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New year offers fresh start for a troubled Barca

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Lionel Messi and gang hope to bounce back from a disappointing Champions League many described as ‘humiliating’. AFP

New year offers fresh start for a troubled Barca

Gerard Pique called for changes from top to bottom but 65 days have passed since the humilation by Bayern Munich and Barcelona’s recovery looks far from complete.

Eight of the team that started the humiliation in Lisbon remain, despite Pique saying nobody should be safe.

The club’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu remains too, despite more than 16,000 members signing a petition to get rid of him.

Luis Suarez was pushed out, eventually to Atletico Madrid, and Ronald Koeman replaced Quique Setien as coach in what were the most significant shifts in a supposedly revolutionary summer.

But Koeman was never going to be an appointment that instantly won over the players while Suarez’s exit left Lionel Messi seething, another chance duly taken to criticise Bartomeu and the board.

“It’s normal for a player to be a bit sad when a friend of his leaves after the years they had together but it’s part of football,” said Koeman.

Messi said last season Barcelona were not good enough to win the Champions League and he was proven right, their 8-2 humbling at the hands of Bayern laying bare the chasm in class between the soon-to-be-champions and a team that have only once gone past the quarter-finals since 2015.

And as Barca get set to go again, their latest European tilt beginning against Hungary’s Ferencvaros on Tuesday, the worry will be there is little to suggest they are any better this time around.

Their biggest summer signing, Miralem Pjanic, was the result of an economic operation aimed at balancing the books and whether he will be a significant upgrade on Arthur Melo, who went the other way to Juventus, is open to question.

‘Trying to change the team’

Pedri, signed from Las Palmas in a deal agreed last year, has been one of the bright sparks in Barca’s opening month, the attacking midfielder particularly impressive in the 1-0 defeat by Getafe on Saturday.

But he is 17 and, like the 20-year-old Francisco Trincao, is not expected to transform this team now.

Sergino Dest, the latest arrival from Ajax, is 19, although he can expect to feature more regularly to fill the void at right-back.

“The club is trying to change the team,” said Koeman. “There are very young players who will get chances.”

Barcelona could not afford Lautaro Martinez of Inter Milan or Memphis Depay at Lyon, leaving Koeman with a squad that is neither the one he wanted nor planned for.

Yet his job is still somehow to get Barca competing again with Europe’s elite.

He will be tasked with making up the gap not only on Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain but also the likes of Manchester City, who spent 160 million euros in the transfer window, and Liverpool, who added Thiago Alcantara, once of Barcelona’s youth teams and now arguably the finest midfield playmaker in the world.

And all the while, the uncertain future of Messi lingers, with every disappointment increasing the possibility of him talking to other clubs in January.

Few could criticise Messi’s performances since his attempt to leave in the summer but his one penalty scored in Barcelona’s four opening matches this season is certainly not peak form for the Argentinian.

The best chance of him staying is arguably if Koeman leaves, given the Dutchman’s departure would likely mean there had been a change of president.

Bartomeu is due to face a vote of no confidence in the next few weeks after the successful petition submitted by club members, which means the stability of the club’s president, coach and captain are all still up in the air.

Two and a half months on from the loss to Bayern, a new Champions League offers Barcelona hope but few guarantees.

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