Barcelona ends preseason optimistic with team’s potential

  • MADRID (AP) — Barcelona surprised many in the offseason by making several high-profile signings despite enduring a difficult situation financially.

    The club’s tactics to boost its squad — mostly by giving up future income to add new players now — prompted plenty of doubts and criticism.

    But even the most concerned Barcelona fans can’t hide their optimism with the team’s potential ahead of the season that begins next weekend.

    The new signings showed plenty of promise in the preseason that ended Sunday with a 6-0 rout of Mexican club Pumas at the Joan Camper tournament at the Camp Nou.

    A crowd of more than 83,000 saw the team’s top signing, Robert Lewandowski, score his first goal for the Catalan club and connect well with young playmaker Pedri González. They also saw new defender Jules Koundé make his debut, and new forward Raphinha and returning forward Ousmane Dembélé play well again.

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    Barcelona also defeated Inter Miami, the New York Red Bulls and Spanish rival Real Madrid during its preseason, in addition to drawing 2-2 with Juventus.

    Before Sunday's match, fans had already received some good news as president Joan Laporta said the club would meet the Spanish league’s fair play requirements to register all new signings in time for the season.

    “We will be able to register all players,” he said, dismissing concerns that some players would have to be left off the squad until the club could bring in more revenue.

    Barcelona recently sold 25% of its Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years for nearly 670 million euros ($682.1 million), and sold a 25% stake of its production hub for 100 million euros ($101.8 million). On Sunday, it played its first game at the Camp Nou since it was renamed following a sponsorship and naming rights deal with Spotify.

    “There is no time to wait in soccer, there is no transition season,” Laporta told Spanish media. “We did what we have to do to make Barcelona a reference again.”

    After a trophyless season in which it didn’t have Lionel Messi for the first time in nearly two decades, the club went to the market and quickly became the top offseason spender in Europe.

    Lewandowski arrived from Bayern Munich in a deal worth nearly 50 million euros ($50.9 million), while Raphinha came from Leeds United for nearly 60 million euros ($61.1 million) and Koundé from Sevilla for nearly 50 million euros ($50.9 million).

    Barcelona also added young midfielder Franck Kessié and central defender Andreas Christensen, and renewed the contract of Dembélé, who had already shown during the preseason that he will be an important piece in the attack of coach Xavi Hernández.

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    The team’s offense also has talented youngster Ansu Fati, Dutch international Memphis Depay, Danish international Martin Braithwaite and Spanish international Ferran Torres. In the midfield, it still has the likes of Gavi Páez and Pedri, who scored both of his goals against Pumas off assists by Lewandowski.

    “This Barça is scary,” said a headline by the Marca sports daily on Monday.

    “Spectacular,” said the front-page headline of the Sport newspaper, on top of a Lewandowski photo.

    The Camp Nou is expected to be packed again for the team’s league debut on Saturday against Rayo Vallecano, when another good performance would further help Laporta make his case that the club's high spending will ultimately be justified.