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Five things to look out for at Barcelona in the 2020-21 La Liga season

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The Catalans start their campaign against Villarreal

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona kick off a new La Liga season on Sunday against Villarreal.

This will be a year unlike any other. The future is clouded with uncertainty, but also hope as Ronald Koeman looks to steer the club in a positive direction.

Although much could go wrong given the delicate state of affairs, let’s take a glass half-full look at the team for the Barca fans searching for something to believe in.

1. New manager Ronald Koeman brings new ideas

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Barcelona has not had a manager truly in charge since Luis Enrique.

To be honest, Tito Vilanova, Tata Martino, Ernesto Valverde, and Quique Setien shared the same quality that they were deferential to the players, and afraid to assert their own vision on the team.

No one knows if Koeman’s project will yield success, but it will be intriguing to observe his ideas in action.

Given his strong personality there have been reports that he’s already clashing with some players.

His lack of belief in Luis Suarez and Riqui Puig has raised eyebrows, myself included, but at least we see someone whose brain is cooking.

In the end his options are limited in terms of signings and transfers. He’s already resigned himself to the fact that he’s stuck with certain players he’d rather not have, but one sign of encouragement is the new 4-2-3-1 formation.

To be fair it seems like every manager in the world is using this formation now by default. But give Koeman credit for recognizing that the old 4-3-3 was stale, and wasn’t serving to get the most out of the players on the roster.

2. Real Madrid and Atletico look good but not great

Real Betis v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

I expect the table to remain tight at the top, and this benefits Barcelona in a year where their performances will likely be inconsistent.

Real Madrid, as the reigning champions, are the favorites. Watching them drop points to Real Sociedad, and struggle against Betis, is evidence that they are no shoe-in. Still, you can expect Zinedine Zidane to keep his squad focused and in contention for the title until the very end.

The two wild card teams are Atletico Madrid and Sevilla. Don’t be surprised if you see them hanging around the top as potential sleepers for the title.

Atleti made a game changing signing by adding Luis Suarez, and Sevilla looked surprisingly strong against Bayern Munich in the European Super Cup on Thursday.

If Barcelona runs this season like a marathon, even with all the turbulence surrounding them, they can compete for the La Liga title.

3. Youngsters have the opportunity to impress

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Ansu Fati is worth the price of admission this year.

He’s only 17 years old but he has the confidence and composure of a veteran.

Watching him play for Spain and in the Joan Gamper shows a player ready to lead, as opposed to last season where he excelled as a member of the supporting cast.

He will be in the starting XI, and Barca fans will be looking to him for hope that the team will have someone to build around in the future.

With Riqui Puig asserting himself by refusing to go on loan sitting down, the club has the chance of a second La Masia prospect breaking through this season.

It was surprising to learn that Koeman doesn’t believe Riqui is a better option than the other midfielders.

Regardless, it looks like he will have a chance to remain with the first team and prove his manager wrong. One thing about Riqui that he’s already proven is that he doesn’t lack for a work ethic, so fans should not count him out.

Ronald Araujo and Konrad de la Fuente will be the next two up from La Masia who are worth watching out for. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either receiving first team minutes, and making their case that they should be part of the future.

4. Big-names have chance of redemption

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

This one for me, the chance for redemption, is the most exciting element going into the season.

Antoine Griezmann, Philipe Coutinho, and Ousmane Dembele were all written off. Fans and pundits alike described them as not true Barca players. Here’s the thing, they looked renewed in preseason. Not just their performance on the field, but the look of confidence on their face.

For the first time, all three look like they know they belong, and they have nothing to lose.

On the other side, the Barca veterans also have the opportunity to protect their legacies that they’ve built at the club the past decade.

Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto, and Jordi Alba in particular will want to rebound and demonstrate they have as much to give as ever.

In order for this to work they will need to evolve. The old way of doing things won’t work anymore, so the question is can they adapt to the new system that Koeman is implementing.

If so they can lead the team to trophies and glory. If not, they will not be with the team much longer.

5. Messi will be motivated with his future up in the air

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Will this be the last year of Messi at Barcelona?

Most people are assuming yes, but the truth is it depends on the results.

Messi won’t suffer another humiliating season. If this year is more of the same from the club’s leadership, and if the team doesn’t win titles, then he’s gone.

But Messi himself will play hard. He knows there isn’t much time left in his career. Every season counts, and is an opportunity to definitively prove he’s the best of all time.

In addition to that a stellar season will present opportunities at new clubs for next year.

But make no mistake Messi loves Barcelona, even if he has contempt for Josep Bartomeu.

He wants things to get better and he wants to stay. He just needs a reason to.

This La Liga season has plenty for Barca fans to be interested in. Regardless of how things turn out, it will be fascinating to see what approach they take and whether or not it works.