Redesigning the bench

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Barça’s rocky season is finally over, with yet another historical league title and the club’s 28th Copa del Rey sealed to end this magnificent season with a double. And now that the season is over, football fans shift their attention to the summer segment of the beautiful game – the transfer window. And luckily, for the first time since the summer of 2014, Barça will have a transfer window open to all sorts of possibilities, which means transfers are inevitable.

This team has achieved impossible feats. In football however, you must adapt or perish – a lesson culés have learned well from post-Guardiola experiences. With so much silverware won and glory celebrated by this historical squad, we shouldn’t be deluded about its perfection. The flaws are in the details, or to be more precise, on the Barça bench. Come summer, the Barça train will carry its Gala XI towards the following season, whether the whole roster will catch that train is yet to be seen.

Between the posts, Barça finds itself as one of the luckiest clubs in Europe as they hold on to Chile’s world class goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who’s been very impressive the past two seasons, along with Macr-Andre ter Stegen, who, while still very impressive, has the potential to become something legendary. The German has been patient, and while he’s been Barça’s keeper in both European and Spanish cups, Luis Enrique cannot allow such a talent to walk out of the club without the opportunity to showcase his talents on a weekly basis in the league – which is something every goalkeeper requires, faith and consistency. If the coach manages to keep him with the same pecking order of play, that would be great. However, many European clubs will be on the hunt for young Marc, and if faith hasn’t been given to him yet, then who knows whom may lure the 24 year old away.

The right-back position has been dominated by Brazil’s now most decorated player ever – the one and only Dani Alves. And while I belong to the clan that knows there won’t be another player like him for many years to come, I still see the inevitable decline the Brazilian has been on. He’s still crucial to the team, which must be frightening since Barça still hasn’t found a genuinely dependable replacement for him. Aleix Vidal was supposed to be that replacement and while the Catalan has showcased some talent, he hasn’t been welcomed very well by either the coaching staff or by the fans. He’s okay, but Barça will never be pleased with just okay.

Sergi Roberto has proven to be a worthy candidate in that position, however, the gold-headed youngster has proven to be a success in almost every position he was slotted into. Actually, Sergi Roberto serves the team as the only capable and dependable ‘joker card’ on the bench deck. He’s been the surprise of the season, probably the most dependable man outside of the Gala XI. But this isn’t his natural position and many times this season Roberto’s services were needed a lot more in midfield or in attack rather than in defence. The point is, buying a right-back this summer is crucial to set up Barça’s brilliant future. So the number 20 might give us solutions for now, but these patch-work solutions cannot be held onto forever.

Alves’ contract is set to expire next season, with an additional year to be added if all goes well. But if the Catalan club can just look a little far into the future, a crisis seems to be looming near. The one player I see fitting beautifully into Barça’s fortress of talent is none other than the Catalan who flew away to London – Hector Bellerin. Sounds very Cesc-y, but I do not see any other right back at the moment who has the right talent and playing style that could easily fit in the team and even potentially match Alves’ legacy in the future. Not to mention his blistering speed that would match wonderfully with Alba on the other flank. However, Bellerin insisted many times that he’s happy at the North London club; which means if Barça were to lure him away, they must set him up as Alves’ direct successor. Not a rotation player or a dependable sub.

In defence, Barça holds five centre backs in a manner so unlike the post-Guardiolia Barça. However, out of the five players, Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano are still holding their positions in what seems like an inevitable partnership and ends all debates regarding El Jefecito. So as we take a look at the bench, we see Jérémy Mathieu (1263 mins played this season), Thomas Vermaelen (506 mins), and Marc Bartra (496 mins).

The Frenchman and his unhealthy habits have proved to be the most reliable of the three on the bench, despite the mistakes he often commits on the field. He stepped in during the Copa final and showed an immense amount of strength in character when Barça were down to 10 men. The Verminator is still yet to make any significant impact on the six or seven competitions he’s won due to injury and fitness issues, I’d recommend you visit this buying guide. Bartra on the other hand was left out most of the campaign, having pledged allegiance this time around last season when he decided to fight for his place. A year later nothing has changed – n fact, it may have become worse.

Taking executive decisions on this, Bartra serves the bench as the only “youngster” in his position, with the rest 30 years old or over.  Barça’s bench needs a young and hungry starlet in defence. The argument can be made that Luis Enrique hasn’t given him the opportunities he needed to grow, but the same could be said on his will to compete or fight for said spot. In all cases, I think Vermaelen has become a massive liability financially as he barely played either season, and selling him is a must. With Bartra however, the club needs to make a decision – sell him and buy someone young, cheap, and potentially great, which is hard to find nowadays; or, keep him another season to prove his credentials.

