pitch quality concerns, it may impact Barca's game play, a Xinhua report said.
For the first time since 2008, the team will miss Sergio Busquets, who, with Jordi Alba, has joined Inter Miami. In their stead, Ilkay Gundogan and Oriol Romeu should cover, especially with Franck Kessie's potential exit.
Inigo Martinez, arriving on a free transfer from Athletic Club Bilbao, is a top-notch central defender. His left-footed nature should balance Barca's defense, though it might shift Jules Kounde to a less-preferred right-back position.
Gundogan, a proven talent, is poised to replace Busquets effectively, pairing with Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, and Gavi. Romeu will likely play a backup role.
However, the anticipated departure of Ousmane Dembele to Paris Saint Germain poses a challenge. Given Barca's financial constraints, replacing him with someone of equal caliber is tough. The ideal scenario? Acquiring Bernardo Silva from Manchester City, but financial woes make it improbable. Relying on Raphinha seems more plausible, with Eze Abde, who shone at Osasuna last season, potentially stepping up.
Xavi hopes for Ansu Fati's resurgence, as relying solely on Robert Lewandowski isn't sustainable. The striker, turning 35 by August's end, showed signs of fatigue post-World Cup.
Moreover, after two consecutive early Champions League exits, advancing past the group stage is crucial for Barca's reputation and finances. The season promises added games, extensive travel, and more strain on players.
Xavi's strategy remains consistent, emphasizing Barca's signature passing game. With Dembele's likely exit, a strong defense might be as crucial as an attacking prowess this season.