Barça Universal takes a look at three players Barcelona must offload in the winter transfer window in an attempt to make space for other signings.
Life under Ronald Koeman looks far from perfect at this point. He is still adamant on using his 4-2-3-1, which works sometimes, and not in other situations; the inclusion of Pedri and Ansu Fati has been encouraging, but he sends a completely different message with Riqui Puig and Carles Aleña.
Some of the problems at the club can be boiled down to tactical rigidity, while others are simply a case of a lack of personnel. For eg: Barcelona have four centre-backs, of which only two are currently fit. Moreover, the lack of a natural striker is visible, especially in games like Deportivo Alaves or Getafe, where the likes of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann can only do so much.
Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia have been on Barcelona’s wishlist for a while now. (Photo via Getty and Imago respectively)
Well, truth be told, neither of them is tailor-made for the club, not even Garcia who spent a majority of his life at La Masia. There are tactical twitches that Koeman may be forced to implement, and some difficult decisions he may have to take, in terms of who starts and who sits on the bench.
In both a propitious and ill-fated sense of nature, those might not be the biggest problems for Barcelona with the two players. The most magnanimous intricacy, in fact, is the financial situation at the club — what a shocker.
Barcelona must offload players in order to afford the duo — both of whom are expected to cost in the range of €10-15 million each. While reports of Ousmane Dembele leaving have hit the mud, Barça Universal suggests three players that the club should offload to pave the way for Garcia and Depay – and hopefully others.
1. Samuel Umtiti
At this point, talking about Samuel Umtiti seems like banging your head on the wall. Where to start, and where to end?
The French centre-back started life in fairy-tale fashion at Barça and quickly took over Javier Mascherano’s spot in the team. In fact, over the next two seasons, his growth was meteoric, ending the 2017/18 season as one of the best in the world in his position.
During the course of the season, though, Umtiti suffered a knee injury against Celta Vigo, which ruled him for several weeks. An operation would help him recover completely, but it would also hamper his chances of playing in the World Cup that summer. In hindsight, his decision to not get operated turned to be fruitful, as he lifted the World Cup with France.
Umtiti’s personal ambitions to win the World Cup paid off, limping his club career in the process. (Photo via Imago)
That knee, however, would go on to become the root of all of Umtiti’s troubles. Not only did he lose his place in the team to Clement Lenglet, his performances – the few of them, anyway – caused fans to lose faith in him.
Sure, he is making a recovery now, but is barely recognised by Ronald Koeman as part of the squad, and is below Ronald Araujo in the pecking order. The Frenchman wants to stay at Barça and fight for his place, but when and if Eric Garcia arrives, any hopes of him staying a fourth-choice will vanish, as well.
On ability alone, Umtiti is worth no less than €50 million. However, pertaining to his injury record, the club might have to accept a measly amount for him, and even that is generous. If push comes to shove, do not be surprised if the club terminates his contract to open room in the wage-bill.
Possible destinations: Olympique Lyonnais, Arsenal, Fiorentina, Paris Saint-Germain
2. Martin Braithwaite
Nobody, included Martin Braithwaite probably expected him to come to Barcelona and become a starter over the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi, or even Ousmane Dembele. He arrived as an emergency signing and has been used as a souvenir of the same.
His problems multiplied this season when Fransisco Trincao was signed and Ansu Fati was given a first-team number. The Dane has made no more than four appearances this season, clocking in a grand total of 44 minutes. In his less than 45 minutes of game time, Braithwaite has touched the ball a mere four times in total, which is less than ideal to say the very least.
There is only so much that can be said in defence of Martin Braithwaite. (Photo via Imago)
He might be given an extended run in the team following Fati’s injury, but Koeman clearly prefers having Memphis Depay among his ranks, and his ideas have been bolstered now more than ever. Moreover, reports suggest that the Dutchman is looking to give Konrad de la Fuente his breakout start in light of the injury.
Braithwaite is still 29, in peak fitness, and can quite comfortably contend for a spot for more mid-table clubs across the top four leagues, while fetching an easy €10-15 million for the club. His exit alone, in fact, can sponsor Depay’s transfer.
