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Barça aspire to higher calling

Published: Friday 19 August 2005, 16.04CET
FC Barcelona should on Saturday win their first trophy of a season which will determine whether Frank Rijkaard's side are not just good, but great.
by Lucas Brown
from Barcelona

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Published: Friday 19 August 2005, 16.04CET

Barça aspire to higher calling

FC Barcelona should on Saturday win their first trophy of a season which will determine whether Frank Rijkaard's side are not just good, but great.
Expectations at Camp Nou are at an all-time high as the new season approaches after FC Barcelona ended their trophy drought last term by capturing the Spanish title in style.

True test
If the players and coaching staff thought that winning the championship was hard, the pressure of retaining it will be the true test of whether Frank Rijkaard's side are not just good, but great. The Dutch coach is renowned for taking everything in his stride and will be confident that the system used to steer the club to a 17th league crown will again secure silverware.

Unbeaten
Barça finished 2004/05 as the Primera División's leading scorers and conceded the fewest goals, a record that highlights just how impressive their campaign was. They are also unbeaten in pre-season for the first time in five years and on Saturday should collect another trophy when they welcome Real Betis Balompié for the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup, having won the first 3-0.

Media glare
But Barcelona are a club that are never content and the demand now will be to make a real go of lifting the European Champion Clubs' Cup for only the second time. The lack of transfer activity has allowed Rijkaard to prepare for the challenges ahead without the glare of the media watching any expensive new recruits settling into what is a truly harmonious squad.

Quartet return
Last season Rijkaard was praised for his use of the club's youth players, but in truth he was left with little choice after knee ligament injuries robbed him of Edmílson, Henrik Larsson, Gabri García and Thiago Motta early in the campaign. The return to action of the quartet has permitted the coach to remain frugal in the transfer market and bring in two very shrewd signings for free.

Midfield options
Winger Santiago Ezquerro arrived from Athletic Club Bilbao, while PSV Eindhoven's Mark van Bommel was recruited to bolster the centre of midfield and give Rijkaard more options when choosing to press in defence or attack. The coach can now opt to use an attacking formation whereby Xavi Hernández will step back into a holding role to create the play, with Van Bommel slotting in alongside Deco.

Chelsea loss
This range of choice could see Barcelona really progress in the UEFA Champions League. Rijkaard was restricted in his selection when the side failed to defend a first-leg lead against Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge. His decision to deploy an attacking midfielder in a defensive position, as Chelsea wiped out a 2-1 deficit, prompted accusations that the Dutchman was too inflexible with his tactics.

Glittering career
But Rijkaard is very highly regarded by his squad who relate to him as a former player who achieved everything at club level in a glittering career. Players were quick to sign long contract extensions once the season drew to a close, wanting to remain at a team they feel is going places.

Ronaldinho extension
Ronaldinho is on the verge of committing until 2010 and the talismanic Brazilian could be around for one of the most successful spells in the Catalan giants' history. This side has been compared to Johan Cruyff's 'Dream Team' that took four consecutive league titles and the European Cup in the early 1990s. Time will tell whether those comparisons are just.

Last updated: 19/08/05 17.50CET

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