Pedro, Deulofeu need to step up
Barcelona invested heavily during the summer transfer window to improve the aging squad that failed to bring any silverware to the Camp Nou last season. While the Catalans could still do with the addition of yet another centre-half and a right-back capable of taking Dani Alves' starting spot (hopefully Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina), it looks like no further signings will be made to strengthen their attack.
Under-pressure sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta decided to offload some unwanted players before investing in new arrivals. With that in mind, Isaac Cuenca was released on a free transfer, Bojan Krkic was sold to Stoke City for an undisclosed fee (reportedly 1.7 million euros), Cristian Tello was loaned to FC Porto, and Alexis Sanchez was sold to Arsenal for around 38 million euros.
While the fee obtained for the Chilean striker was reasonable, it is difficult to accept that Barca failed to make any significant return on quality youngsters Cuenca, Tello and Krkic -- especially during a transfer window when Real Madrid managed to get 20 million euros from Juventus for Alvaro Morata. Once again, the Blaugrana board showed its poor negotiation skills when it comes to selling young talent.
The signing of Luis Suarez responded to a direct petition from newly appointed manager Luis Enrique. Despite paying a massive 80 million euros for the controversial Uruguayan striker, such considerable investment will be justified in the long run. After all, it is only natural that his former club Liverpool demanded what the best player and top goal scorer in the Premier League was worth.
While it is obvious that Suarez's infamous biting episode at the World Cup will never be entirely forgotten, the club must move on as soon as possible. Suarez will meet the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Aug. 8 to discuss a reduction of his four-month ban, but it is doubtful that he will make his Blaugrana debut any sooner than anticipated -- perhaps in el clasico against Real Madrid on Oct. 26?
Neymar is still recovering from the horrific back injury inflicted by Juan Zuniga in the World Cup quarterfinals. FIFA's decision to not ban the Colombian for such a malicious attempt to injure another professional still puzzles me -- especially if we consider that Neymar has been unable to exercise since and would now be in a wheelchair had the impact been two centimetres higher. Fortunately, the Brazilian forward should be able to start training with his Barcelona teammates in the next couple of weeks; his progress will determine whether he can play the first game of the season.
With the above in mind, it seems clear that Enrique will have little option but to start the season with Pedro, Gerard Deulofeu and Lionel Messi up front.
About to start his eighth season at the Camp Nou, Pedro has been far from impressive in recent years after a remarkable spell during the Pep Guardiola era. Having said that, the 19 goals scored last season and his contagiously ambitious nature persuaded his former Barca B coach to trust him once again.
I would have kept Sanchez and sold Pedro this summer, but Spain's disappointing performances at the World Cup meant that nobody was prepared to offer enough to persuade Barca to deal their international winger. Still, he is a quality player who is capable of turning games when fully fit and confident.
Deulofeu couldn't be any more eager to show his worth in the first team. His yearlong loan at Everton definitely made him a stronger, faster and more mature player, as his impressive performances in preseason training have shown. At 20 years of age, there is still a slim chance that such enthusiasm turns into nerves and insecurity once the ball starts rolling -- an unlikely scenario, to be honest, but stranger things have happened in the past.
After leading his country to the World Cup final and missing out on the championship by a matter of minutes, Messi has finally shifted a huge amount of weight off his shoulders. Sure, he didn't end up lifting football's most iconic trophy, but the way in which he captained Argentina throughout the tournament finally granted him the adoration of millions in his home nation after years of constant struggle and putting up with critics who argued his motivation was much higher when playing for Barca.
A more refreshed Messi is certainly great news for Cules. Enrique must find the magic formula to ensure that the best footballer on the planet can thrive alongside Suarez and Neymar while also enabling both stars to enhance their own game and reach (or even improve) their usually high standards.
Until then, Pedro and Deulofeu should be given the green light to show that they deserve the right to not only be part of Barca's squad but also to challenge for a starting spot once all five forwards are available for selection.