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“This Week in Barça” starring Xoel Càrdenas: Week of August 11, 2014

The inaugural article of "This Week in Barça."

Lucho and the new FCB era
Lucho and the new FCB era
David Ramos

Hello to all of you. My name is Xoel Càrdenas, and "Benvingut" to the first article of our new weekly review of all things Futbol Club Barcelona entitled "This Week in Barça." Every Monday, "This Week in Barça" will review the weekend's Barça game, player quotes and more. We will also talk about the latest FCB news, upcoming game schedule and rumors. Finally, you'll get my opinion and plenty of humor as well. "This Week in Barça" will be the best way to start the week right.

And I promise: no more "Fin De Ciclo" articles from yours truly.

Let's get started with the first "This Week in Barça."

The New Barça

The new FC Barcelona has played four friendly games. We've seen some players look good and some not so much.

For me, Rafinha has looked good in games. The kid has played a false 9 at times, and looked good doing so. His passes have been solid, has had few mistakes, and is looking like he will continue his excellent play from last season on loan at Celta Vigo and bring it to Barça this season. Jeremy Mathieu looked good in his preseason debut. Jordi Masip has done well. Ivan Rakitić looked a bit off in his first preseason game, but looked terrific against HJK Helsinki. Claudio Bravo did not look that impressive against Napoli, including his error to allow the lone goal get through his hands. I'm sure Luis Enrique will play Bravo in the last preseason game next week to give Claudio more playing time and an opportunity to somewhat redeem himself before the season starts. Gerard Pique still doesn't look in game shape. Gerard Deulofeu has had his moments, but as you can see when he plays, the kid still has much to learn, including this thing called "passing the ball" more often.

For me, the two most impressive youngsters have been Sergi Samper and Alen Halilović. Samper looks good wearing the number 16, and like the man who wore that number before him, Sergi has looked very Sergio Busquets-like when on the pitch. At 19 years of age, Sergi Samper may need another year fine-tuning his game and skills at Barcelona B before he can join the first squad. Plus, the first squad already has two CDMs. But it's only a matter of time before Samper's time at the first squad arrives. A kid who has looked good as well has been Alen Halilović. The Croatian sensation has looked comfortable when on the pitch with players like Andres Iniesta and Alen's countryman Ivan Rakitić. On Twitter, I mentioned that part of me wants to see Alen stay with the first team.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>I&#39;m sorry, but I&#39;d like to see Halilović stay w/ the first squad this season. Eusebio won&#39;t help grow the kid&#39;s game, Lucho &amp; Rakitić will.</p>&mdash; Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) <a href="">August 9, 2014</a></blockquote>

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I understand Alen, like Samper and the rest of the youngsters, has to fine-tune and grow as a footballer at Barça B. But let's not forget that Alen has been playing first-division, first-squad football for two years now (age 16) and even has some Champions League experience with his former club, Dinamo Zagrebgiven he only played a few minutes. Still, Alen is not your typical 18-year-old footballer. He may not be big-game ready, but Alen Halilović can be La Liga-ready soon enough, if he isn't already. Don't be surprised if Lucho calls up Alen for a few Copa del Rey games. Even if he sits on the bench and only sees garbage-time action, Alen will learn much from watching the first squad up close in a competitive tournament game.

I said it before and I'll say it again:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>In a few years, we may end up looking back and say Alen&#39;s signing was the best signing of 2014. <a href="">@AlenHalilovic</a> <a href="">#Barça</a></p>&mdash; Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) <a href="">July 19, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Luis Suárez is the best signing of 2014 for the current squad, but in a few years, we may be talking about how great Alen's signing was and became the centerpiece signing at midfield for the future success of FC Barcelona. Halilović could give Barça 10+ years of greatness. I hope that becomes the case. Vamos Alen!

Thomas Vermaelen: the second CB signed

Last Saturday, Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen joined FC Barcelona from Arsenal. Vermaelen became the second CB signed by the club this summer. Two CBs signed by Barça? Even I still can't believe it finally happened.

I am hopeful the 28-year-old Vermaelen stays health. He was the Arsenal captain, so we don't have to question his leadership skills. He's good in the air (heading in goals and defending), a terrific slide tackler, and is as tactically skilled with the best of them. At 5'11", Thomas is not the tallest CB, but his height has never been an issue. One thing I will be keeping an eye on is Thomas' leadership when he is on the pitch. With Puyol gone, I'm interested to see if Vermaelen becomes the leader of the back line when in games. Frankly, I'd like to see that out of Thomas. I'd like to see him yell and order around Gerard Pique, who still lacks leadership skills, and the rest of the back line. "Seniority" on the squad doesn't matterjust ask Xavi. No one will ever be Carles Puyol or match his leadership, but for me, Marc Bartra and Vermaelen are the players that have that a bit of "Puyol-esque" leadership trait in their game.

There are many who are not too thrilled of having an injury-prone player like Vermaelen join. Also, there are many that are upset that Barça spent €20 million on Jeremy Mathieu and now €10 million plus incentives on Vermaelen when sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta could have used that money, added a few more millions from the budget, and have purchased one "world-class" CB. I understand these arguments, but let's break this thing down.

