On this week's "This Week in Barça", we'll talk a bit about the Joan Gamper Trophy game, Luis Suarez making his Barça debut, Juan Cuadrado not showing up, and Alex Song being shown the door. Plus, I'll tell you what to look out for this week in Barça. Let's go!
Joan Gamper Trophy match
For me, the best part of FC Barcelona's 6-0 win against Club León in the Joan Gamper Trophy match on Monday night was seeing Neymar return to the pitch. Last time we saw him, he was being taken off the pitch on a stretcher in his homeland, just inches away from being paralyzed. Neymar looked good in the game, and his chemistry with Lionel Messi was on from the start. Ney grabbed a brace on the night including a lovely back-heel goal. Toward the end of the first half, you can see Neymar was out of breath, as he is obviously not in playing shape just yet. Regardless, Neymar will be ready to play a full game soon enough.
Messi was given the player of the game award, while Neymar had a brace in the 6-0 Barça win. The player of the second half of the game was young Munir El Haddadi. The kid got a brace of his own and looked comfortable playing with the first squad. After the game, Luis Enrique stated, "We knew that Munir has the quality, how far he goes depends on him."
With Gerard Deluofeu on loan at Sevilla and Juan Cuadrado seemingly not coming to Barça, there is going to be pressure on Munir to step up if/when called upon early in the Liga season, as Barça is thin on forwards. Is this fair? No, because the kid is not experienced in first-division play. Did I mention he is still 18 years old? However, if you saw Munir at Barça B last season, you know this kid is special and if any 18-year-old footballer can come to a first-squad and be successful, it's Munir. With rumors of Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal and Bayern Munich monitoring him at Barça B, Munir is a wanted young man in Europe. But Lucho, as he mentioned, is allowing and will continue to allow Munir to prove that he is ready for the big stage in La Liga and part of the Barcelona present, not just part of the Barça future.
Big things are expected from Munir by many, but for Culés, let's keep those expectations realistic and be patient with Munir. I hope Munir, being the competitor he is, doesn't try to do too much if/when he is on the first squad and on the pitch. Just be yourself, as you have been doing this preseason, kid, and you'll be fine.
Luis Suarez: finally feels like he's a part of the Barça family
Luis Suarez trained with his new club last Friday for the first time. Last Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Luis' four-month ban given to him by FIFA for the bite on Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay's 1-0 win against Italy in the World Cup. Last week, I mentioned that I was hopeful that Luis would be allowed to train so he can finally feel part of the team and not feel like some footballing prisoner in solitary confinement. After his first training session, Suarez told Barça TV how he felt now that he is free from the ridiculous FIFA-issued isolation from all football-related activities:
"I am really happy to feel like a footballer again, and to be with my teammates. I just couldn't wait to get started. [The ban was] really tough...it was a situation that made me feel really uncomfortable. I'm paying for a mistake I made and one I have apologized for, but I have to forget about all this."
After hearing his words, it's obvious that Luis has been down about his temporary banishment from all football-related activities. Want further proof? Luis Suarez's wife, Sofia, put this on Instagram last Friday:
Sofia's quote: "How beautiful to see you smile like this again! We love youuuu" (translated from Castellano).
From what Sofia stated, Luis hasn't been smiling that much recently and for obvious reasons.
I'm not trying to say that we should forget what Luis did in Brazil. He deserved to be punished and suspended from competitive games. However, banning him from training with his team, his manager, banning him setting foot in his club's stadium, and all other football-related activities was over the top by FIFA. Even Chiellini said the punishment was too harsh. I'm glad Luis Suarez is with his team and is feeling like a footballer again.
Suarez played late in the Joan Gamper Trophy match. Every time Luisito touches the ball, the fans at the Camp Nou went wild. I'm sure Luis will work and train has hard as he can between now and late October to get ready for his Liga debut at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Juan Cuadrado: not coming to Barcelona?
For now, it seems like Juan Cuadrado will not be joining FC Barcelona. ACF Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Montella told Italian media he expects the Colombian with his team for the long haul. "I have never thought of losing Juan. He's been here in the past, he is here now and he will be here in the future."
As we all know, Fiorentina has not lowered their asking price of €50 million for Cuadrado. Barcelona will not bid higher than €35-40 million.
The only possibility that Juan Cuadrado joins Barcelona is if...
A.) Fiorentina comes to their senses and realizes neither Manchester United nor Barcelona is going to pay €50 million.
