Athletic Club hosted Barcelona at the gorgeous San Mames yesterday for the Copa del Rey round of 16. After a thrilling game lasting two hours, the hosts came out on top, just about, though a penalty from Iker Muniain in extra time.
The game exposed several gaping holes in the team yesterday, starting with left-back. Jordi Alba had a shocker of a 120 minutes, being at fault for two goals.
It also showed Barcelona’s inability to convert chances with Ferran Jutgla almost invisible in the centre-forward role. And while Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo had solid games, they do not have a reliable enough backup.
SPORT claim that Mateu Alemany is concerned that the club might not qualify for the Champions League next season and wants to reinforce the aforementioned three positions (left-back, centre-forward, centre-back) in January through loan deals.
The Blaugranas currently sit sixth in the league table, a point shy of the Champions League spots, but face tough competition from Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid, Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano, Villarreal, and Valencia, all of whom are separated by a mere eight points.
With Barcelona knocked out of the Copa del Rey and Super Cup, Europa League is the only viable silverware they can lift this season. Not only does it bring in an influx of revenue, but it also pushes the winners directly into the Champions League.
That will not happen without necessary upgrades in this transfer window, though. Let’s assess each situation carefully.
The Jordi Alba dilemma
Barcelona have been in the market for years, searching for a player who would compete with Alba and eventually take over his starting role. Exceptional players like Alex Grimaldo, Marc Cucurella, and Lucas Digne have all come and gone while the Spaniard enters his 10th year in the Catalan capital.
However, this time, Barça are without any sort of senior replacement for Alba. Alejandro Balde is not mature enough to cut into the role, while Xavi’s experiments with Clement Lenglet, Sergino Dest, and Oscar Mingueza have failed.
In the last month or so, Barça have been linked to a few names, with Nicolas Tagliafico on top of that list. The Argentine is reportedly available for €7 million in the winter; Ajax have ruled out a loan move.
Grimaldo and Manchester United’s Alex Telles have made the rounds as well. The former has a starting role at a struggling, while the latter’s importance continues to grow with Luke Shaw’s injuries.
Ferran Torres cannot lead this Barça alone
Ansu Fati walked off the pitch in the 96th minute yesternight, with reports claiming that he has suffered a relapse of his injury. He is expected to be out for two months, which is a massive blow for Barcelona.
On the flip side, Ferran Torres scored his first goal for the club in spectacular fashion, bending one into the top right corner.
With Memphis Depay not having a permanent role, Martin Braithwaite’s recent return from injury, and Ousmane Dembele probably being pushed to the stands, Barça desperately need another man to lead alongside Torres.
Edinson Cavani was thought of as an ideal addition, but Manchester United have ruled out any move for the former-PSG superstar in the winter.
Timo Werner, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Alvaro Morata, Anthony Martial, and even Bundesliga second-highest scorer Patrik Shick, among others, have found their names linked with a Camp Nou switch, with no concrete update on their situation.
Pique, Araujo, Garcia, Lenglet, Mingueza, Umtiti…and another CB?
Barcelona currently have six centre-backs on their payroll, with two of them (Eric Garcia, Samuel Umtiti) out for two months, at the very least. Further, Xavi evidently does not consider Oscar Mingueza a centre-back, using him to bolster the full-back slots.
That still leaves the team with Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo, and Clement Lenglet. While Pique and Araujo have been in great form, Lenglet’s (admittedly few) performances have been shaky.
Thus, it is barely surprising why Alemany wants another centre-back in the team. There are not a lot of players linked with a January move, but Barça could always pay a discounted price for the likes of Alessio Romagnoli or Matthias Ginter, both of whom become free agents in June.