Possible destinations: West Ham, Real Betis, Crystal Palace, Lazio
Woah there. One mistake and the fanbase is ready to ship him? Well, of course not. Neto is a fantastic goalkeeper who made for a more-than-able deputy while Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was injured. His errors against Real Madrid and Deportivo Alaves, while costly, do not mean an awful lot for him in the grand scheme of things.
That said, however, like Jasper Cillessen, Neto is good enough to warrant a starting spot at many clubs across Europe. Not only is he a brilliant shot-stopper, but the Brazilian is an able passer. He averaged a passing accuracy of 86% in his six starts in the league.
At his best, the former Valencia shot-stopper made six saves against Madrid, including a sensational double save to consecutive Toni Kroos attempts. That performance has been one of the best Spain has seen this season.
Neto is fantastic; but could be sacrificed to road more transfers. (Photo via Imago)
While he has been great, his departure will not be significant enough to leave a gaping void. Inaki Peña and even Aranau Tenas – two La Masia stars are ready to take the wheel as backups, filling in for Ter Stegen in cup games, or when he is injured.
At 31, Neto probably has four more seasons left under his belt before he can call his time with the sport. His age and experience with top clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, and Valencia should help him leave for a respectful €8-10 million.
Possible Destinations: Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Real Sociedad
Copa Del Rey final: Forgetting El Clasico, Supercopa Final and more
What seemed very unlikely at one stage in Barcelona’s season is now just one game away from a trophy. Saturday sees Ronald Koeman’s men contest this season’s Copa del Rey final against a familiar foe in Marcelino and his Athletic Club side at the Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville, the scene of the Athletics’ manager’s most recent cup final triumph over the Catalan side.
The pair met in the Supercopa de España final back in January, with Athletic Club coming away from the tie as 3-2 winners after extra time. The defeat was a demoralising moment for Barça, as the Catalan side were just a minute away from victory until Asier Villalibre equalised.
Going into the final, Barcelona find themselves in another disheartening moment of the season after coming up short to bitter rivals Real Madrid in a 2-1 defeat in El Clasico, a result that could prove crucial in this season’s title race.
The potential of the season collapsing looms over the Catalan side, with doubt creeping into some of the players’ minds, with Jordi Alba being the first to express it.
Marcelino could not have asked for a better result to face Barcelona off the back of, as the Spaniard has a history of punishing dejected Barça sides. For Koeman’s men, the Clasico result must be swept aside because the manager in opposition dugout on Saturday provides a subtle reminder of what can happen if they fail to do so, the 18/19 season.
Forgetting El Clasico
“I don’t know, eh,” Jordi Alba’s words to Gerard Pique after Barcelona’s defeat to Real Madrid are simple, but those that know the place they are coming from know that they have the weight of fear and trauma behind them.
The conversation between the pair started with Pique stating “Relax, we will win [the cup final]” with the fullback replying “I don’t know, eh.” Unable to hear the centre back responds with “What?” before Barça’s fullback states again, “I don’t know [if we will win it].”
Alba’s doubt most likely casts back to the defeat in the Supercopa final, but in those words, “I don’t know” are the results of Anfield, the Valencia cup final, Bayern Munich and all the other setbacks the club have experienced in the last few seasons.
The 32-year-old knows the importance of El Clasico and the knock-on effect defeat can have in the weeks after, especially considering the importance of the latest chapter of the fixture.
Ronald Koeman cannot allow this psychological doubt to creep back into his team after doing phenomenally well to banish it over the last four months. There are positives to take from the weekend’s events, and it is here where the Dutchman can start to reaffirm the confidence shown throughout the Blaugranas’ 19 games unbeaten run.
Although the defeat was a setback in Barcelona’s pursuit of La Liga, focussing on the game itself, the difference between the sides was not that great.
It was a classic tale of two halves, with Real dominating the first with their counter attacks and Barça the second with their high positioning and possession. Koeman should find solace in the second-half performance, as his team came within the width of the crossbar of rescuing a point despite the added battle of monsoon-like conditions.
The match was somewhat ideal preparation for the final, as Athletic Club are also fantastic in transitions and are specifically very effective on both flanks of the pitch, areas of space that were exploited by Real. However, they are themselves in a sour spot, having already lost the Copa del Rey final 2020, against Real Sociedad, which was played no more than 2 weeks back.
