Fresh off the heels off a highly inconsistent season, one where we went from being massacred in Paris, to pulling off the unimaginable; from being decimated by Juve to winning a Clasico in the Bernabeu at the last moment. it became increasingly clear that though FC Barcelona still has one of the best XIs in world football, that issues arose whenever we as a team had to look past that XI and bring in squad players….
Picking up where we left off, the crux of the matter:
Midfield: Very Unsettled
FC Barcelona’s midfield has seen better times to say the least. It’s honestly unfair to the players to judge them too harshly on an individual basis. The midfield, the very cog of Barca, was reduced to shuttles- get the ball to MSN, they’ll do the rest. And truthfully, it worked, for a year and a half. But world football never remains stagnant, teams wised up and adjusted. World class players in Iniesta and Busquets went from being near to each other, creating players to being dragged out wide to cover for Messi/Neymar coming inside. By handing so much protagonism to MSN, Lucho’s team disintegrated, surviving on individual ability instead of the collective. A stronger, coherent system leads to a much stronger foundation for individuals to prosper, leading to a more effective team which Barca certainly was not this season. But I digress:
- Andres Iniesta
- Sergio Busquets
- Ivan Rakitic
- Andre Gomes
- Denis Suarez
- Arda Turan
- Sergi Roberto
At first glance, who would think this is our critical area? However, none of these players bar Iniesta, who adapted, is an orchestrator, a central midfielder, capable of dictating tempo and play of a game. As evidenced this season, Iniesta can no longer play more than a game a week, so he has to be preserved.
We have too many players of similar ‘box to box’ profiles (Rakitic, Rafinha, Sergi Roberto), one luxury player (Turan) and two signings that we still have yet to find the right position for (Denis and Andre). Valverde has a minor headache, he needs to reorganize the midfield, make it our strength again while ensuring the players get adequate playing time. Therefore, something’s got to give!
- Sell Arda Turan. Quite frankly, one of the worst buys this board has made. Nothing more than a luxury player without the discipline needed for a Barca midfielder. A bonafide Neymar backup for 40 million.
- Sign a creative CM. One to rotate with Iniesta ala Rakitic and Xavi in 2014- 2015. Current names being floated as rumours is the idealistic Veratti– amazing technique, vision, sets the tempo of a game and he’s a midget. What else do we need? But PSG of course does not need to sell so the board appears to be searching for a similar profile (but cheaper) in Seri. A diminutive midfielder who helped Nice to a 3rd place finish in Ligue 1.
- Determine Andre Gomes’ role for the club and stick to it. So far, his best performances have come at DM. He was signed to play CM but struggles when advanced. It was pointed out that at our peak, Xavi used to drop to orchestrate right next to Busquets. Since Busi is going nowhere, thought for Valverde?
- Recall Sergi Samper. Minutes show that he played essentially the same number of minutes at relegated Granada as Busquets missed this season. Where better to learn and grow as a player than at your parent club?
- Honestly, a difficult decision has to be made among these 4- Rakitic, Gomes, Denis and Rafinha. I believe at least one will end up leaving. Gomes and Denis didn’t have enough opportunity in a stable midfield to show their ability. Meanwhile, whenever Rafinha seems to come into form, he gets injured. It’s clear at this point that the board is afraid of another Alcantara loss which works in his favour as any other player would have been binned by now. Finally Rakitic, loyal servant to the club, sacrificed a lot of his play in order to keep the team’s shape and balance. Whether a result of these sacrifices or just his own limitations as a player, he just isn’t creative enough without a marauding fullback or winger ahead of him to help carry that responsibility. It’s a tough one.
- Let’s not forget that Aleña is most likely going to be promoted. Our midfield is stacked, and not necessarily in a good way. Our new manager needs to have a well sorted plan if we expect any progress.
Forward: Mostly Settled
MSN is MSN, a collection of 3 of the best forwards in the world. They want to play every minute of every game, which is unsustainable. One of the first things Valverde should do is get them to understand, especially Suarez, that there are matches they should not be needed in. Paco Alcacer was signed for 30m and only got a sustained run of games towards the end of the season (when Neymar/Suarez were suspended). For the good of the team, especially if Suarez keeps up this inconsistent form, they should be rotated like any other player. Which brings me to my purchase for the forward line:
- Bring in a right winger. It allows us more flexibility tactically while maintaining width. If Valverde chooses to play a 3-4-3 next season, with Leo at the 10, then a talented right winger with the ability to dribble past his markers and create has to be signed. At this moment, there are two options, purchase Deulofeu using our buy back clause for 12 million or go all in for Dembele. The issue is of course, attacking players are hesitant due to a lack of playing time with MSN on the squad. Dembele is one of those special talents though. It’d be a travesty if we push but don’t get him.
2. Choose between Paco Alcacer and Munir. Similar profiles, however Munir has a higher potential ceiling and should have never been loaned, especially to purchase Paco at that price. No fault of the player but Valverde is tasked with trimming the squad after so many purchases.
Most importantly, the board needs to settle on a project. Currently, several purchases have been made with the intentions of being back ups for a side with a thriving youth academy. Is the drop off in quality between Digne and Grimaldo that far off? Or Munir and Paco? With the move to build a new stadium, from this point, funds will be tight. Any players bought in should be a worthy but quality investment as the team will not have room to maneuver in the transfer market. A return to the use and growth of La Masia will foster the success of the club.
- Suggested Departures: Mathieu, Vermaelen, Arda Turan, Masip
- Suggested arrivals: RB (Semedo), CM- (Seri as Veratti is a very long shot) and RW (Deulofeu- if Dembele is impossible).
- Promotions/ Recalls from Loan: Marlon, Aleña, Samper, PalenciaP.S: For your sanity, ignore most rumours. It became clear last year that our Sporting Director is capable of making most of his moves in secret. Rumours about Andre Gomes literally came out 2 hours before he was officially signed. A lot of the noise made right now is Spanish based media trying to figure out what he’s up to. Nothing’s concrete, save yourself a headache and wait for official announcements.
Possible Line-Ups 2017/2018