The Barcelona of the future

The Barcelona of the future

Finishing LaLiga three points behind Real Madrid might not seem like a big gap, but for Barcelona the feeling is quite different altogether, and the summer promises to be filled with major changes as to where the Catalan club is heading. MARCA breaks down what they'll need to get right to get back on track:

The right coach

The target is Ernesto Valverde and his appointment is all but assured at this stage. Whether he is the right man for the job is difficult to say, as it would represent a big jump from the mid-table clubs he has usually managed. May 29 an announcement will be made. The coach will have to fix a system of play that is tactically suspect, and with Lionel Messi playing further and further back, the 4-3-3 itself may change.

Another difficult task will be designing a perfectly balanced rotation plan for the MSN trident.

Squad depth

Comparisons are often unfair, but while Barcelona's second contingent couldn't be trusted down the line, Zinedine Zidane was able to rotate without any problems. It is the entire squad, not just the starting XI, that wins the league.

Denis Suarez, Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes will all have to prove themselves to a new coach that they deserve to stay, and with many new faces expected and several departures to fund that, there will be no time to lose.

A team that brings out the best in Messi

Once again, even as Neymar and other stars contribute some memorable moments, it is undeniably Lionel Messi who is the one in charge. Creating a team that helps the Argentine be at his best is crucial.

A newly designed way of playing that liberates Messi is the bold path the club must take.

Iniesta saga

The Manchego is a club icon, and he must be treated as one as the club look to transition to a midfield without him in the future.

Letting him leave would be a huge mistake (a la Dani Alves), so the new coach must convince him that he has an idea in place for how he wants to contribute to the team.

Fix the defence

Fixing the defence is crucial if the Blaugrana are to compete next season, especially by filling the right-back hole.

Sergi Roberto will return to midfield, Jeremy Mathieu is leaving, and Javier Mascherano might not be good enough for Barcelona's current needs. Defensive reinforcements will be a must.

Operation renewals

Hector Bellerin could make his return, as could Gerard Deulofeu.

Real Madrid's success will force Barcelona into further action, and a big-name signing such as say Philippe Coutinho can't be ruled out as a way to get supporters excited after a campaign to forget.

Real Madrid's total challenge

The 50s made Real Madrid the King of the European Cup, the club then chaired by Santiago Bernabeu winning the first five titles; something that, 60 years later, no one has been able to match.

That manita of titles was followed by the sixth in 66, with Paco Gento at one with Alfredo di Stefano.

Madrid's domination could not be matched by those teams with extended periods of success - Bayern and Ajax added three consecutive titles each - but there would be a passage of 32 years in which Los Blancos wouldn't sit atop the European pile again.

In fact, by 1994, Milan came to within one cup win of toppling Real from the summit.

The team that had ruled since 56 was more threatened than ever, by the aforementioned Milan, with five titles, and Liverpool and Ajax, with four European Cups each.

The 90s arrived and so did the new format of the tournament, now under the denomination 'Champions League.'

And so it was that the European greatness of Real returned.

Amsterdam Arena. Taking on Juventus, led by a Zinedine Zidane who ruled the core of a team that came as a big favourite, Madrid, on that May 20, began to write its modern day history.

The eighth arrived against Valencia in 2000 and the ninth, two years later, against Bayer Leverkusen.

The goal, that unforgettable volley rescued from the sky in Glasgow, was scored by the same player who suffered the rebirth of Los Blancos in the competition four years earlier.

La Decima and La Undecima have already been conquered in the recent past and the fight for the twelfth will rage in Wales on June 3.

A race to be the King of Europe in the modern era.

A race in which Barcelona is immersed, first with Johan Cruyff on the bench and later with Lionel Messi on the pitch, has reached five titles.

Despite its current bad situation, it's also a race that Milan has always been in.

Cardiff, the tiebreaker

Fifteen of the last 30 titles have been shared by Milan, Barcelona and Madrid.

The other teams have moved well into the background, even Bayern Munich and Manchester United have added just two.

Other champions since 1987 have not repeated the feat.

With this scenario, Madrid will head to Cardiff looking for a 12th title that would give them total dominance over their rivals, as they had in the 50s.

A sixth title in the modern era to take them ahead of everyone else.

Zidane to Cristiano Ronaldo: We're smart and sometimes you need to play less

Looking back over the 2016/17 season and with the Champions League final to look forward to, Zinedine Zidane is particularly happy with his management of Cristiano Ronaldo, remembering when he told the Portuguese he would need to play less in order to be at his best level at the end of the campaign.

