Over the course of the 2020/21 season, Ronald Koeman has seen his centre-halves fall quicker than skittles in a bowling game. And that is not just a reference to the numerous injuries the backline has suffered, but the flailing form of Barcelona’s defenders.
Game after game, one of Gerard Piqué or Clément Lenglet is at the helm of a mistake that costs the club three points. This began from the second game of the season, when Lenglet picked up a red card against Celta de Vigo. It hardly caused trouble for Barcelona but it was the start of a turmoil which has seen its defenders accumulate one error at the very least in every game.
It has not led to a goal for Barcelona on every occasion, but it sure has been the reason for several raised eyebrows. And if the errors were an issue, an injury plague in the middle of the season hit the team like a truck, which at one point left them with just one fit central defender in the form of Lenglet. Fans knew, however, that this may be a short-term solution as they had Eric Garcia to look forward to in the winter.
Garcia has been linked with the club since the summer of 2020, with a move looking inevitable during that time. In fact, he is one step one away from receiving the elusive ‘here we go’ from Fabrizio Romano.
After the transfer failed to go through during that time after the two parties kept knocking foreheads over the price tag. Now it seems like Manchester City have let go of their hopes of getting Garcia to sign a new contract, with his current one expiring in June 2021, and they would definitely be interested in letting the Spaniard leave the club, even if it is for a discount price.
That said, with Ronald Araújo coming into his own since his promotion to the first team, and Óscar Mingueza becoming an unlikely hero, a huge question stays afloat — do Barcelona really need Eric Garcia? Barça Universal assess the pros and cons of the transfer.
At only 19-years old, Eric García has already earned the trust of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. He has featured in 25 matches over the past two seasons and has often repaid Guardiola’s faith in him with his promising performances.
On December 1st, for example, he had a solid outing against FC Porto, helping City earn a clean sheet. In the match, García completed 94.6% of his 92 passes, with a progressive distance of 613 yards, he also had 12 successful pressures, one interception, and one tackle.
He has all the traits of a Barcelona centre-back, but that’s not surprising given he spent nine years with the club before moving to Manchester in 2017. García may not impress with his aerial prowess or physical attributes, but he plays beyond his years. This is showcased through his composure and tactical intelligence, as well as his comfortability on the ball.
He can read the game extremely well and is adept at intercepting the ball and breaking up attacking moves. This season he is averaging 1.27 interceptions per game, 0.55 blocks, and 1.27 tackles. Additionally, García has won 3.6 duels per 90 minutes this season, further boasting of his defensive skill and intelligence.
The Spaniard is completing 93.9% of his passes this season and leads City’s squad with the most progressive and total distance passing yards per game this season. His 7.45 passes into the final third per match are also fourth-best in the squad.
His comfortability with the ball at his feet make him a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola and the tactics he implements, choosing to play the ball out from the back. García also leads City this season with most progressive carrying distance per game at 210.5 yards, a stat measuring the total distance a player carries the ball at their feet towards the opposition goal.
“He’s so smart, so intelligent. His physicality is not so, so strong, but he resolves the situation by thinking. I like to work with smart people, intelligent people. He is one of them. I can count on him.”Pep Guardiola on Garcia | Pre-game press conference vs Dinamo Zagreb, 2019
Place in the squad
With Gerard Piqué out for what looks like could be the entire season — and not to mention at the tail end of his career —, Samuel Umtiti’s nagging injuries, and Clement Lenglet’s recent dip in form, Barça need more bodies in their backline. Although youngsters Ronald Araújo and Oscar Mingueza have impressed so far this season, it will barely hurt to have another centre-back, especially one who is so young and has so much potential.
García would provide even more competition for that position which can only bode well for the team. Also, if Koeman continues to implement his new formation incorporating three centre backs, it would help to have another option in García.
With Lenglet, Araújo, Mingueza, and García, Barça’s backline would be set for the next decade or so, barring any injuries or unforeseen circumstances. If Koeman opts for two centre-backs, Araújo and García could make a deadly duo as the Uruguayan’s physical prowess and raw tackling ability complement García’s anticipation and prowess on the ball.
