La Liga 2013-2014 Previews: Barcelona

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The arrival of Neymar and the departure of Tito Vilanova are the big stories surrounding Barca as they look to get back to the high standards they've set for themselves.

It's rare that you'll hear a team that wins their domestic league talking about a season not being good enough...unless you're Barcelona. Last year was a roller coaster ride for the Blaugrana between the high of winning the league and the lows of former head coach Tito Vilanova's cancer recurrence and the embarrassing defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

More from our team blogs: FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes

Across the globe fans of teams who have won anything is decades, let alone made the semifinals of the Champions League are playing millions of tiny violins.

For Barca however last season was a disappointment and changes needed to be made -- some planned, some not -- to get things back on track for one of the world's biggest clubs. They've signed Neymar from Santos and sold David Villa. They've also had to deal with the unplanned departure of Tito Vilanova due to further health problems. In comes Gerardo Martino from Newell's Old Boys, a coach with an impressive resume but one that is untested in Europe.

Neymar

How quickly Neymar settles and adapts to life with Barcelona will be a key storyline this season. We all know about Lionel Messi and we saw last season that opponents finally knew about him as well. Without proper support, a plan B if you will, Barcelona struggled at times as defenses keyed on Messi and there was no other way for Barca to attack the goal. In comes Neymar, one of the most talented young stars in the sport, to provide another creative outlet for the Blaugrana. He is here for both the marketing splash and to fill a legitimate need in the team's attack.

If he can settle quickly and figure out his role -- this comes down to Martino and the coaching staff -- Barca should again be a seriously dangerous offensive team because you won't be able to just over defend Messi.

Transfers In

Neymar has been talked about above but he's the biggest signing the team made in the offseason. Barca dropped a €57 million transfer fee to bring him to the club and he'll be expected to help make their attack more dynamic again. It's a lot of pressure, but I suspect he knows what he's gotten himself into.

Barca also exercised their buyback option on Bojan Krkić but immediately loan him out to Ajax for the season.

Transfers Out

David Villa was sold to Atletico Madrid was for what many felt was a shockingly low transfer fee. The striker was out of favor most of last season under Vilanova and it appears the club weren't going to have a place for him in the starting lineup this season either. So they did him a solid and move him on. Defender Eric Abidal who recovered from a liver transplant to return to the first time last season was released, causing some concern among fans and a couple teammates about the club's treatment of him.

The most shocking move of the summer was the transfer of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich. Selling Thiago came as a shock to many but the bigger issue was the low price Bayern paid due to the club not being diligent about getting the younger midfielder signed to a contract with a better release clause. Sandro Roselli took a lot of heat from the media over the Thiago move and people are likely to remember come the next club president election, especially if Barca continue to struggle (by their standards).

Youngsters Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu were sent out on season long loans to Celta Vigo and Everton respectively.

Season Outlook

As long as Neymar settles and there are no serious injuries to Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta or Xavi, Barcelona should be fine up front. They'll score a lot of goals and win a lot of games. The question facing the team is can they win the big games again. Gerardo Martino should bring a bit more defensive focus to the side and should help reign things in just a bit.

Despite chasing seemingly every big name central defender, Barcelona have so far failed to bolster their backline. At this point, it appears there won't be a signing. It appears that Martino will start this season with Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano as his first choice pairing, with Carles Puyol, Marc Bartra and 18-year-old Frank Bagnack as the backup options.

There's going to be a ton of scrutiny about this, especially if no signings are made, so if Barcelona again look weak at the back and struggle in the Champions League, there could be a panic buy in the winter.

Overall though Barcelona should contend for the league title again and there's every reason to believe they can repeat as champions. They really won't be judged on that though as there's a constant hunger among the supporters for success on a bigger scale. Ultimately the season will be defined by Champions League success, or lack thereof.

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