It proved to be one of the Frenchman's great personal triumphs of the season.

"It's a decision we made together after several conversations," Zidane said to UEFA.

"I told him that we're smart and sometimes you need to play a little less, not because he wasn't physically prepared, but because he wanted to reach the final phase of the season.

"When you want to play everything, you need to be in the best possible state.

"He has played a lot this year, but there have been few times when he has been left out to take a break.

"Now he's in fantastic shape and it's not just about this year.

"Over the last few years he's had to play 60 or 70 games and there comes a point where you have to take a breather."

Ronaldo keeps delivering when it matters, something not lost on his coach.

"There are no words that do justice to Cristiano Ronaldo," Zidane continued.

"He has demonstrated that he is capable of everything when he is on the pitch, especially scoring goals.

"More than 400 goals with Real Madrid in all competitions...incredible numbers, but with him everything is possible."

Zidane is now heading into his second Champions League final in just 16 months.

"I am happy that I have this opportunity," he said.

"It is not an easy job, but football is my passion and I have worked hard spending three or four years preparing to be ready to be a coach.

"I live my passion day by day, we have a fantastic coaching staff, but what we have achieved is due mainly to the fact that we have some wonderful players."

Juventus remain a fearsome opponent and of course are Zidane's old team, and the Frenchman knows what to expect.

"I think Allegri deserves everything," he noted.

"He's proven to be among the best coaches in the world, he has rebuilt, or at least improved, Juve.

"Everything is due to the coach who has led the project. I respect him a lot.

"Buffon is a natural leader, an extraordinary player all of his career, a leader on the field and a great captain."

Pique: Luis Enrique deserves a great final and to leave with a title

Barcelona take on Alaves in Saturday's Copa del Rey final and Gerard Pique is determined to lift the trophy so that departing coach Luis Enrique can leave on a high.

In March, the Asturian announced his attention to step down at the end of the season, making this the final game of his three-year tenure.

"He has been one of the best coaches in the history of Barcelona," the defender said of his coach at a pre-match press conference.

"We hope to win another title.

"I know that you [journalists] have not had the best relationship with him, but he's won us all over in the dressing room.

"I will remember his way of doing things and I hope that he leaves in a good way, by winning."

Discussing the weekend's opponents, the 30-year-old said he'd been impressed by the Basque club's season, even if he remained confident.

"Alaves have been the revelation of the season and are close to making history," he told those in attendance.

"We must match their level of motivation and make our technical and tactical superiority count.

"We have to be alert and help each other to watch players like Deyverson, Theo [Hernandez] and Kiko Femenia.

"We'll have a lot of the ball and should create lots of chances."

Real Madrid were also brought up and Pique admitted he'd be rooting against them when they take on Juventus in the Champions League final.

"I am focused on our own final, then the best team will win the Champions League final," he first said when asked about the Cardiff match-up.

"You already know that I'd prefer Juventus to win.

"No matter what happens, it won't change anything about what we've done over the past 12 months."

As for Los Blancos' league title, Pique reiterated his belief that officiating had played a part over the course of the season and once again called for the implementation of video technology.

"The referees have been able to influence, but Real Madrid have won," he said.

"I hope that this season will lead to VAR being implemented.

"VAR will take pressure off the referees in big decisions and will eliminate a series of excuses.

"It doesn't do much now to bring out a list of the mistakes.

"To win league titles you have to be much better than Real Madrid, as being at the same level as them isn't enough."

Finally, he also spoke about the fact that Barcelona are without the suspended Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto, but was confident that Paco Alcacer could fill in well and that the Blaugrana had good enough players for someone to perform at right-back.

Figo: Winning the Champions League was a dream come true

Just a few days after Real Madrid won their 33rd LaLiga title, Figo admitted it was good to see former teammate Zinedine Zidane so happy, and he hopes Los Blancos will win the Champions League as well.

The Portuguese star took in Real's Firday training session as they continue their preparations.

"Winning the Champions League was a dream come true," he recalled. "It is good to see Zidane so calm and happy after the 33rd LaLiga title.

"He is satisfied with the season and by what his side have accomplished, but being the calm man he is, he is already preparing the Champions League final."

Figo, in fact, believes it might have been better had the final date been sooner rather than later.

"There are still some days for the final and it would have been better had the match been played sooner," he pointed out. "There is always anxiety for the big day."
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