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Ten things for Barcelona to look forward to in 2018

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Barcelona v Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Barcelona welcome in 2018 sitting top of the Liga table, nine points clear of Atletico Madrid in second and 14 ahead of Real Madrid.

As such there’s plenty for the club and the players to look forward to in 2018, so let’s take a quick look...

Transfer windows

There should be plenty of incomings and outgoings at Barcelona this year, although how much will occur in January and how much in the summer remains to be seen.

Javier Mascherano is expected to leave for China in January and, if he does, a centre-back should arrive and he will probably be called Yerry Mina.

There may also be a few more players departing on loan with the futures of Rafinha, Gerard Deulofeu, Aleix Vidal, Andre Gomes and Arda Turan all the subject of huge speculation.

Meanwhile, there could be some high-profile arrivals. Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann continue to be linked, and so does Arthur, but the wage bill may dictate who may players actually arrive.

Liverpool v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Ousmane Dembele’s comeback

Barcelona’s signing of Ousmane Dembele over the summer helped ease the pain of Neymar’s departure somewhat and prevented the window being a real disaster.

However, the Frenchman barely had chance to show exactly what he could do when he picked up an injury that required surgery.

Dembele is now fit again and expected to return to action in January and expectations will be high with Barca in need of some creativity and inspiration.

The 20-year-old will need time and patience to show his best form after such a long time out, but his return will be eagerly anticipated.

The return of Samuel Umtiti

When Samuel Umtiti hobbled off against Celta Vigo and was subsequently ruled out for eight weeks we all wondered how Barcelona would cope.

Pretty well, so it’s turned out, with Thomas Vermaelen having proved a more than capable understudy for the France international.

However, it will still be a huge boost for the club having Umtiti back, as he’s been rock solid for Barca this season and will be needed as we approach the business end of the season.

Barcelona v Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Copa del Rey clash with Celta

Barca won the Copa del Rey for the third time last season and will be hoping to retain the trophy yet again this season.

However, they face a huge hurdle in the next round having been drawn against Celta Vigo, with the first leg set to take place straight after the winter break.

The Liga game between these two sides was a cracker, finishing 2-2, and Barca will know they will have to overcome a huge hurdle to progress to the next round.

The Copa del Rey is also the best chance Barca’s youngsters have of seeing first time minutes this season.

Jose Arnaiz has already scored a couple in the tournament, while Carles Alena and Oriol Busquets have also featured and will be wanting more.

Champions League knockout stages

February sees the return of the Champions League with Barcelona handed a tie against Premier League champions Chelsea.

It’s an intriguing contest with Antonio Conte’s side not having managed to consistently replicate last season’s form, but still possessing plenty of danger.

Interestingly, the tie also gives Lionel Messi the chance to score against Chelsea, amazingly the little genius hasn’t managed a goal against the Blues so far in his career.

There’s also some other fascinating ties as Real Madrid face PSG and Tottenham take on Juventus.

FC Barcelona v FC Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

More Messi magic

Speaking of Messi, we will get to enjoy yet another year of the GOAT in 2018 and having started the season brilliantly, he’s on course for another superb campaign.

There are still records for the Argentine to break, not many mind, and he will also be hoping to lead his country to success in the World Cup.

Before then, Barca will need him to be at his very best if they are to end the season with silverware.

Technology in La Liga

It won’t happen this season but the lack of goal-line technology has already raised it’s ugly head yet again after Barcelona were denied a goal against Valencia.

Ernesto Valverde has said it is “absurd” that the technology is not used in Spain while La Liga president Javier Tebas has said they have wanted it for two years.

Hopefully, it should be in place for the 2018/19 season, but you never know.

Valencia v Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images

The 2018 World Cup

There will be plenty of football this summer and plenty of Barcelona stars in action in Russia.

Amongst the favourites for the tournament will be Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s Germany while Messi will be hoping to lead Argentina to glory and Spain will take some beating.

Thomas Vermalen’s Belgium have a star-studded squad while Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele’s France are another team who will fancy their chances.

And then there’s Paulinho’s Brazil who looked pretty impressive in qualifying, while Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic will also be hoping to impress on the world stage.

Paulinho continuing to prove his critics wrong

Paulinho’s arrival left us all pretty surprised and his signing for €40 million was even called an embarrassment by some.

It hasn’t bothered Paulinho at all, who has simply gone about his business and arrived at the winter break with six goals and two assists for Barca in La Liga this season.

He was a little unlucky not to score in the Clasico but hopefully he can continue his form into 2018 and continue to show his doubters he has what it takes.

Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Valverde’s Barcelona to take shape

Ernesto Valverde has had plenty of critics since taking over at Barcelona but there’s no doubting he has done a terrific job so far.

Barca are top by some distance, are comfortably La Liga’s top scorers and also have the best defence. You can’t ask for any more that than.

Of course this being Barca people do, and his 4-4-2 is not universally popular, but Valverde is making the best of what he has.

As the year progresses and new signings arrive, we should get more of a sense of what direction Valverde wants to go in and how far he can take the club.