Barcelona concluded the season by suffering a second humbling defeat in the space of a couple of weeks, following up their Champions League capitulation at Liverpool by losing the Copa del Rey final 2-1 against Valencia on Saturday night.
Even though they were comfortable winners of La Liga, finishing 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid and a record 19 points in front of arch-rivals Real Madrid, the two cup losses have hit hard and left manager Ernesto Valverde fighting to save his job.
Valverde has never been popular among the more idealist factions of Barca supporters, who believe he is too conservative and cautious to live up to the club’s high-minded expectations of flowing attacking play.
The team’s problems are by no means limited to the identity of the coach, with many members of an ageing starting XI looking past their best, and the ponderous performances against Liverpool and Valencia bore the look of a team in need of a serious shake-up from top to bottom.
Before Saturday’s cup final defeat, the club had been making strenuous efforts to display a show of unity, to the extent of media-shy skipper Lionel Messi granting his first press conference in more than four years to express his solidarity with Valverde.
But those rather forced attempts to portray a happy camp were smashed to pieces by the loss to Valencia, and a summer of upheaval could lie around the corner – even if Valverde avoids the axe.
Suarez enjoyed a decent enough season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions despite playing for lengthy spells with a knee injury which forced him to undergo surgery after the Anfield tie, sidelining him for Saturday’s cup final and jeopardising his place in Uruguay’s squad for the upcoming Copa America.
Not least due to his telepathic understanding and close friendship with Messi, Suarez remains an integral part of Barca’s attack. But he will turn 33 in January and the physical limitations which hampered him this season will surely only become more pronounced, so it’s unrealistic to expect Suarez to be more than an occasional starter and high-class impact sub.
The changes in midfield could be even more dramatic than the forward line, and it’s by no means unreasonable to suggest that none of the starters from the Anfield disintegration will continue to be first-choice selections next season.
Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Vidal are all in their thirties, and like Suarez they could be eased into supplementary roles next season. Rakitic might not even be there at all, with repeated rumours linking the Croatia international with a summer departure to Paris St-Germain, Manchester United or Inter Milan.
Completing the summer of change is Barca’s back four, which could soon feature another hot prospect from Amsterdam as the club continue their pursuit of precocious teen Matthijs de Ligt, another star of Ajax’s marvellous campaign.
If De Ligt’s services are secured, the door could be shown to Samuel Umtiti. The Frenchman lost his starter status after missing much of the season through injury, and he struggled to find form after regaining fitness. Umtiti remains an outstanding player, but his high salary could tempt Barca to part ways if a good offer is received.