The left-back position also cries for assistance. Jordi Alba is the undisputed starter; at the age of 27, the speedster took on the role like it was fate calling him to fill it. His only back up though at the moment is Adriano Correia. The Brazilian will turn 32 later this year, and finds himself as one of the players with the least minutes played on the team. I admire Adriano, we’ll never forget these sprouts of awesome performances and golazos he’s brought to this team since Pep Guardiola picked him out of Sevilla.

Six years on, however, and Adriano found himself going from dependable substitute to the occasional appearance. Now, it’s clearer than ever that the Brazilian has no place in the team. With his contract set to expire in 2017, Adriano would do Barça a great service to remain until his contract runs out – and here’s why. While it’s clear that the coach doesn’t want him too involved nor does the player appreciate his limited degree of involvement, Barça will need to dig deep to find someone dependable to cover up for Alba whenever he needs to be rotated – as rare as that is. With Mathieu available, it’s a temporary solution during an ideal situation. Adriano is another solution in another more extreme situation. But until Jordi Alba begins to even slightly drive off the rails, Barça will either need to look at their own backyard or abroad to bring a suitable sub who’d be happy to play second-fiddle.

The midfield, although Barça’s main controversial area between the fans, is the most balanced in the squad – well, more or less. Sergio Busquets cannot be subbed at any point, and it’s becoming scary how dependable Barça has become to the slim man from Sabadell. Sergi Roberto is just about the only man culés feel a little comfortable watching him in that role, but the difference in impact is still clear to the naked eye. So it’s not really a matter of whether Busi needs a replacement or not, but about how Barça should do everything in their power to keep this man from leaving the Catalan capital. I haven’t watched Gumbau enough to judge his potential, but as the player develops, all we can do is wait.

Besides El Pulpo, Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic seem to be dominating well their respective positions, with Rafinha a good understudy. Arda Turan should’ve been that dependable substitute. This is where many might disagree, as the Turk is now the subject of much to blame in the team. Many already want him gone, and honestly I don’t blame them. I see their point, we could do better. But football politics work very differently from what logic suggests, and the signing that was supposed to replace the overly inflated Paul Pogba had excited many culés at the start of the season doesn’t seem so at the moment.

However, this is still a 40 million signing, with a man of much experience and talent – he too deserves the patience of at least another season, having only played since January this year, which is just too soon to adapt while the business-end of the season looms, especially in a club with a complicated game plan such as Barça. Bartomeu can either sell him for the good of the team and cause another never-ending cycle of rumours, along with the pure embarrassment from the socios and Laporta’s camp, or keep him for another season and see what the man from Istanbul is all about. But there’s also Denis Suárez in the Sevillan camp, waiting for his expected call back to join Barça once again – an alternative solution, not necessarily the best one.

And finally, we come to the most powerful front line in the history of the game. Two years on, and the goals are showering from left and right. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar Jr. should stay at Barça as long as their bodies allow them. They can’t be lured away because they won’t find a better destination than where they are now. However, they definitely need proper back up, and that just won’t happen with Munir and Sandro around.

The time’s up for these two, and whether Barça will try to keep one or the other is no longer the argument because they add almost nothing to the team. For those still standing by the young duo, the Copa final serves as the greatest indication of how much we can depend on either of the two. Lucho brought in Rafinha – who’s excellent to widen the game – instead of Munir when Suarez limped off the field. I can’t imagine what a long injury for either of the front three might do to this team without the proper back up.

What Barça needs to do, however, is pull kids from Santos a la the Neymar agreement. Yeah that’s right, the same contract every court’s been bitching about since the Brazilian’s arrival. Barça needs to use their clauses now more than ever. Gabriel Barbosa, also known as Gabigol, would be my best candidate to fully complement the MSN up front.

Gabigol is 19 at the moment with a pretty inflated price (12 million eruos according to Transfermarkt) that only seems to grow. This lad is skillful on the ball, quick on his feet, and above all, has a beautiful left foot for finishing off attacks. He can play almost anywhere up front, which means slotting him when resting one of the trident’s members can be counted on. He’s good with his head in the air, and surprisingly good at through balls as well. At his young age, he can learn much from the three up front, benefit from each and every one of them, and who knows, maybe develop a lethal partnership with Neymar later in the future. The only facts surrounding Gabi are that the longer we leave this skillful player alone, the higher his transfer price will be – and it won’t be long before a certain club that dresses in white come knocking for him too.

On Sunday, the boys went out to give their final bow in their horizontally striped blaugrana jerseys. And while we thought the Gala XI would be sufficient to take care of business, bad ref calls and tiring bodies almost brought down the team. To compare it with the 5-4 European Supercup final early in the season, we had Pedro Rodríguez to thank after coming on to score the winning goal. Barça are currently missing a player like that, which means Luis Enrique must use his first summer transfer window wisely to ensure that this historic team has the proper back up to keep on conquering every tournament it sets its eyes on.

