On Saturday night, the world got its first glimpse of Ronald Koeman’s plans for the squad. Meanwhile, multiple sources in the media have come out with their predicted ideal line-ups for the season. Is this line-up for Barcelona truly ideal, or is it yet another fantasy?
An eerie silence after a calamity is one amongst nature’s many fascinating paradigms. A sudden dilution of all the usual noises and distractions is often indicatory of a terrible event. And it was exactly what cules around the world was hoping for.
The tail-end of the 2019/20 season was nothing short of a calamity for FC Barcelona. The public humiliation in Lisbon had to be the final nail in the coffin. A couple of peaceful days just to sink in the reality of things was all that cules wanted. And as it turns out, it is exactly what they were denied. The chaos in the club has not left any breathing space. From the appointment of a new coach to the potential departure of our captain; the arrival of young talents to the chopping off of deadwood, the disarray has kept us on our toes.
Meanwhile, the new season is already upon us. New faces have graced the dressing room in the form of Fransisco Trincao, Pedri, and Miralem Pjanic. All eyes indeed are on the new manager: Ronald Koeman. The initial signs have been promising, but these ‘initial’ signs have seldom been a useful indicator. Amidst all the speculation of how Koeman plans to approach the season, various outlets including Mundo Deportivo and Sport have come out with predicted line-ups. The similarities in the line-ups proposed by both the media outlets are striking, with the only difference coming at the right-back position. How has the team changed from the collapse last month?
Undoubtedly, it is Marc Andre ter Stegen that retains the spot in between the sticks. The German shot-stopper had come under immense criticism after conceding 8 on that fateful night. However, there was never an ounce of doubt that he would lose his starting spot. His ball-playing ability coupled with quick reflexes makes him the perfect No.1 for Barcelona.
However, he faces close to 3 months out following his precautionary knee surgery last month. All eyes indeed will be on Neto, who also has a point to prove. It also presents a bright opportunity for Inaki Pena, who will feel closer to a starting spot than ever before.
Who would have thought that there would be absolutely no change in the defensive line going into the next season. Conceding 8 goals in 90 minutes doesn’t seem to be enough to convince the board of change. No arrivals, no departures and not even a backup reinforcement for any defensive position. The situation speaks volumes about the shambles the club finds itself in.
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At centre-back, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet hold on to their positions. Jordi Alba continues to be an undisputed starter with no real competition for his position. On the right side, Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto look equally poised to stake a claim on the starting role. Irrespective of the outcome, it does come as bad news. The right flank seems to be heading into another season in the same lifeless state.
The first department that boasts of some changes. With Koeman seemingly leaning to a 4-2-3-1, a double pivot od Frenkie de Jong and Miralem Pjanic has been proposed. The visible difference in the midfield is the absence of Sergio Busquets, who is said to have a minor role in Koeman’s plans.
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The Dutch manager has made it clear that Frenkie will be playing in his natural position, i.e immediately in front of the centre-backs. This will permit Pjanic to play in a slightly more advanced position. He has not been the greatest midfielder defensively, however his creative ability will provide Leo Messi with some breathing space. With Busquets on the bench to cover up for de Jong and the likes of Alena and Riqui Puig contesting with the Bosnian, the midfield seems to be in safe hands. This will undoubtedly be a season with a faster and more exuberant midfield.
Despite boasting of some of the biggest names in world football, the front line does not look to be in great shape. The biggest difference from last season comes in the form of the absence of Luis Suarez. Ousmane Dembele’s return and Trincao’s arrival provide the team with some much-needed width at the spearhead. However, that’s where the positives end.
The proposed idea of using Ansu Fati as a number nine does not appease to many. A rare and exciting profile that can be moulded into a world-class winger must not be converted into a poacher. No doubt he has a great eye for goal, however, the 17-year-old provides much more on the left-wing.
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The biggest conundrum up-front is accomodating Messi, Grieazmann and Coutinho in the same team. With all 3 players having similar niches, it seems to be an impossible task. Given that all 3 prefer to drift centrally, starting any of the 3 on the wing will render the flank lifeless. With such big names fighting for starting spots, where do the likes of Trincao and Pedri make the cut? Does Griezmann have what it takes to be a complete number 9? If so, who is chosen on the left flank: Dembele or Fati?
A lot of unanswered questions that only time will answer. The only given is that the predicted forward line will not be as straightforward as what the media outlets report. Be prepared for a whole lot of juggling and chaos. It may easily be half-season before there is a settled forward line.
This was supposed to be the season of changes, and it seems to be so. There have been considerable changes, however, there is still a sense of imbalance. The addition of Memphis Depay and Wijnaldum will add to the growing puzzle. If the predicted lineups are anything to go by, the inference seems straight forward. The team does have the resources to compete convincingly on all fronts. If starting positions are decided purely on merit, we are in for a treat. However if heavyweights influence or transfer fee tags decide team selection, it will be another long dreary ride.
