Barcelona's key dates for 2014

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Neymar Barcelona celeb second goalGettyImagesNeymar wheels away after scoring his second goal against Villarreal.

With 2014 just around the corner, it is time to analyse what lies ahead for FC Barcelona. It has been an encouraging start to Gerardo Martino’s reign at the club: they have lost only two official games and it looks like summer signing Neymar can become a world-class attacking player capable of flourishing alongside a rejuvenated Lionel Messi, so the initial prognosis is good.

With a squad full of international players who mostly look likely to be involved at the business end of next summer’s World Cup, Barca should be looking for trophies on all fronts. Currently sitting top of La Liga, level on points with Atletico Madrid and five ahead of Real Madrid, it looks like it will be an exciting title race that may go down to the wire. Meanwhile, the squad will be looking for an improvement on last season’s capitulation in the semifinals of both the Champions League and the Spanish Cup.

Here are five keys dates ahead of the club in 2014:

Jan. 11: Barca visit the Vicente Calderon for the first meeting in the league with Atletico. The side from the capital laid down an early marker of their aspirations this season when drawing two matches with Barca in the Super Cup. A 1-1 draw in the Calderon in the first game was followed by a tight goal-less draw in the Camp Nou and meant that Barca took the first title of the season on away goals. Since then Atleti have matched Barca with an identical record in the league, and have even surpassed them in the Champions League by qualifying undefeated for the knockout stages.

There is no doubt Atletico aspire to win everything this season, Diego Simeone has his side set up to challenge Barca in La Liga and this clash early in the New Year will go some way to shaping the title race. Atletico have already won against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and will enjoy incredible support from a packed stadium. The game will close the first round of matches and, as things are organised in Spain, that also means it will be the last fixture of the season at the Camp Nou on the weekend of May 17 and 18. What chance is there of the two sides being level on points going into that game?

Jan. 20: Just nine days after that clash the Barcelona board will meet to start a process that could affect where the club play in the coming years. Barca have called the Camp Nou their home since 1957 but now plans are afoot that could lead to a move.

The board will discuss two possible scenarios before asking the fans at a later date to decide whether the current Camp Nou stadium should be rebuilt, or if a move to a different site is a preferred option. What is agreed upon so far is that any new stadium needs to have an increased capacity, and both proposals would see an improvement from the current 98,000 up to 105,000.

Earlier this month the club’s head of finance, Javier Faus, outlined how the cost of rebuilding the current stadium would be 300 million euros while the cost of a new stadium would come in at around double that figure.

"We will not make a decision; it will be down to the fans. The club can generate between 100 and 120 million euros annually and half of this could be spent on the sports project and the rest on preparing the surroundings," he added.

Feb. 18: Two massive games then come as Barca take on Manchester City in the final 16 of the Champions League. Barca topped Group H in qualifying but, in City, face the toughest of all second-place finishers from the groups. City are flying in the Premier League and are most dangerous at home, where they have won every league game so far this season. That is where Barca must go first before the luxury of a home tie in the decisive second leg on March 12.

On Saturday, Andres Iniesta told Marca that Barca will not fear City, saying: "This is football and the Champions, Barca cannot be afraid, but it will be an intense and exciting tie.”

March 22-23: One of these dates will see Barca visit the Spanish capital again to face a wounded Real Madrid side out for revenge. The Blaugrana came out 2-1 winners in the first clasico between the bitter rivals in October. Since that date Madrid have upped their game and not lost in any competition. Whether or not they are able to lessen the five-point gap before then, only time will tell. What is certain is that it will be another huge moment in the title race.

April 19: The final date to put into the diary is that which has been penciled in for the final of the Copa del Rey. Barca take on Getafe in the last 16 in a busy January, and if they come through that will play for a place in the last four against Levante or Rayo Vallecano. With the draw already being made until the final, Barca know they have a great chance of reaching the showpiece event after being drawn in the opposite half to both Madrid sides.

The chance to reclaim a cup they missed out on last season will be enough incentive for that one. How they do in the rest of the competitions may define Barca’s season.

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