On a side note, congratulations to every culé out there for this magical double, this was truly an epic season.

¡Visca elBarça!

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  • John-Reid Steenkamp

    Wonderful post

  • ForzaBarca Messi

    Excellent Post. I agree with most of what you said. Something is off with the Turan and Vidal signings, especially Vidal. Turan seems to slow down our game and his work rate is low. If he was slowing down the game and delivering sharp through balls like Xavi, that would be great. I even feel better watching Rafinha than him when we need to score. He just looks like another Sergio Roberto to me, timid and not very adventurous. Sandy, Munir, Ariano, Vermaleen needs to make way to strengthen the bench. A saw an article saying Turan is our worst player, but in my opinion that dishonor goes to Douglas…WTF did we buy him for? One must admit that Messi is not trying to be the point man anymore and an MSN Backup is sorely needed; in the cup final we almost lost both Suarez and Messi. Lucky for us Suarez got injured in the very last game of the season. Backups for Iniesta: Messi, Neymar. Backup for Alvez:None; Backup for Suarez:None. Neymar Backup:None; Busquets Backup:None; Alba Backup:None. Messi Backup:Don’t exist in life. So we need at least four players (including the Vermaleen Replacement).

  • Jay

    Echoing thoughts Ive shared multiple times previously-Great detailed observations which will benefit Barca if the new sporting director actually wants to improve Barca unlike Zubi(with all due respect)–
    GK–This season MATS becomes #1 with bravo as back up
    RB – We need a starter better than Alves. Montoya and Douglas need to be cast off.
    LB – We need a young LB who will take over from Alba eventually. Adriano needs to go.
    CB – Pique and Mathieu are the only ones to keep on. Bartra and Vermelean need to go and Masch should only play in midfield if we want to retain him
    Mid – Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquets are only starters. We need 1 world class attacking midfielder who can start. Roberto and Rafinha can continue as back ups. Bring Denis back and Samper should progress.
    Attack – World class. Let Sandro leave and buy a world class winger who can sub Neymar or Messi when need be.

    • Kneowell Anyanwu

      Sorry I don’t buy that MATS became number one, nothing points to that yet, secondly there is no starter better than Alves, he’s the best in the world in that position. Masch and pique partnership is the best we currently have so masch can still play defence, he’s become one of the best defenders in the game. Zubi was vindicated after last season’s treble cos his signings came through except for douglas and vermaleen (you’ll always find such cases in most clubs anyways) On other counts I agree tho.

  • Kneowell Anyanwu

    Sell douglas, vermaleen, adriano, sandro.
    Integrate turan and vidal more in the early stage of the season and let them find a niche in the system, they both have it in them. Give vidal more playing time, allow bellerin one more season in arsenal then bring him back, Alves is the best in his position and at the tail end of each season he proves to be indispensable that’s why he’s lasted there 8 seasons, though sometimes when he loses form most cules chant “sell, dispose, throwaway” but when he’s in form? No one can say that, even though he’s 33. It’s a tall order for anyone to fill in for Alves at his best, they’ll all struggle. Alba’s position is the one we need to declare a state of emergency for cos we suffer the most when he doesn’t play. We definitely need a reliable sub upfront. Iheanacho at man city isn’t a bad option, he’s got a very decent goals per minute played ratio, next to suarez and c. Ronaldo and he’s still very young.

  • Kato Bricks

    somebody did not like my comment huh
    atleast neymar signals allegiance..
    how much money is there to spend this window?

  • Eivind Niclasen

    If there is anything experts and fans agree on this summer, it´s that Barca will finally strengthen its bench and add more options. I personally don´t think that this is the time to splash everything on a single galactico signing. That has largely been the case over the last two transfer summers, so the club should think in terms of backups and understudies this time around. The back four, and attacking and central mids all need backups. The same goes for at least two of the MSN trident. The drop in quality, when a starter is subbed off for a bench player, is just too big.
    By selling Vermaelen, Bartra, Sandro, Adriano, Tello, Montoya and Masip the club should be able to finance at least two quality transfers. Nobody wants Douglas, so tear up his contract. I reckon that the new megadeal with Nike will partly be used to extend a few vital contracts (Busquets, Suarez, Rakitic, Neymar), but given its size, it should also allow for 3 or 4 new signings. I am not talking about a mass exodus, only getting rid of 5 or 6 deadwood players and replacing them with better ones. I am also convinced that it´s about time ter Stegen is given league games. He has spent two years at the club so far, and Bravo is 33 by now. Alves should stay for one more season, while Denis Suarez isn´t ready to come back and make an impact – yet.

  • Ayanfe Dada

    During this transfer window, Barca must buy 2 quality center backs, a left back and a 2 quality backup forwards that’ll support MSN

  • Ayanfe Dada

    also 2 quality backup forwards