x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Barcelona in a state of flux despite topping Primera Liga table

Spanish giants are mulling over future of several high-profile players, and that of their indisposed manager Tito Vilanova, writes Andy Mitten.

Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, is in New York where he is recovering from cancer treatment. Lluis Gene / AFP
Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, is in New York where he is recovering from cancer treatment. Lluis Gene / AFP

Barcelona's sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta returned from New York ahead of Lionel Messi's 300th goal for the club.

He had discussed a seven-point plan about the club's future with coach Tito Vilanova. Business was conducted across the Atlantic, where Vilanova is recovering from cancer treatment. It is not known for certain when he will return, although he is expected to be back in a couple of weeks.

Vilanova watches every training session via a link-up, also giving instructions during matches, but he is not there in person.

Is that an issue? Not yet. Barcelona's players are more than capable of looking after themselves and stand-in Jordi Roura helps, but not forever.

Their form has dipped in the last month, and while they are winning, they are scoring fewer goals and not looking as impressive as earlier in the season.

The pair discussed next season, starting with how far the club will travel pre-season. They talked of new signings, with the Brazilian Neymar a favourite.

Barca have spoken to him and Messi has given his approval, but Neymar has said that he will stay in Brazil until after next year's World Cup. The Catalans hope to change that. They will also need a new goalkeeper if Victor Valdes leaves, which he seems adamant on doing, plus a central defender.

Of contract renewals, Adriano, Andres Iniesta and Barca B's leading scorer Gerard Deulofeu are expected to join Xavi Hernandez, Messi and Carles Puyol in extending their time at Camp Nou.

Hopes are high for Deulofeu, an 18-year-old Catalan who has been at the club since he was nine.

Departures were considered. David Villa is almost certain to leave in the summer, probably to England, while Paris Saint-Germain are keen on Daniel Alves, a move Barca want to prevent.

The final subject was Eric Abidal, who, like his coach, has been recovering from two cancer operations and a subsequent liver transplant. He could be back in the Barca squad as early as this Saturday for the game against Sevilla. At 33, he is not a long-term option for the club, but his comeback is inspiring, especially if he can reach a level where he plays for the first team again.

Vilanova's personal predicament is difficult, but he does not have to look beyond his own dressing room for inspiration.

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