Barcelona trying to fit in new recruits
Luis Enrique and his Barcelona players arrived in England on Monday for a short team practice at the English FA's new state of the art training headquarters with both short and long term concerns on his mind.
The manager is concentrating this week on getting his players into the correct physical state but will have one eye on the transfer market. He'll also wonder what he can do with new signing Luis Suarez before getting him back for a potential first game against rivals Real Madrid.
The La Liga fixtures announced last week mean that he may have to consider whether to play Suarez in his first game in a Barcelona shirt against Real Madrid on Oct. 26, TV fixtures and an appeal permitting.
The player's appeal against the ban will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that is due to sit in Switzerland in August to decide whether the ban must be upheld or not.
Regardless of that decision, It would be a huge gamble to start Suarez against Real Madrid, especially if he is not allowed to train sufficiently with his new teammates before then. That is potentially one part of the FIFA ruling that could be changed and it will be a help for Enrique if he is at least able to get Suarez working with the rest of his squad.
Gareth Bale made his first Real Madrid start in 'El Clasico' last season with moderate results and while Suarez is a big game player, it would be wise for him to get some experience and game practice before meeting the current European champions.
Transfer wise, Barca are said to still be in the hunt for a centre half and the name of Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen is the latest to be thrown into the ring alongside those of PSG's Marquinhos and Borussia's Mats Hummels as a potential signing.
However, there is no guarantee that Barca will take the plunge and buy another central defender and they could realistically start the season with the defensive resources they have.
Enrique has been working with his players for just two weeks and few clues have been given as to how he will set his team out next season, but what has emerged is that he will be very open to using a number of tactical systems.
Until all the players are back at the club, Barca observers won't be able to see what his preferences before the important preseason games get underway in August.
However, during the presentation of Jeremy Mathieu on Friday, the French international revealed that Enrique had first spoken to him about a move to the club six weeks ago, showing his intent to use the big defender who can play either on the left or in the centre as part of his defence.
Enrique has already said he is not averse to completely changing the classic Barca 4-3-3 of recent years when needs must. His versatility means Mathieu would fit any three man experiment or the more traditional four man defence depending on how Enrique wants to play.
A three-man backline would give Barca options to allow their three attacking players to play as far forward as possible and give Lionel Messi his usual central role -- together with Suarez, when he can finally play -- and Neymar causing a twin threat either side of him.
With Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets controlling midfield and Ivan Rakitic adding some much needed running in the centre of the pitch, Barca's current ideal midfield four would give Andres Iniesta the freedom to link up with the attacking threesome if a 3-4-3 formation as adopted.
In defence, Marc Bartra is still well thought of at the club and looking to take his big chance alongside Gerard Pique in the centre. Enrique has back up in Mathieu and Mascherano, who he sees as useful still in the centre of defence.
Barca could also be interested in making a final push for the signing of Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina to play on the right as the final piece of the jigsaw. Enrique got his wish to have a preseason without a long foreign tour to give him time to instil his new ideas on his players as he told Barca TV at the weekend, "It's a bit of a strange preseason but we wanted to have training sessions where we can repeat the things that we think will happen in match situations."
Those sessions have been mostly behind locked door until now as Enrique is keen to do his work away from prying eyes; he will now take advantage of the cool English air his week to do a lot of thinking, with the conundrum of what to do with Suarez high on the agenda.
Dermot lives in Spain, where he freelances for several publications, including AFP and the Press Association. Follow him on Twitter @dermotled.