The selection of Barça’s first eleven isn’t all that complicated if everyone’s healthy. Rarely on a team as talented and full of quality as Barcelona is any position really in doubt. The team is stacked from top to bottom, with depth that wasn’t present last season. In this respect, the team is probably better than it was last year.
There’s a big difference between this team and last year’s, though. Dani Alves, the first choice right back for years, has left to join Juventus, leaving a hole at right back and a conundrum for Luis Enrique and the coaching staff. While they bought good new players, they didn’t buy a right back. Alves is a player that can never be replaced, but Aleix Vidal and Sergi Roberto are the choices at Barça’s disposal, and while the right back position might come more naturally to Vidal, there is a better option.
Vidal, while fluent in attack, has sometimes looked lost and slow defensively. While it has only been preseason, he hasn’t looked like a sort of defensive right back Barça need. He can do the offense part, but opponents, even if it is preseason, have found marvellous success attacking down his side.
Luis Enrique obviously feels the same way, according to numerous reports that say he’s had reservations playing Vidal at right back. Preseason was an unofficial test for Vidal, and he hasn’t looked that impressive. Promising plays would often die at his feet, and his passes and crosses left plenty to be desired. He struggles defensively and gets caught in bad positions often, opponents slipping balls in between him and the center backs and wreaking havoc.
A perfect example of this is Liverpool’s first goal versus Barça in their preseason defeat. The through ball went to Sadio Mané and Vidal was caught in no man’s land. Not in position to intercept the ball, defend the shot, or help Ter Stegen on the line, Liverpool scored the first of four.
Luis Enrique has spoken a lot about Sergi Roberto, too, saying “You need to be intelligent, in Sergi’s case it is extreme, as in the Bernabeu (last season) he played as a winger, he has also played as an interior midfielder, a defensive midfielder and right-back… You need to be in great physical shape, footballing awareness and quality.” He even went so far as to say he is “one of my favorites”.
Based on his play last year and this preseason, as well as the first game of La Liga, it isn’t hard to see why. He was quietly impressive in defense and offense in that one. He gave no ground to Betis and was always available for a pass to break the pressure. He combined wonderfully with Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitić several times. He had two assists, to Messi and Luis Suarez, and could have had more on dangerous balls into the box. Five chances created for a defender shows he’s capable of offensive production reminiscent of a player like Alves. He’s shown a real understanding on that right side, something Vidal just doesn’t have yet.
Roberto is also two years younger than Vidal, and has played the Barcelona style for longer. He has more sticking power in the side as well, as his versatility and being able to shift positions make him a more valuable asset right now. Roberto is also capable of the occasional magic trick, pulling off unexpected passes and great balls for assists, like this one to Suarez.
Vidal hasn’t shown that quality yet.
This isn’t a knock on Vidal, who is a fine player. It’s just been clearly shown so far that Sergi Roberto is the best choice going forward into the new season. Vidal might be under the same affliction that beset Arda Turan, who has been great this season after suffering the last. It simply takes time to become comfortable playing on this team, and Vidal might need more time. However, until he can prove to Luis Enrique and the rest of the staff that he’s good enough, Roberto is the first choice right back and the player that will give us the best chance to win this season.
There will never be another quite like Dani Alves, and it’s a shame he’s had to move on. But regardless of transfers, life goes on for teams, and sometimes tough decisions must be made. If we have to have a new right back, why not pick the best one we’ve got?