Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 41: Barcelona

Manchester City face the daunting task of facing FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou tomorrow night, with Pep Guardiola returning to the club he took to new heights. Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League battle, we caught up with Barça fan Juan to discuss the match, the state of Luis Enrique’s side, and whether he thinks the Blues can finally win a competitive fixture against the Catalan giants.

Hi Juan, thanks for talking to us. First of all, what have you made of Barca’s start to this season’s La Liga?

Barça have had a slightly rough start to La Liga. They’re currently sitting in fourth place, just one point behind Sevilla and two behind Real and Atleti. However, the loss against Celta before the international break seems to have motivated the team; they bounced back with a 4-0 win on Saturday at Camp Nou against Depor, who have given us very tough home games the past two seasons.

After a rocky start to life at the club, Luis Enrique has seemingly cemented his job as Barcelona manager. What are your feelings towards Lucho?

I have very mixed feelings towards Lucho that tend to conflict with the viewpoints of other fans. I wrote an article back in the 2014/15 season crediting Lucho with a lot of things that he helped bring to the team, especially after Tata’s disastrous reign as manager. He’s raised the fitness of the team back to an elite level, he brought a mentality/psychological edge that Barcelona needed, motivated some players back to their very best, like Pique and Messi, and won a treble and double. However, there are many times where I feel like Lucho is a bit naive in his approach to certain matches and he lets his ego cloud his judgement. There are also many times where I feel like we compromise our style of play for results, and I’m not a fan of that. I also am not a fan of the way that Lucho has handled La Masia talents like Bartra, Grimaldo and Samper, with the former two being sold – and currently shining at their new clubs – and the latter going on loan to a sinking ship, which will only further stunt his development. The long-term planning at the club hasn’t been great lately, to say the least.

To sum it up: I’m thankful for what Lucho has brought to the team, but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of his. I believe he’s more of a manager for the present and Barça needs a manager who’s not just for the now, but who will help Barça build for the future.

It’s hard to improve Barcelona’s current starting XI, and so the past few transfer windows have been relatively quiet. However, Barca bought a number of players in this summer’s transfer window which has drastically increased their squad depth. Were you happy with the business conducted?

I was happy with the business that Barça made despite having slightly mixed feelings about the Paco signing since I would have liked for Munir to stay and get more minutes this season. Signing Umtiti was an upgrade for the defense due to Mascherano’s decline and I believe that Digne gives Barça a more solid and composed option at left-back over Jordi Alba. The Gomes and Denis signings have also given them greater depth in midfield which is somewhere the team desperately lacked quality in last season.

It would take a brave man to argue against the view that this current Barcelona team is the best in the world. With this in mind, would it be a ‘failure’ if they didn’t win this year’s Champions League?

No, I do not think that this season would be a failure if Barcelona don’t win the Champions League. The Champions League has so many other great teams competing this season like Atletico, Bayern, and Pep’s City team that will be competing for it, and we can’t expect Barça to win it every year. For me, the most important thing is for Barça to win La Liga since it’s where they have to prove their quality consistently across 38 matches. Obviously, winning the Champions League is more prestigious and would definitely be a nice bonus, but sometimes it requires a bit of luck and you can’t always count on luck to go your way.

On to Manchester City now. What are your perceptions of City as a club, both past and present?

I started watching more City matches after Tevez joined and the growth that City has made from then until now has been enormous. I felt they were lacking a bit of mental strength in Pellegrini’s last season and looked rather lethargic in the final stretch of the season, but they have been revived since the arrival of Pep. I think that City currently have the best sporting project in football with the work they’ve been doing with their youth academy, hiring Txiki as their director of football, and now adding the final piece of the puzzle with hiring Pep as manager. City are building something great for the future.

Pep Guardiola has hit the ground running in Manchester. How tough a game are you anticipating for Barcelona on Wednesday?

I’m expecting it to be very different than the last four times Barça have faced off against City since Pep is in charge now. Pep prepares his teams very well and no one knows this Barça team better than Pep, so I’m anticipating a rather tough game with lots of intensity and good attacking football.

And finally, please can we have your Barcelona team prediction, and your prediction for the final score on Wednesday night?

I think the lineup will be: MAtS, Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.

I don’t like to give final score predictions for games since I feel like doing that is bad luck, but I am expecting Barça’s individual quality to make the difference. I also think we’ll see Messi play at another level since he’s playing against an old friend in Pep and against an English team, which is when Messi tends to step it up.

I’m looking forward to the match and I wish your team good luck!

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