Although it’s just completed one of the most successful seasons in its 116-year history, there is a cloud of uncertainty forming over Barcelona as this weekend’s La Liga kickoff looms. Earlier this week, the team that claimed the treble for the second time in its history last season lost the UEFA Super Cup to Athletic Bilbao. Over the two legs of the match, Bilbao simply seemed to want it more, which might be easier to accept had Gerard Pique, Barça’s best defender last season, not earned himself a four-match ban for cursing at the ref.
And all this is without even mentioning the loss of two players who’ve been at the center of everything Barcelona, and Spain, have achieved over the past six or seven years.
On Thursday, Pedro Rodriguez officially signed for Chelsea. The two-time treble, World Cup, and European Championship winner had been on the verge of signing for Manchester United before veering abruptly towards West London. Pedro’s exit follows on the heels of Xavi Hernandez’s departure for Qatari outfit Al Sadd at the end of last season; neither player has been replaced. And with Barcelona at the tail end of an 18-month transfer ban, neither will be until January.
On the surface, it shouldn’t be that worrying for a team like Barça. But while the Catalan club has been gearing up for the day Xavi would leave for sometime, the loss of Pedro was a bit more abrupt and could be more impactful.
The attacking trio of Neymar, Suarez and Lionel Messi is among the most formidable in world football. But if someone like Neymar or Ivan Rakitic were to get injured, or someone like Luis Suarez were to be handed a lengthy ban, it’s not entirely clear will step in if not Pedro. Letting the 28-year-old go is something of a gamble.
While Barça still possesses one of the strongest overall squads in Europe, it is looking a bit thin at the moment: For the club to compete on three fronts – La Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey – the remaining players are going to have to put in a lot of minutes. Pique certainly hasn’t done manager Luis Enrique any favors by getting banned for an opening few rounds that include another clash with Bilbao and an away trip to the Vicente Calderon to face Atletico Madrid.
But Barcelona is not like other clubs, and it still counts the best player in the world among its ranks. If Messi picks up where he left off last season, a lot of this may not really matter. But word in Spain has it that the dressing room at the Camp Nou isn’t exactly thrilled over losing Pedro and Xavi without replacing them. The club does have Arda Turan waiting in the wings, but the Turkish playmaker can’t play for Barça until January; the same goes for winger Aleix Vidal. So until then Enrique and Barcelona will have to navigate the treacherous waters of competing in three competitions without adequate cover in two key positions.
If there is a Barcelona academy product waiting for his big chance, be it Munir El Haddadi or Sandro Ramirez, now would certainly be the time for him to step up. In Pique’s absence, center back Thomas Vermaelen may also get the chance to prove the club was right in paying over $23m to sign him from Arsenal one year ago, despite injuries that have kept him off the pitch almost completely.
Barcelona kicks off its season on Sunday at the San Mames against newly crowned Super Cup winners, Athletic Bilbao. Watch live at 12:25pm ET on beINSports!