3 Players Barcelona can sell to ease their financial burden
A debt of €1.173 billion, more than €700 million of which is short term, has sent FC Barcelona down a rabbit hole. The club’s gross mismanagement on both sporting as well as financial levels is no longer a secret. The former board of directors, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu has consistently spent inordinate amounts of money on ludicrous signings. Most of which have come to bite the club back.
Now, they find themselves in a stickier situation than ever, with an astronomically high wage bill and multiple liabilities to clubs across Europe for signings. In addition, Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona hangs in the balance. If the club are to conduct any business whatsoever, it will have to begin by offloading a few players.
After Ronald Koeman arrived at the club following the disastrous end to the 2019-20 season, a few key names have already been sold. As the initiation of a rebuilding process, Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo, and Ivan Rakitic were all sold. However, these departures have hardly put a dent in Barcelona’s debt.
That being said, Barça Universal takes a look at three potential sales that might help the club with their finances. Players who may not be key parts of the sporting project long term and whose departures will allow for some breathing room in the wage structure, and allow Barcelona to sign a huge talent such as Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland.
It would be a rather disappointing conclusion to what was potentially a wonderful signing. Samuel Umtiti, after signing for Barcelona, was rapidly rising up the ranks as one of the world’s best centre-backs. After his move from Lyon in 2016, he was flying high and quickly displayed why he staked a claim into the Blaugrana’s starting lineup.
But the Frenchman’s fairytale would come to an abrupt halt. After a fantastic second season with Barcelona, Umtiti suffered an injury to his left knee in 2018, just a month before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The defender risked himself to represent his nation, and it ended up being a positive decision as France lifted the coveted prize with Umtiti as one of the key players. He decided not to have surgery as he felt it would worsen his issues.
Ever since then, despite his initial impressions, the injury woes have persisted and have led to many complications. Recurring issues with his meniscus, followed by foot injuries and many other issues, led to a massive decline in form and physicality. The centre-back was never really able to return to his brilliant best. While coach Ronald Koeman does favour the Frenchman, he is definitely not a consistently reliable presence at the back anymore.
Umtiti’s current deal with Barcelona expires in 2023, and given that he is 27 years old may work in favour of the club. He is not too old, and while he is injury-free, he could fetch Barcelona at least some money. The World Cup winner at his best is a fine player, but given the current circumstances, Barcelona can no longer afford to leave things up to chance.
Philippe Coutinho came to Spain with tremendous promise for the fans, backed up by a huge smile on his face. He was genuinely happy to be where he was. His dream of playing for Barcelona was finally a reality. But that optimism sadly did not last far too long.
The midfielder slowed down tremendously in his first full season with the Catalans. He looked out of sorts and lost in strange and unfamiliar systems. When he arrived in January of 2018 from Liverpool, he became Barcelona’s most expensive signing of all time for over €140 million. After two bad seasons and a loan spell at Bayern Munich, he was finally beginning to show small signs of promise under Ronald Koeman this term.
However, the Brazilian has also been sidelined due to a lengthy injury this season, which has extended into worse news. In addition to that, Liverpool are reportedly one of the clubs that Barcelona still owe money to in variables for Coutinho’s transfer. They will be keen on avoiding any more liabilities. And since Coutinho has obviously not come anywhere close to providing a return on Barcelona’s investment in him, his time at the club may be up.
He is also one of the highest earners in the squad, therefore selling him might be imperative.
The midfielder turned right-back has been a polarising figure in the Barcelona fans’ eyes for quite some time now. The 29-year-old’s current contract with Barcelona is set to run out next year and has a release clause of a massive €500 million. Roberto has made some amazing memories with the club, most prominently, his iconic goal against PSG in 2017’s famous ‘Remontada’.
However, since then he has been more or less showing that he is mostly just a utility player. The Spaniard has been unremarkable in a fair few games and has often made rather costly errors. Over time however, he had certainly become one of the heavyweights in the dressing room, which obviously reflects in his salary. This season, he has been struggling with a thigh injury, which he recovered from but then relapsed.
He was a valuable asset to have in the absence of a full fledged right-back who has the so-called ‘Barcelona DNA’. However, with the arrival of Sergino Dest, parting ways with Roberto makes sense from both sporting and financial perspectives.
While Roberto might not be among the players who have constantly underperformed but selling him might be a logical decision for Barcelona because as a player who can play in multiple positions across the pitch, and is in his theoretical prime, the Spaniard will be in demand. Football today requires for players to adapt in various positions and roles, and we have seen Roberto’s capability with the same.
Additionally, as one of the captains of the team, the La Masia graduate might be able to lease off a more than decent amount of cash. Several top teams in the market, including Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and PSG, among others, might be vouching for a right-back soon and could look towards Sergi Roberto.
However, there are also more players like Jordi Alba, Junior Firpo and Neto who could be smart sales. Alba has also been declining rapidly but his offensive output has not yet been replaced. Firpo is already linked to a move away to various clubs after failing to impress at Barcelona. In a nutshell, the Blaugrana certainly have options to sell, in order to continue the rebuild effectively. Easing the financial load by selling and eventually making way for more sensible transfers will be vital for this transitioning side.