Ernesto Valverde begins process of leaving his stamp on Barcelona
A lot has happened since Barcelona beat Alaves in the Copa del Rey final on May 27. Lionel Messi got married, Neymar's been on a whistle-stop tour of the NBA and Gerard Deulofeu has been bought back from Everton for €12 million.
Most significantly, a new manager has got his feet under the table. Ernesto Valverde was announced as Luis Enrique's replacement two days after the club's win over Alaves, and here are five things he must sort out during preseason ...
On Tuesday, Valverde met with newly appointed general manager Pep Segura and sporting director Robert Fernandez to discuss potential signings. After missing out on La Liga to Real Madrid last season, and being ousted from the Champions League at the quarterfinal stage for the second successive year, the general consensus is it's time to tweak the squad.
A right-back and a central midfielder -- after the addition of wide man Deulofeu -- are the club's priorities. Diario Sport reports that Valverde has immediately set about making his mark, telling the club to drop their interest in Arsenal's Hector Bellerin. Meanwhile, reports in Portugal assert that Barca will step up their interest in Benfica's Nelson Semedo.
In midfield, things are even messier. President Josep Maria Bartomeu has confirmed interest in Marco Verratti, but not even a world-record fee is likely to tempt Paris Saint-Germain to sell. Meanwhile, interest and bids for Brazilian midfielders Paulinho and Lucas Lima have been met with bemusement in some quarters. Would they really improve Barca in the middle of the pitch? Bartomeu has reportedly said that the club will wait for Verratti until the end of August, but Valverde will want all his pieces in place long before then.
The confusion surrounding the interest in Paulinho and Lima centres around one key question: Are they better than what Barca already have? Few would disagree that Verratti has to be signed if he is attainable, but the fact of the matter is, things are already crowded in Barca's midfield. Are Paulinho and Lima improvements?
The signing of a right-back would push Sergi Roberto back into the middle, where he'd join Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Andre Gomes, Sergi Samper, Rafinha, Denis Suarez, Arda Turan and (possibly) Carles Alena. That's far too many players for what will amount to three positions at most. Valverde needs to be clear on what type of midfield players he wants, who he needs around and who he thinks can make Barca better. There's little point in wasting money on equals.
Given Barca's overabundance of midfielders, some players may be deemed surplus to requirements, with Turan and Rafinha the two candidates most likely to be moved. There are other players Barca are more desperate to get rid of, however. Sources have told ESPN FC that Thomas Vermaelen, Douglas and Munir El Haddadi -- yes, all three are still at the club -- will be free to leave for the right offers.
They would follow Jeremy Mathieu, Jordi Masip and Cristian Tello out the door, but it's not proving easy to find takers. There are also doubts about what Samper's role will be this coming season. He has said he intends to stay with the first team, but Valverde may have other plans.
Philosophy and style
Summer is dominated by transfer talks. That's what sells. But Valverde knows the philosophy and style he applies are just as important to this Barcelona side.
Not much is likely to change, but he hinted strongly at his presentation that he sees Messi's role as being central again. That, in theory, would allow Barca to regain control in the middle -- as they began to do when Luis Enrique instituted a 3-4-3 -- and also add width, with Neymar on the left and Aleix Vidal (with a new right-back behind him) or Deulofeu on the right.
La Liga have yet to confirm dates for the start of the new campaign, but Valverde knows he has around a month to make an impression on the players by showing them his ideas and getting them to buy in. As Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp has regularly pointed out, work on the training ground can be more important than shiny new signings.
Valverde said he's planning on utilising La Masia -- Luis Enrique was criticised for not using it enough -- and Barca hope a number of players will progress into the first team in the next few years.
Among the 18 players cited for the first day of preseason training on Wednesday were Marlon Santos, Marc Cucurella, Adrian Ortola, Carles Alena and Sergi Palencia. With the exception of goalkeeper Ortola, who was on loan at Alaves last season, these were the players who helped Barca B win promotion back to the second tier of Spanish football. All of them are going to spend preseason with Valverde, who has a track record of promoting youth team players throughout his career, and it's likely that Marlon will begin the season with the first team.
New signing Vitinho, who has been brought in for the B team, will also train with the first team in July and head on the tour of the United States.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.