Martino's powerful squad should challenge for every title

Posted by Francesc Tomas

The signing of Argentine manager Gerardo Martino and promising forward Neymar has, perhaps unintentionally, brought a generalised sense that Barcelona are about to start a new era. Sure, the majority of players and coaches remain the same, but it is felt that old dynamics are about to change in order to accommodate the new arrivals.

After adhering to a fairly rigid formation for years under Pep Guardiola and then for one with Tito Vilanova, Barcelona president Sandro Rosell surprised the majority of the media by appointing a largely unknown manager whose most remarkable achievement was reaching the Copa Libertadores semifinals with Libertad in 2006 and Newell's Old Boys this year.

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After recovering from the initial shock, and having heard him speak to the Catalan media about his upcoming challenge, I must say that the decision to put El Tata in charge of the Camp Nou giants seems to make more and more sense as time goes by. The favourable results and visible improvements in the preseason so far are helping turn public opinion in his favour.

The way his previous clubs prioritised controlling the attacking game is a highly encouraging element to look for in upcoming matches. Blaugrana supporters simply wouldn't understand a drastic change of style now; neither would the players. I would love for Martino to emphasise the need for meaningful possession, which leads to a mixture of shots both from inside and outside the area.

Unfortunately, the Barcelona attack has become far too predictable in recent times. While having the best player on the planet is obviously a major advantage over any other club in the world, Lionel Messi's best weapon continues to be his ability to create scoring chances whenever given the tiniest of spaces, taking deadly shots out of the blue.

However, knowing "La Pulga" is likely to be given the responsibility of finishing every attacking play makes it much easier for well-organised rivals to mark him. Contrary to what many may believe, I consider Messi-dependence more of an ongoing problem than a reliable solution.

Martino has, as a result, a major challenge: ensuring Messi is given more spaces up front while easing Neymar into the system. Many have argued the two stars will find it hard to work cooperatively for the overall benefit of the team, but, in my opinion, it really is a no-brainer.

Great players can always succeed together and, if given the right guidance from the sidelines, combining their skills will improve them as individuals as they will be feeding off each other's virtues. If former Barcelona stars Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o were able to work cooperatively and succeed despite having completely different personalities off the pitch, so should Messi and Neymar.

Throughout his managerial career, El Tata has consistently developed young players and enabled them to demonstrate their talents at the highest level. After a season where -- let's face it -- players such as Martin Montoya, Cristian Tello and Marc Bartra were largely neglected and did not get a decent chance, the prospect of having a coach who won't be afraid to trust them would be refreshing.

A better-managed rotation would also enable more veteran players such as Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol or Dani Alves reach the decisive stages of the season in much better physical condition, giving the manager plenty of meaningful choice when selecting his team. Others such as Cesc Fabregas or Alex Song would feel much more valued and prepared to challenge for the initial lineup rather than be chosen only when the regular starters are unavailable.

With the exception of the long-awaited central defender (an endless transfer saga that, in all honesty, I am getting increasingly annoyed/worried/frustrated about), it looks as though Martino already has a highly competitive squad at his disposal -- as long as they remain hungry for victory and away from long-term injuries, that is.

In fact, Barcelona could field a couple of starting lineups which any team in the world would certainly find incredibly difficult to beat:

Lineup 1: Victor Valdes (G); Alves-Gerard Pique-Javier Mascherano-Jordi Alba (D); Sergio Busquets-Fabregas-Andres Iniesta (M); Alexis-Messi-Neymar (F).

Lineup 2: Jose Manuel Pinto (G); Montoya-Bartra-Puyol-Adriano (D); Alex Song-Xavi-Roberto (M); Cristian Tello-Jean Marie Dongou-Pedro (F).

While it is obvious the first XI would be stronger, it is undeniable the amount of talented professionals who would initially be on the bench only need regular playing time to challenge for a starting spot.

I am looking forward to another exciting season and, unless unexpected disaster strikes, celebrating the arrival of more silverware at the Camp Nou museum. Expectations are definitely high but, given the overall quality of the squad, nothing but winning every competition entered will do.

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