• What’s next for Barcelona after losing La Liga?

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    MADRID: Barcelona faces a summer of reconstruction after their grip on the La Liga title was ended by newly crowned champions Real Madrid.

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    Here, Agence France-Presse Sports looks at five key issues the Catalans have to address in the coming months to gain ground on their rivals from the Spanish capital.

    New deal for Messi
    Undoubtedly Barca’s number one priority is to ensure that Lionel Messi’s future remains at the Camp Nou.

    Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi bends over during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs SD Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on Monday. AFP PHOTO

    Barca’s failure to win La Liga or the Champions League this season has been no fault of Messi.

    The five-time World Player of the Year has been at his brilliant best in carrying his side for large parts of the campaign – most notably in scoring twice to win a thrilling El Clasico 3-2 away to Madrid last month.

    Messi’s contract is up in June 2018 meaning he could freely speak to other clubs as early as January about moving on a free transfer.

    Thankfully for Barca that doesn’t seem likely with Messi very much settled at the club where he has spent his whole career.

    However, by allowing his contract to run down, it will cost the Barca board a fortune to tie Messi down which could impact on their ability to make moves in the transfer market.

    Appoint a new coach
    Luis Enrique took the heat out of the debate surrounding his future back in March by announcing he will not stay on as coach for next season after three years in charge.

    Plenty of high-profile names were then linked with the job, but all signs indicate the Barca hierarchy will opt for the understated option of Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde as the man to step into the breach.

    Valverde doesn’t have the glamour the likes of Enrique or Pep Guardiola had when taking the job, but like them he is a former Barca player and has a wealth of experience in La Liga as a coach with over 400 games in charge of Bilbao, Espanyol, Valencia and Villarreal.

    Reconstruct the midfield
    Barca has undergone a dramatic change in style in recent years from Guardiola’s team of metronomic passers built around Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield, to a top heavy side reliant on the firepower of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar up front.

    With Xavi gone and Iniesta playing a far more limited number of games at 33, Barca’s attempts to find successors for two of the greatest players in the club’s history have understandably ran into problems.

    Andre Gomes has so far proven to be an expensive mistake at 35 million euros ($39.2 million), as has Arda Turan and graduates from the club’s academy like Rafinha and Denis Suarez are better in wider roles.

    Losing Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich four years ago is now coming back to bite as finding a true midfield gem to gradually fulfil Iniesta’s role will be an expensive and challenging process.

    Right-back a priority
    Before the midfield, Barca’s first priority in the transfer market is a right-back.

    Poor planning also let Dani Alves go for free to Juventus at the end of last season and his scintillating form allied to Barca’s inability to replace him has been another stick with which to beat Barca’s beleaguered board.

    Sergi Roberto has deputised as best he can, but he remains a converted midfield player and exposed defensively when faced with real quality.

    Injection of young blood
    Barca also missed out on the title because Madrid were able to field a team filled with young back-ups for various games down the stretch to rest their first team stars without suffering any dip in performance.

    By contrast, Barca faces the problem of fending off the ageing process with most of their key men.

    Messi, Suarez and Gerard Pique all turn 30 this year, whilst Javier Mascherano and Iniesta are already well beyond that mark.

    Indeed, only Neymar, Samuel Umtiti, Roberto and Marc-Andre ter Stegen can count themselves as regulars with their prime years still ahead of them.

    AFP

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