“Next year it's going to be even more difficult and we are going to have to work very hard to be able to win once again.” The confetti had barely settled on Madrid’s Champions League victory before Zinedine Zidane turned his attention to the next campaign. Relentless winners have a habit of always looking for the next title.
Real Madrid will be strong again in the 17/18 season as they seek to retain the league title for the first time since 1990. They have introduced Dani Ceballos and Theo Hernández into the squad and also kept hold of Cristiano Ronaldo despite an “irreversible” decision to leave Madrid at the beginning of the summer.
Ronaldo was never really likely to leave and Barcelona fans can be forgiven for thinking it would be a similar case with Neymar. But as the days passed, the chances of his world record transfer to PSG changed from impossible to improbable to inevitable.
Any chance of a quiet, organised summer for Barça was blown out of the water as they once again hit the world press. Only this time it was them that was having one of their prized assets ripped away from them. They failed to land Marco Veratti and as of yet have made no real progress in the market.
While the uncertainty of life after Neymar continues, the Liga season draws closer and closer. Barcelona’s league opener is just ten days away and there can be no room for error. Unlike other leagues where title contenders will drop a series of points throughout the season, Barça and Madrid simply don’t. One point dropped in La Liga may as well be three in another division. Right now, no one is entirely sure how Barcelona will line up when Real Betis arrive at the Camp Nou.
"a lot” is an apt way of describing the mountain of challenges facing Valverde in his first season. The new coach must set about repairing the damage of last season's poor outing. A solitary Copa win is not good enough for Barça especially after an era of dominance. Perhaps the only thing worse for Barça fans was that while they faltered, Madrid excelled. Valverde needs to have a positive start in order to get fans and the world thinking Barça are back to their best.
If Valverde had any unlikely thoughts that life at Barça would be easy, then a summer consisting of failing to land your major targets whilst also losing your second best asset to a European rival is a stark wake up call.
As the new campaign edges closer from the horizon, Barcelona are still scrambling for a Neymar replacement. Clubs know Barça have the money and are now adding a Neymar-money tax to any player valuation. Liverpool, Juventus and others are now not willing to accept anything less than €100 million for their players and this is making Barça’s task all the more difficult.
While the transfer uncertainty continues, Valverde has the difficult task of ignoring it all and focusing on readying his players for the new season. He needs to teach them how he wants them to play and the drama of the Neymar saga will have had a detrimental effect on his ability to do that.
In ten days time, Barcelona will take to the field for the first time in the 17/18 Liga season and they need to be at 100% if they want to beat an in-form Madrid.