Vital summer ahead for Barcelona as they look to close gap on Real Madrid in La Liga

Barca manager Xavi needs to strengthen ahead of next season with Bayern striker Lewandowski top of wish list

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Over the last couple of seasons, and certainly since the departure of arguably the best footballer in the world, Lionel Messi, Barcelona have been playing in the shadows of current La Liga champions Real Madrid.

After Los Blancos defeated Espanyol 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu back on 30 April, with two goals from Rodrygo and strikes from Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema, it confirmed Real's 35th Spanish title with three games to spare. At the season end, Barca finished runners up, but 13 points adrift.

Barcelona saw themselves falter at the group stages of the Champions League, which resulted in them playing Europa League football for the first time in 17 years, when Frank Rijkaard was in the dugout in 2004.

It has not all been lacklustre, however, and there have been glimpses of Barca starting to compete again, for instance, when they put four past Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in March.

To get back to their best, there needs to be a number of ins and outs to reshape the squad.

Back in November, Barca moved swiftly to sign experienced right-back Dani Alves, who will leave the club for a second time after his contract ended at the end of the season.

The 39-year-old rejoined Barca five years after he left the Camp Nou for Juventus. However, things have not worked and manager Xavi has said he can leave and find a new club. In all, Alves made 407 appearances for the Catalan side, winning six La Liga titles.

Former Manchester City forward Ferran Torres followed in a deal worth an initial €55 million plus a further €10m in add-ons. The Spain forward joined the Catalans on a five-year deal until 2027 and the club set his buyout clause at €1 billion.

Ex-La Masia graduate Adama Traore was brought in from Wolves on loan, but the move has not gone as planned and he is expected to return to his parent club.

It was the signing in February, though, that got all fans talking. Barca bolstered their ranks, bringing in former Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on a free transfer, and the Gabon forward has proven his critics wrong.

Barcelona player ratings for 2021/22 season

The 32-year-old has netted 13 goals in 23 appearances across all competitions in his first six-months, showing he still has what it takes at the top table.

“Auba has been a brilliant gift fallen from the sky for us because he’s very positive,” Xavi recently told reporters.

“It's a privilege to manage him and we know he’s got a lot of goals to give the team. I’m very pleased with him individually because he’s an example to follow in training and everyone in the squad.”

There is no question if Barca are to challenge Real next season, they need to bolster their squad further. The cash-strapped Catalans will no doubt do this, but it will also depend on outgoings.

Netherlands international Frenkie de Jong continues to be heavily-linked with a move to Manchester United to link-up with former manager Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford, who he played for at Ajax.

Question marks also remain over the future of France international Ousmane Dembele, who continues to be attracting the attention of Paris Saint-Germain. Martin Braithwaite, Oscar Mingueza, Riqui Puig, Neto and Samuel Umtiti are all surplus to requirements, and are likely to be moved on. Meanwhile, Luuk de Jong, like Traore, will return to his parent club Sevilla.

Barca remain hopeful of keeping talented teenager Gavi, who has been linked with a move to Liverpool. The 17-year-old has been a shining star in the middle of midfield, and if Barca are to challenge next campaign, Gavi certainly must stay put and be part of Xavi’s project.

Gallery: Real Madrid 0 Barcelona 4

The club’s legal team and the player's camp have been in permanent contact to draw up the new contract, that will link Gavi to Camp Nou for another four years, until 2026 – and it is reportedly all but done.

While there is likely to be movement in outgoings, incomings are also a must.

Barca will no doubt have earmarked their targets, and given 35-year-old Gerard Pique could leave the club, a centre-back is likely to be one of the priorities. Xavi will be keen to find the perfect partner for Eric Garcia, despite having Uruguayan Ronald Araujo in his ranks.

A left-back is also on the agenda, a player who is able to challenge Jordi Alba, 33, for a place in the starting XI. A few names have been linked; Javi Galan of Celta Vigo, Benfica’s Alejandro Grimaldo, and Marcos Alonso of Chelsea, the latter being the preferred choice as it stands.

Barca do have youngster Alejandro Balde in their ranks, but the 18-year-old highly rated full-back is still in his period of development and seen as one for the future.

In terms of midfield, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva is an option, should De Jong leave for Manchester United, and it is believed Pep Guardiola will not stand in the Portugal international’s way, should he feel his time at the Etihad is over.

The Catalans have already moved swiftly by bringing in Pablo Torre, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder, who can also play as a winger from Racing Santander, beating Real Madrid to his signature. It is believed the player decided on a move to the Camp Nou, due to Xavi’s principals of giving youngsters the chance to shine.

La Liga top scorers and most assists 2021/22

Barca are also set to bolster their forward options. A move for Bayern Munich rebel Robert Lewandowski looks likely, with the player keen on a move to Spain.

The Bundesliga champions remain adamant their Poland international will honour his contract with the German club and remain the team's striker until June 30, 2023, but the forward has already stated publicly that his time at the Allianz Arena is over and he wants to join Barcelona.

According to a report from Sky Germany, Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic travelled to the striker's holiday home in Mallorca to persuade him to change his mind – but he ultimately failed in his attempts to do so.

Xavi and Barca are waiting in the wings, and signing the striker – who has netted 50 goals in 46 games for Bayern last season, and scored 344 goals in 375 matches during his eight-year stay – would be a huge coup. Even more so given Real failed in their attempts to lure Kylian Mbappe to the Spanish capital from PSG most recently.

If Barca get their summer transfers right, and Xavi is able to bring in the players he wants, the club could well get back to challenging Real sooner than many think.

They may also end up beating Real to the La Liga title next season - which would be a huge achievement for the club given their woes and recent problems on and off the pitch.

It seems as though Xavi could be the man to guide Barca back to the top after all, and maybe he can end up toppling Madrid to the domestic crown next campaign.

Updated: June 23, 2022, 7:45 AM