Barcelona: Five aims as LaLiga champions kick off title defence
Barça open up their campaign tonight, and AS looks at five ways they'll give themselves the best chance of retaining their title.
Match last season's defensive solidity
Just when Barcelona were feeling at their weakest following Neymar's move to Paris Saint-Germain, finding defensive stability in their opening LaLiga games was crucial. Ernesto Valverde's men conceded just twice on their way to winning their first seven league games of the season and, on those solid foundations, gained in confidence, grew as a team and ensured that their fans kept the faith.
Add a greater surprise factor to the XI
There's quite a bit of anticipation surrounding Valverde's first Barça line-up of the LaLiga campaign. The consensus is that 'El Txingurri' has a greater range of options to turn to this term, and as a result will have greater scope to vary both personnel and systems - while, of course, preserving the kind of balance that the former Athletic Bilbao coach always insists on.
Messi: adapt to life after Cristiano
Lionel Messi has set his side the goal of winning a first Champions League since 2015, but is a creature of consistency and, as a result, it's hard to imagine he won't be as desperate as ever to win the title. It remains to be seen how he's affected by no longer having Cristiano Ronaldo breathing down his neck. As for personal targets, there are still records for him to break: for one, he'll be chasing Telmo Zarra's unmatched haul of six career Pichichis.
Keep the peace off the field
In addition to having to cope with Neymar's departure for Paris, Barça began last season with the threat of Agustí Benedito's motion of no confidence hanging over them - one that finally disintegrated like a sugar cube in a cuppa - and the added complication of the political context in Catalonia. That they were able to take it in their stride was in no small part down to Valverde's calming influence, and the maturity of the dressing room.
Look to offer greater entertainment
Although they put on some fine showings in 2017/18, such as the 3-0 Clásico victory at Real Madrid in late December, Barcelona's football was more effective than easy on the eye. There were moments when critics were left calling on the Blaugrana to throw off the shackles, and players like Ousmane Dembélé and Malcom ought to help them in that regard.
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