The preparation is over and it’s time for things to get serious.
After everything that’s been said and done since the 8-2 hammering against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League, Barcelona have the chance to put it all behind them.
If they’re able to hit the ground running against Villarreal on Saturday, and Ronald Koeman can get everyone playing as they can, the Catalans won’t be too far off the pace for long.The Dutchman hasn’t courted the headlines since he’s been in charge, aside from an ill-judged message to Riqui Puig that he isn’t wanted.
Some might say that such directness actually is a good trait to have. At least Koeman isn’t sugar coating anything for any of the players.
Telling them how it is under his watch is perhaps something that’s been missing at Barcelona for a few seasons, and players have been allowed to get comfortable.
Koeman has shown in his training sessions that he’s not to be messed with, and in the pre-season games that Barca have played, the fruits of his labours have been easily seen.
The Catalans look fitter than they have done in some while, they’re tracking back a lot more often and, in general terms, there’s reasons for optimism.
One of the losers has to be Puig of course.
He’s stuck around for an age, waiting to get his chance. Both Koeman and his predecessor, Quique Setien, held stock in ‘young players,’ but when the chance has been afforded the coach’s, the likes of Puig and Alena et al haven’t been able to make a regular leap into the first team.
Luis Suarez can consider himself hard done by too.
Whilst there is a cogent argument to sell him – the Uruguayan is in talks with Atletico Madrid at the time of writing – he is still a goalscorer supreme.
The Barcelona hierarchy have had to make a decision on whether he still offers enough as a front man and more than the likes of Antoine Griezmann or any other striker for that matter, and they’ve concluded that he isn’t.
Conversely, the Frenchman, playing in his more natural role, has slotted in perfectly and has already been on the scoresheet.
Ditto the returning Philippe Coutinho, who it was thought to no longer have a career at the Camp Nou.
Of all of the players that have played for Barca this pre-season, you’d be hard pressed to disagree that anyone other than the Brazilian has been top of the pile.