Barcelona clinched their first La Liga title since 2019 on Sunday with a win over local rivals Espanyol.
But for a team that just equaled a 21st century record by becoming champions with four games to go, it was an unconvincing campaign that, looking to the future, leaves more questions than answers.
Barca celebrate the title with an unsettling feeling of ‘what next?’ BBC Sport looks at the dilemmas facing coach Xavi and chairman Joan Laporta in the months ahead.
Another defensive reshuffle?
The main reason for Barca’s title triumph is a phenomenal defensive effort – they won 11 games 1-0 and,with only 13 goals conceded, they should break the La Liga record of 18 goals conceded in a season.
This defensive excellence followed a major rearrangement in the backline, with impressive youngster Alex Balde replacing Jordi Alba at left-back, summer signing Jules Kounde proving his quality at right-back and another newcomer, Andreas Christensen, enjoying an excellent first season in Spain. to help protect superb goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
But Kounde was initially signed as a centre-back and the consensus is that his longer-term future should lie in that position alongside Uruguayan powerhouse Ronald Araujo.
Indeed, Kounde filled in – for an entire season – at right-back due to the squad’s lack of other candidates for the position. The signing of Hector Bellerin last summer went so badly that he was sent to Sporting in January after just three league games.
The recruitment of a right-back therefore remains a priority, as it has really been since Dani Alves first left the club in 2016, and Girona’s outstanding starlet Arnau Martinez has been heavily linked. But that would mean breaking a record four, and would also require something Barca don’t have: money.
Midfield style to be defined?
A lot of euros will be saved on the wage bill with the departure of club captain Sergio Busquets, who announced this week that he would leave at the end of the season.
But it also presents the obvious dilemma of how to replace a player who, despite increasingly obvious physical shortcomings, has remained an automatic first choice for Xavi and every manager before him.
Out-of-contract Manchester City captain Ilkay Gundogan has been widely tipped to join on a free transfer this summer, and his arrival alongside the existing excellent trio of Frenkie De Jong, Pedri and Gavi, and the additional options of Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessie, would leave the midfield well supplied.
The bigger question, however, is not “who?” “, but how ? Barca’s traditional approach to midfield, heavily based on strict positional play, has seemed out of place amid the more dynamic demands of modern football, and even passing purist Xavi has compromised his beliefs this season by fielding four midfielders box-shaped terrain to provide greater strength. in the center of the field.
This has often led to a lack of attacking fluidity – hence all those 1-0 wins – and the challenge for Xavi is to implement a style that is more pleasing to the eye without losing the newfound defensive solidity on which their victory is based. On title. . Busquets’ exit could be the catalyst for a significant change in approach.
Messi back, everyone out?
Oh yes, him.
The question of whether Lionel Messi should be brought back to Barcelona at the end of his mixed stint at Paris St-Germain looms over everything that happens this summer.
The abrupt manner of his departure two years ago was unsatisfactory from everyone’s point of view. So should the club’s greatest player be allowed to make a triumphant return and end his career at his true footballing home? Sounds easy.
But this is not the case. Firstly, from a purely sporting point of view, where does the 36-year-old Messi fit into Xavi’s demands for a high-tempo pressing game? This issue is compounded as he would line up alongside another veteran striker who has shown worrying signs of slowing down in recent months, Robert Lewandowski.
The financial aspect is even more delicate. As things stand, Barca will have to sell players, not sign them, to meet La Liga’s strict financial fair play rules, and even if Messi takes a substantial pay cut, he would still expect be the club’s biggest earner.
To fund this, three players in particular seem unnecessary: Ferran Torres has had only a modest impact since joining from Manchester City in January 2022, Ansu Fati has watched a shadow of his former self since returning from injury, and Raphinha was just a regular starter when Ousmane Dembele – Xavi’s first choice on the right wing – was injured.
So, if tempting offers are received, should Barca offload two or three to sign Messi? A summer full of twists and turns awaits.
The uncertainty behind the scenes
The club’s plans for the upcoming market have been thrown into further uncertainty by the sudden resignation of director of football Mateu Alemany, who has overseen Barca’s signings and sales for the past two seasons.
The much-loved Alemany is believed to have differences of opinion with club president Laporta over transfer strategy, including his reported opposition to signing Messi, and looks set to play a similar role at Aston Villa.
As of now, it’s unclear who will be responsible for making and breaking deals during the summer window, with well-connected former star player Deco believed to be a candidate to replace Alemany at the end of June.
To complicate matters further, Barca are on the move: Camp Nou will be closed for at least a year for a massive redevelopment, with home games played instead at the city’s Olympic Stadium, which will first host concerts from Coldplay, Beyonce and Harry Styles. .
It’s an evocative and attractive old stadium perched romantically on a hill overlooking the city center but – with a running track included – it seems unlikely to be an intimidating venue for opposing teams.
And the impact of their temporary stadium is just one of the uncertainties facing the new La Liga champions, even as the festive Cava still flows fresh.