B.) Fiorentina realizes if Cuadrado has a bad season or gets hurt in Italy this season, his stock will drop and they will never be able to get as much as they can get for Juan if they decide to sell him next summer. With Cuadrado's stock high after having a great World Cup for Colombia, this summer is the best time for Fiorentina to sell him. €40 million may not be realistic next summer for the Italians, let alone €50 million.
C.) It's a long shot, but Juan himself tells Fiorentina once again that he wants out and this somehow finally persuades them to be realistic and accept a €35-40 million offer.
D.) Barcelona offers Fiorentina €40 million with incentives worth up to €10 million, thus giving Fiorentina the €50 million they want (Ex: Barça gives €40M + €10M if they win the Champions League).
I must admit, I am worried that Barcelona is going into the competitive season with only four true forwards. Neymar is still not 100% and we won't see Luis Suarez until the Clásico in late October. Messi, Pedro and, I assume, Rafinha will be playing up front. Adama and Munir will be on the bench. Another thing Lucho can do to compensate for his lack of forwards is to switch formations to keep Messi and Pedro up front as the attack with Rafinha back at midfield. A 4-3-3 is still possible with Andres Iniesta on the left, Messi in the middle, Pedro on the right and Xavi at midfield alongside Ivan Rakitić.
Lucho has options, but still, that doesn't take away that this team will miss having another forward. The hope is that Neymar can recover to game form as soon as possible. Juan Cuadrado would be a great fit as he can come in and play on the right. It looks like Cuadrado will not be part of Barça, but let's never say never. A lot can change within these next two weeks.
Alex Song: the writing is on the wall
Every Barcelona player minus Alex Song played in the Joan Gamper Trophy match.
That says it all about Song's status at Barça, doesn't it?
Lucho doesn't want nor need Alex Song on his squad. Song's transfer to Barça in 2012 was one of the worst transfer signings in recent FCB history. It's not that Alex Song is a terrible footballer. I know Culés poke fun at "Lord Song", but let's be real, he's not the worst footballer ever. He never fit with this team and was never going to. This was a very bad/late-in-the-transfer-window signing by Zubi and Sandro Rosell when they once again failed to sign a CB in 2012. There are reports that one of the reasons Juan Cuadrado cannot join Barça is because his signing would violate the Financial Fair Play rules (like that has ever stopped Barça or Madrid before). If Alex Song can be sold, it would not open up a roster spot; it could also open up wage space for Cuadrado.
Barcelona is willing to let go of Alex Song for free, according to The Telegraph.
Someone take him, please. It'd be nice to get €5 million for him, but now, it's reached that point of no return called "desperate times call for desperate measures." There's no going back now. Song's gotta go ASAP.
There's no question Song will be with a new club by the end of the transfer window. I wish him the best of luck. I'm sure he'll bless whichever club he joins with an incredible amount of Systeme Tchakap hats.
What to look for this week...in Barça
Alex Song on the move: As mentioned, Song is eventually out the door. With him not playing in the Gamper game, I'm sure Alex will ask his agent to speed up the search for a new club. It'll be interesting to see if a team offers any amount of cash. If not, Song will have to go for free. Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United are all reportedly monitoring Song's situation.
Douglas deal done?: Last week, reports came out stating Sao Paulo CB Douglas was on his way to Barcelona for €6 million. Expect some sort of closure of a deal this week. There are conflicting reports that the deal is for the 24-year-old to join Barcelona in 2015, coinciding with the end of Dani Alves' contract at Barça.
Cuadrado watch: As previously mentioned, look out for any news on the Juan Cuadrado saga to see if Fiorentina budges.
Next Game: Sunday vs. Elche at the Camp Nou
FC Barcelona will make their 2014-15 Liga debut at home as they host Elche. Claudio Bravo will start at GK as Marc-Andre ter Stegen recovers from a back injury. Jeremy Mathieu is expected to start at CB, as Thomas Vermaelen is still recovering from injury as well. The interesting part of the lineup will be whom Luis Enrique puts up front alongside Messi and Pedro. Is Neymar healthy enough? Will it be Rafinha or Andres Iniesta, or does he change the formation?
Xoel's Final Word
The road to reclaiming the La Liga title is a long one. But under the leadership of Luis Enrique and with a revamped and reenergized squad, the new era of FC Barcelona is ready to start their journey toward Liga title number 23.
The friendlies are over.
Now, the real fun begins.
Visca Barça i Visca Catalunya!
Xoel, The Voice of Els Culés and host/creator of "This Week in Barça" every Monday on SB Nation.