The Blaugrana have been plagued by off-the-field issues during the pandemic-enforced shutdown, and they have a similar number of issues on the pitch
When Barcelona kick-off against Mallorca on Saturday, it will mark the end of a 98-day wait for Blaugrana fans to see their team in action following the Covid-19 pandemic.
La Liga’s mid-season hiatus may have brought an end to the drama on the pitch, but Barca have continued to make plenty of headlines off it, with their boardroom in turmoil after six directors resigned in April.
The Camp Nou outfit have also begun making big plans for the summer transfer market amid a period of financial uncertainty, but over the next couple of months their attentions will switch back to securing a third straight Spanish title.
Despite losing El Clasico at the start of March, Barca find themselves two points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table with 11 fixtures to play and within touching distance of yet more silverware.
But can they get the job done? It is one of a number of burning questions facing the club in the final weeks of the campaign…
Is anyone capable of easing the burden on Messi?
‘Messidependencia’ is a concept that has long hung over the Barcelona dressing room.
The belief that others in the team lean too heavily on the Argentina star has only grown in recent years, and with Neymar gone and Luis Suarez only getting older, at no other time has it felt more of an issue.
Messi has contributed 19 goals and 12 assists in just 22 league matches for Barca this season. Between them, Suarez – whose return to the fold after injury is undoubtedly one of the positive consequences of the break for Barca – and Antoine Griezmann have contributed 19 goals and 11 assists in a combined 43 appearances.
For most clubs those would represent decent numbers, but if Messi is able to do the work of two of the world’s best forward players on his own, then it is no wonder that – whether it is a conscious decision or not – he is looked to in order to provide inspiration.
“If Lionel Messi is talking and giving you advice, you take it as he is by far the best player in the world. If he gives advice, you listen,” team-mate Frenkie de Jong told BBC Radio 5 Live in a recent interview.
And while listening to Messi’s advice is one thing, accepting that the better option might be to play the ball to one of your other team-mates is a hurdle that some in the Barca squad still seem to be struggling to overcome.
Messi will turn 33 before the end of June, and while he remains the most talented individual gracing any football pitch in the world right now, his club-mates must begin to understand that they will not always have the option of giving the ball to the Argentine for him to weave his magic.
Messi might just be able to win Barcelona the title on his own once again this season, but the final weeks of the campaign offer the opportunity to find another way; a way that will likely prove beneficial in years to come.
Is Setien really up to the Barca job?
Quique Setien has his fair share of admirers in Spain, both for the style of football he plays and the way he has climbed through the Spanish coaching system to take one of the top three jobs in the country.
But there is no doubt that he was not Barcelona’s first choice when they were looking to replace Ernesto Valverde back in January.
Former midfielder Xavi has confirmed he turned down the Blaugrana’s advances to remain in Qatar while Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman was contacted, only for the Dutchman to reject their advances as he prepared for Euro 2020.
That left Barca with little choice but to appoint Setien; a follower of Cruyffism who had been sacked by Real Betis at the end of the previous campaign.
And while the 61-year-old has overseen eight wins from his 12 matches in charge thus far, performances have been far from thrilling. On only three occasions have his side scored more than two goals in a game.
Even winning La Liga might not be enough for Setien to keep his job if the underwhelming displays continue.
Johan Cruyff’s vision was built on free-flowing attacking football, but Barca have been anything but since the turn of the year. Setien must demonstrate he can coach a team to win while playing football “the Barcelona way” if he has any chance of being in the dugout at the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
Could Griezmann really be sold?
As Barcelona attempt to get creative with their finances ahead of a belated summer transfer window, it has become clear that only a handful of players are not facing up to months of speculation regarding their futures.
Lionel Messi, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati have become known as ‘The Untouchables’, with Barca unwilling to sell any of them this summer, regardless of the offers they may receive.
The remainder of their squad, however, are fighting for their futures. There are varying levels within the Barca playing staff in terms of which star names are more expendable than others, but it is easy to see that a clear out is on the horizon.
Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo, Arturo Vidal, Junior Firpo and Arthur Melo have been floated as potential makeweights for incoming transfers, and as such it is difficult to see any of them having much of a future at Camp Nou.
It is felt, meanwhile, that upgrades can be found for the likes of back-up goalkeeper Neto and centre-back duo, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti.
Perhaps the player on whom there will be the most attention, however, is Antoine Griezmann.
Bought for €120 million (£107m/$134m) in the summer of 2019, the ex-Atletico Madrid star has not always looked comfortable in his new surroundings.
Griezmann has regularly been played on the left-hand side of a front three despite his best position being as either a No.10 or roaming second striker, and his record of just eight league goals in a relatively injury-free campaign is a concerning one.
It is understood that Barca would be willing to sell the World Cup winner if it helped them secure a deal for Inter star Lautaro Martinez, though there are other forwards whom the Blaugrana would like to get off their books first.
One such player is Ousmane Dembele, who will not even get the opportunity to prove his worth in the final weeks of the league campaign. The rules of Martin Braithwaite’s move to Catalunya outside of the transfer window stipulate that Dembele could take no further part in the Liga season, and as such the €105m (£97m/$125m) man may have even played his final game for the club.
Philippe Coutinho is also seen as dispensable, but with the Brazil playmaker still out on loan at Bayern Munich, all eyes will be on Griezmann when La Liga returns as he aims to end the curse of Barca’s €100m-plus signings.