We've shipped out Thierry Henry, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Yaya Toure, and now Rafa Marquez while bringing in David Villa and Adriano. Henrique's re-loan to Racing Santander and Keirrison's loan to Santos mean that there are more spots available for either players brought up from the youth ranks or for new transfers. With club president Sandro Rosell sending out his economic team under Javier Faus to discuss how much money we lost last year at every possible turn while also pushing for the mega transfer of Cesc Fabregas (a contradiction Rosell seems perfectly happy with), there doesn't seem to be much room for large transfers. Former economic VP Xavier Sala i Martin wrote a post on Facebook (also found here) on Wednesday denouncing Rosell and Faus' the accounting practices and suggesting that they're enriching themselves at the expense of the club and its reputation.
If we take the economic doom and gloom at face value, though, then we must look at the viable options: The roster now has 19 players in it and of those, 9 of them come from the youth system (Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Bojan, Busquest, Pedro, Jeffren). So there is ample room for the youth players to step up and fill gaps throughout the season and a precedent for trusting our youth organization to bring up players worthy of being trusted. Still, it seems like a whirlwind of changes and if it ain't broke, why fix it? We earned 99 points last season and made it to the semifinal of the Champions League. But in the end the system and the concepts will remain the same and those coming up from Luis Enrique's B squad will already know and understand the system, unlike any big name transfer (though you could argue that Fabregas would, much as Piqué did). This means a level of continuity and a roster replete with players that the coach inherently trusts to understand and follow his directions.
David Villa's presence in the squad strengthens our left wing and gives both Bojan and Pedro the chance to improve while not having to be match winners. It also allows Ibrahimoic to play a more dynamic role and not be the focus for all of the "how come he doesn't score a hundred goals" comments. Against Valerenga on Thursday (more on that later), Ibra was dropped back towards the center circle to be more of a creative force. The out-and-out strikers alongside him were Benja and Edu Oriol who, because of Ibra's movement through the middle, were able to spring diagonal runs behind the last defender and received weighted through balls. I expect this to happen more often with Villa and Messi while Ibra then finds the space the departing strikers have created. Messi's tendency of late has been to fill the middle of the field almost as a "false 9", but his true creative genius comes to the fore when he's given space, something that Ibra's deeper position should offer him, especially if Iniesta is allowed a more flexible midfield role.
The Valerenga match, a 2-4 victory for the blaugrana (I predicted a 2-1 loss for us), showed off the skill sets of some of our youngsters, but also allowed Guardiola to experiment with his formation a little bit. I've mentioned Ibra's deeper position already, but Guardiola also experimented with a 3-man midfield that didn't include a true defensive midfielder. Neither Martí Riverola nor Sergio Roberto really filled that role. Instead, Guardiola opted for 3 midfield playmakers in the first half with Víctor Sánchez playing the box-to-box role for the first 25 or so minutes and then Riverola filling in there for the last 20 or so. Jonathan dos Santos played the creative lynchpin role--the Xavi, if you will--throughout the first half. In the second half, Guardiola put Nolito, ostensibly a forward, into the "Iniesta role", Sergio Roberto into Xavi's spot, and Keita into the, uh, Keita's.
You can read this a lot of ways and conspiracy theorists will no doubt consider it a tactical approach for when Cesc finally makes his move to Barça, but I read it more as an experimentation for when the midfield consists of our regulars once again. If we can get away from an anchored defensive midfielder, then Yaya's departure will not be felt so keenly. It requires much more defensive industry from the other two midfielders, but Xavi has never been one to back down from such duty and will no doubt be fully capable of filling in. Keita, then, can be a late addition to add "steel" to midfield if Iniesta can't provide the physical defense that's required or simply a member of a 4-4-2 that allows Iniesta full mobility throughout the center.
Adriano also made his debut during the Valerenga match, coming on for Maxwell (who scored!) at left back in the second half. Adriano's versatility will allow Dalmau and Bartra the opportunity to step up as right backs in Copa del Rey matches while still being available to switch sides if necessary to cover for them.
It would appear, then, that Guardiola is planning for life with a roster such as we have now. We have several centerbacks capable of stepping up and several midfielders already good enough to be full first team members. I'm still not convinced about Oriol Romeu's readiness, but Guardiola looks prepared to take risks with him and that could be just the confidence booster Oriol needs to make the leap successfully. Thiago and Jonathan dos Santos are ready, despite the latter's only so-so performance against Valerenga, and promoting them would not mean much of a dip in form.
We'll, see, though, how Guardiola continues to think through his new squad when the team travels to South Korea to play 2 friendlies (August 4 and August 8) before official competition begins. The squad list for the Korean games is out: Jose Manuel Pinto, Rubén Miño, Oier Olazábal, Ilie Sánchez, Sergi Gómez, Gabi Milito, Maxwell, Martí Riverola, Jonathan dos Santos, Víctor Sánchez, Jonathan Soriano, Adriano, Armando Lozano, Albert Dalmau, Benja, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edu Oriol, Seydou Keita, Marc Muniesa, Nolito, Sergi Roberto, Víctor Vázquez, Andreu Fontàs, Eric Abidal, Dani Alves, Lionel Messi, Alexander Hleb, Tello.
The first teamers are Pinto, Milito, Maxwell, Víctor Sánchez, Adriano, Ibrahimovic, Keita, Abidal, Alves, Messi, and Hleb. Both Alves and Messi returned to Barcelona for their medical reviews today. Bojan and Jeffren were not included in the list because they have been called up by Luis Milla for U21 duty.
So the preseason is trundling on and the season is approaching. The squad is changing and the outlook goes from sunny to scary and back to rosy again depending on the time of day and the latest headline in Sport. No matter what your perspective, though, this will be a different (and fun) season, with new heroes and new absurd goals by Messi. Bank on it.