"Know your enemy" is one of the oldest tenets of warfare. While football isn't quite live combat, the same idiom still applies; the more you know about your opposition, the more likely it is that you'll be able to find a way to defeat them.
Of course, we writers aren't involved in the actual game in any way, but we can still do what we can to arm ourselves with knowledge for our own betterment and understanding. With that in mind, we sat down with Arron Duckling of fellow SB Nation blog Barca Blaugranes and had a little question and answer session to learn more about this new Barcelona side.
The Siren's Song: Luis Enrique didn't exactly have the best of times as Roma's manager. How do you feel about his chances at finding success on a much bigger stage with Barcelona?
Barca Blaugranes: Absolutely, Lucho struggled to find his feet at Roma. Whether the move came a little too early for him, or whether there were other extenuating circumstances, I can't say but there were still a few bright moments in that spell. That heavy win against Inter, a good win against Udinese and even the away win in Naples; he learned from his mistakes and really thrived back in Spain at Celta Vigo, but of course there will always be doubts.
With such a talented squad at his disposal, we all know that Enrique will be under pressure to deliver immediate results. For me, the only question is which Luis Enrique have we signed? Is this the Luis Enrique we saw at Roma, or is this the Luis Enrique that captained Barça back in the early ‘00s? Early indications from preseason suggest the former, but with the likes of Messi et al to return, I'm hoping we will see the latter as the campaign progresses.
TSS: Barcelona has seen quite a few important players leave or retire this summer. Is this new-look Blaugrana side going to be able to keep up with the ever-advancing Real Madrid juggernaut, even with the additions of players like Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez?
BB: At face value, no. While we'll cope just fine without Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sánchez, losing both Carles Puyol and Victor Valdés in a single summer while Real strengthened with the signings of James, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas; well, it doesn't look promising. After all, players like Puyol and Valdés were leaders; thankfully we've managed to keep Xavi, but even so, it's like we've lost the backbone of our team.
Initially, I think we'll struggle to find our "identity" which may cost us some points early on, particularly if Xavi is benched, and while I have every faith that we can beat Real in a head-to-head, I struggle to see how we can keep up over the course of a 38 game season.
TSS: What differences can we expect to see in how Barcelona play? Will we be seeing more tiki-taka, or something different?
BB: Therein lies the problem, I don't think anyone really knows at this stage. Enrique hasn't been around for too long and sure, the indication may be that nothing is going to change, but who can really predict the impact that Luis Suarez will have on our style when he returns from his suspension? Equally, we've seen Lionel Messi's role develop and evolve in the past year or so, and getting the best out of Neymar will probably necessitate a tactical change too. However, this is still FC Barcelona, so whatever we see will still be grounded in those same basic principles of possession, movement and some variety on that classic 4-3-3.
TSS: Among Barcelona's new signings this summer, who's going to be the most important to Barcelona's success?
BB: Overall, it's hard to look past Luis Suarez. He might not be the most popular player around, but there's no doubting his talent and the quality that he will bring to the team. In so far as scoring goals, and probably even grabbing assists, Suarez will be that catalyst from the summer signings, but behind the scenes I think Ivan Rakitić is potentially just as, if not more important. Xavi in my eyes at least, is timeless, but he can't play 50+ games a season anymore. Therefore, it will be pivotal that Rakitić can really settle into the Barça style of play as quickly and as seamlessly as possible to ensure some sort of consistency in that midfield which is where Barcelona's true strength lies.
TSS: If you could take one and only one Napoli player in to Barcelona's squad, who would it be and why?
BB: Great question...of course, Barça were linked with Gonzalo Higuain earlier in the summer, but after Suarez' arrival, there's no real need for further attacking reinforcements and there's a number of midfielders that take my eye, but they would only serve to improve the depth of the squad...
So, in terms of picking a player that could challenge for a first team role, I would have to go with Christian Maggio. I've been a big fan of his for a long time now and with Dani Alves undecided on his future, I think Maggio, despite his age, would be an excellent addition on the right-side of defense.
TSS: And what are your predictions for tonight?
BB: If I'm being optimistic, I would go for a score draw, but really, I can't see how Napoli wouldn't emerge victorious if both teams made full use of their squad. After a cagey first-half, I think we'll see a one or two goal Napoli victory.
A fascinating chat, all told. We returned the favor and answered some of their questions as well, so head over there to see what we said!