The Barça board was convinced PSG were going to sell Marquinhos. Even most football insiders felt after PSG purchased David Luiz from Chelsea, Marquinhos would be shown the door to balance the books. But as PSG expert/columnist Jonathan Johnson mentioned to me a while back, Marquinhos will become a key player for PSG soon, which I completely agree with, thus the French champions are not in any way interested in selling Marquinhos. The Barça board's plan was always Marquinhos + Mathieu. Jeremy landed (after a struggle with Valencia), but PSG held their ground. In my opinion, we should take it a bit easy on Zubi when it comes to not landing Marquinhos.

As far as FCB not acquiring Mats Hummels or Mehdi Benatia, Borussia Dortmund were and are currently not interested in letting go of another one of their stars this summer. Perhaps Manchester United overpays for Mats, but Zubi was not interested in doing that. Benatia is another case. Yes, Barça talked to Benatia's agent about a possible transfer. But AS Roma put a rather high price tag on the CB at the time. Now, there are reports of Roma willing to accept €35-40 million for Benatia. All of this is back-and-forth prices on Benatia could have been very confusing and frustrating to negotiate with and, maybe, it caused Zubi and the FCB board to move on and look elsewhere. I'm not saying it was the right decision to move on from Benatia and not continue to talk to Roma; I'm just trying to make some sense of that situation.

We can go on and talk about other CBs that could have or should have been signed, but it's time to move on. The club signed two CBs as they promised they would. Let's give them a just a bit of credit for keeping their word. It's time to move on and stop complaining about which CBs Barcelona didn't sign. Not everyone will be happy, as expected, but hey, it is what it is. Your club can't sign every single footballer you want or that's out on the market. This goes for all football fans, not just upset Culés. This isn't "FIFA 14", as much as some so-called football fans make it seem like it is to move players, reach and make deals, and spend money. No gold packs here. Let's keep it real, folks.

If Thomas Vermaelen can stay healthy, acquiring him for €10 million plus incentives would make the Vermaelen signing a solid and, yes, smart signing. I welcome Thomas Vermaelen and I hope he has a footballing renaissance at Barça.

What to look out for this Barça

Some of the things to look out for this week in Barça:

The Juan Cuadrado situation: Various reports say that Manchester United are looking to obtain Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria, which may open the window for Barça to sign Cuadrado. Now with Vermaelen signed, Barcelona can turn their attention to making Cuadrado the final signing of the summer. Barça has enough money left in the budget to make it happen, especially with the money they saved in the Vermaelen deal.

Messi, Mascherano, and Alves rejoining the squad in preparing for the next friendly game: The last friendly game is next Monday as Barcelona hosts Liga MX champions León in the Joan Gamper Trophy game. Former Barça player and Mexican international Rafa Marquez will make his return to the Camp Nou. Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves are expected to get some playing time in the game. Neymar continues to work with the club's medical services as he recovers from his back injury suffered at the World Cup.

Lukasz Piszczek on the radar?: According to Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona has not ruled out signing Borussia Dortmund's Lukasz Piszczek. The 29-year-old right back could be seen as a replacement for Dani Alves. In my opinion, if Barcelona is in fact looking at brining in Piszczek, then they have found a team very interested in Alves. It wouldn't make any sense to bring in Lukasz and have three right-backs on the squad. Martin Montoya isn't going anywhere. Dani would be the man out. During the Vermaelen press conference, Zubi said, "Alves is a Barça player, he's training normally. Anything can happen in football, but at this moment, we don't consider an exit." For me, it kind of feels like throwing Lukasz Piszczek's name out to the public may be a bit of a smokescreen. Juan Cuadrado is still the main option to be the club's last signing. Lucho wants the Colombian on the squad, and I'm sure Barcelona will try to land Juan Cuadrado. But if Piszczek somehow arrives, you won't hear me complaining one bit.

Xoel's Final Word

Thank you for joining me on the inaugural "This Week in Barça." Remember to come back every Monday for a new "This Week in Barça." I'll have more articles throughout the week as well. Before I go, I just want to take a moment to thank Barca Blaugranes' Arron Duckling and Bostjan Cernensek for their support, as I left BB for a few months to cover the World Cup for Yahoo! Sports and The Telegraph. Thanks, guys. Thank you to The Telegraph for allowing me to be a part their World Cup coverage. A special "Thank you" goes to all the great people at Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo! Deportes and everyone at the Santa Monica offices of Yahoo! Such a blast and working in Santa Monica is lovely. Lastly, I want to thank you, the reader, for your continued support. Thank you for your messages of kindness. Much appreciated and expect great things from Barça Blaugranes this season. We will have everything from game previews to game reviews, "Ask the writers" blogs to special guest interviews to Barça historical articles from yours truly, as I'll cover a historical FC Barcelona topic. Trust me, we got you covered on all things Barça.

The new era of FC Barcelona is here. New faces, new leadership, and a new mission: to start a new "ciclo" of winning.

European football is a "Game of Thrones", if you will.

2014-15 FC Barcelona: Time to rise, strategize, outsmart, outwit, battle, dominate once again and take back the throne in Spain and, yes, also the throne in Europe.


Xoel, The Voice of Els Culés (the Culés), and your host for "This Week in Barça."

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