Barcelona came into the 2017-18 campaign with a clear mission in mind. After only a Copa del Rey title to show for an otherwise strong season, the Blaugrana had to be ready to give Real Madrid a battle for both the UEFA Champions League and La Liga this term.
If the Spanish Super Cup was any indication, that will not be an easy mission in any way.
Los Blancos and manager Zinedine Zidane dominated their El Clasico rivals, earning a 5-1 aggregate victory. It was an encounter in which they had full control throughout both legs, and put a shadow of doubt over optimism in Catalonia.
We take a look at five areas that stood out from Barcelona’s performance.
Neymar’s departure will hurt
Neymar leaving for Paris Saint-Germain was obviously going to have a negative impact for the Barcelona attack, but manager Ernesto Valverde has a genuine problem on his hands this season.
The favoured 4-3-3 formation will be not be as effective without the Brazilian, and there may need to be a modification in how they approach matches.
The “MSN” trident is gone, and Barcelona will have to cope in a new manner on the pitch.
The midfield needs improvement
Barcelona’s midfield was an issue in 2016-17, ultimately undermining the tremendous production of their front-line.
The same problems exist, as players like Sergio Busquets and Andre Gomes simply could not keep pace with their opposition. Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were a class above over both legs of the Spanish Super Cup for Real Madrid.
Whether it be through the transfer market or a change in philosophy, Barcelona’s midfield must improve if they are to truly challenge Madrid.
The back-line has issues
Behind the midfield, the back-line struggled as well. Gerard Pique said that it was “the first time” he had felt inferior to Real Madrid, and with good reason.
The defence had no answers for the opposition’s attack, and were left stunned after a spectacular goal from Marco Asensio early in the second leg.
Samuel Umtiti and Nelson Semedo will continue to progress and evolve, but the current campaign does not bring confidence for the back-line.
Paulinho will not be enough on his own
The first transfer since the sale of Neymar is former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho, and the 29-year-old will have to contribute quickly.
There will likely be more to follow after the massive fee received from PSG, but the Brazilian has shown little to convince fans that he will be a genuine option in the attack.
Talks of Philippe Coutinho joining would be a boost, but more is desired at the Camp Nou if the club are to be a success this season.
Messi and Suarez have to be at their absolute best this year
Two of the world’s best footballers will be tested in 2017-18, as the Super Cup has shown that Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will have even greater expectations.
They were at times isolated, and had to create their own opportunities against Real Madrid.
If Barcelona are to actually challenge for titles in Spain and Europe this year, Messi and Suarez would need to be at a level of form perhaps yet unseen. The pair have the ability, but to sustain that on a weekly basis will be a difficult task.