Koeman will need to address this throughout the week, and it would not be a surprise if the Dutchman opted for four at the back for the cup final.
Another positive for Koeman is the timing of this cup final, as a result on each side of the coin could have an enormous effect on Barça’s season. Although defeat has the potential to ruin the Catalan sides season, there is no better way to bounce back from a defeat to Real Madrid than lifting a trophy, and it could be a springboard towards doing the double.
The problem for Koeman with addressing the doubts of Alba and others is not only the uncertainty left by the Clasico but the final of the Supercopa de España as well.
Expelling the Memories of the Supercopa Final
January seems a lifetime ago in terms of how Ronald Koeman’s team has developed over the months since. The formation has changed, Barcelona started winning big games, and a winning mentality has been firmly instilled in the squad. The Catalan club as a whole are moving in the right direction, and winning a trophy will somewhat symbolise this.
The Copa del Rey final will be the fourth time this season Barca have faced Athletic Club, winning two out of the three previous meetings.
Despite this, it is that single loss that has the potential to cause problems in the minds of the players on Saturday. The final of the Supercopa de España was the match that got away and reminded everyone in the squad of the embarrassing moments the club has experienced over the last three seasons.
Barça were one minute away from securing their first trophy since lifting La Liga in May 2019 until Asier Villalibre equalised to take the final to extra time. Iñaki William put Athletic Club’s name on the trophy with a wonderful strike leaving Koeman’s men dejected.
Jordi Alba’s doubts regarding this season’s Copa del Rey final most likely stems from this game, and if the full-back is thinking this way, there could be others as well.
Going into the final, Koeman must focus on the two wins the Catalan side have had over Marcelino’s men. The last time the sides met, Barcelona won the match 2-1 at the Camp Nou and performed brilliantly with the scoreline flattering the Basque side. Barca exploited Athletic Club on the wings and created multiple chances to score goals, with the winner coming from an Oscar Mingueza cross down the right.
Koeman can also turn to Athletic Club’s form for inspiration, with the Basque side winning only 4 of their last 14 matches. Within this run was a defeat in last years edition of the Copa del Rey final, in which Marcelino’s side lost to local rivals Real Sociedad 1-0.
At present, Barcelona are a much better side than Athletic Club. Form, head-to-head meetings, and the quality of players all fall in the favour of the Catalan side but having mentioned all this doubt, and how Koeman can address it, the fact is that there might still be some thanks to a recent encounter with the Basque side’s manager Marcelino.
The Ghost of the 2019 Final
In the 18/19 season, a Lionel Messi inspired Barca side were charging towards an unexpected treble at the start of May. With the league already wrapped up, two fixtures stood out within the final month of the season, a trip to Liverpool and the Copa del Rey final.
On the 7th of May, the infamous night at Anfield occurred, where Barcelona let a 3-0 lead from the first leg slip and failed to reach the Champions League final. The experience was confidence shattering and was not ideal with the cup final around the corner.
The 2019 Copa del Rey final was contested between Barcelona, and a Marcelino led Valencia. The Southeastern outfit won the tie 2-1 thanks to two first-half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo. As a stand only fixture, there is nothing special about this tie. However, the significance of this final to current events lies in the weeks that lead up to the final.
In the 17 days between Anfield and Andalucía, that one match would consistently nag away at the Barca players. Gerard Pique recently called that night the worst defeat of his career and previously stated that he believed that if they won that night, they would have claimed the Copa del Rey as well.
Fast forward to now, and the similarities are present. Barça go into a cup final against a Marcelino led side after a disheartening defeat in an important El Clasico.
Luckily for Ronald Koeman, things are much different. The Dutchman’s team is certainly a better one who have been in fantastic form of late, the defeat in El Clasico did not end Barca’s hopes of winning La Liga, and despite Jordi Alba’s doubts, the player’s confidence will not have taken the same level of a confidence hit the Anfield defeat brought.
However, it is still a memory that remains and Marcelino will only remind them of that.
The 2021 Copa del Rey final is nicely poised for fans of Spanish football. For Barca fans, it will ultimately show whether this team has overcome their psychological traumas of the past. The signs in the previous rounds seem to suggest that they have, but with Barcelona, you never know.