The Spaniard’s composure and passing ability would help Barça continue building up from the back and maintaining dominance with possession. His tactical intelligence and maturity would make him a more than worthy addition to the squad, and his return to Barcelona would be welcomed by most. García wouldn’t join the Blaugrana as just a back-up defender, rather someone who can immediately help the first team.
Finances & Transfer Policy
Simply put, Barça must capitalize on the opportunity to buy a young and talented player with high potential for such a low price. García has turned down contract offers from Manchester City, which means he will become a free-agent in the summer against the wishes of his club. Owing to the same, Barcelona can negotiate his transfer back on a minimal fee, even though the Manchester outfit will not be too gloomy about him leaving for free given their mammoth finances.
Nevertheless, it’s likely that City reject any lowball offers from the Catalans and García can be signed for free in the summer instead. Barça can potentially afford to wait until the summer to sign him, given Araújo and Mingueza’s prominence, but it would still be more ideal to sign him next month.
In recent memory, Barça have struggled with overpaying for players in the transfer market as well as managing their wage bill, thus signing García would be a step in the right direction. At only 19, he’s talented enough to be a consistent starter and would not ask for outrageously high wages either.
Having spent nine years at the club, it seems like García would have no trouble fitting in. He knows the city and the club like the back of his hand, and he would fit in seamlessly with Barça’s crop of youngsters like Pedri, Ansu Fati, Sergiño Dest, Ronald Araújo, Riqui Puig, and Oscar Mingueza. Furthermore, his work ethic and maturity would allow him to learn from some of the best players in the world, like the player he’s been most often compared to – Gerard Piqué.
With the signing of Eric García, Barcelona’s defence would surely be solidified for the next decade and it would be a reassuring move for fans and the team alike. He fits a need and has the right tactical profile too. He’s one for the future as well as the present, and it feels only right for him to come home.
The Devil’s Advocate
By Udhav Arora
Listing a 19-year-old’s weaknesses would almost sound like nitpicking, but given how important a peg he can become in the Barcelona unit, Eric Garcia needs to be a defensive prodigy.
For the most part, centre-backs tend to peak very late in their careers; Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Giorgio Chiellini, among others saw their peaks, not before 27. However, as the tide turns, and playing careers seem to stretch longer, even centre-halves experience their peak early, often stretching longer as well. Case in point being Raphaël Varane.
Additionally, Europe has seen the rise of some defensive prodigies like never before; players who have already started to establish their names into the XIs of teams. Matthijs de Ligt leads this list, with players like Jules Koundé, Wesley Fofana, Pau Torres, Kurt Zouma not too far behind. Unfortunately, Garcia does not fall into the same category.
Standing at 5’11”, Garcia is not particularly tall, or very athletic, and right off the bat, the Spaniard’s inability to contest aerial duels becomes rather clear. Last season, where he stepped on the pitch 13 times in the Premier League, he won no more than 0.8 aerial duels per game at a success rate of 35%.
For further context, the man he is touted to replace — Gerard Piqué — won 3.7 aerial duels per game last season with a rate of 71%. His tally of 2.5/game (65%) this season, too, easily overshadows Garcia’s 0.7 (22%), albeit the latter boasting of a minuscule sample size.
Additionally, Garcia, for all his brilliance, cannot track runners to save his life. His poor marking has often led to trouble in paradise for Manchester City, with the most recent example being the game against Leicester City. Fair, even the best have trouble dealing with Jamie Vardy, but games against Olympique Lyonnais from last season and West Ham from this stand as a testament to the same.
Luckily, Garcia is quick off the ball and makes up the time lost quickly. That, however, is an unsustainable technique in modern football where defenders can barely keep up with the pace of forwards. He escaped the blame against Lyon, but could only do as much as fouling Vardy, resulting in a penalty.
Competition at Barcelona
Eric Garcia is barely the prodigy he is made out to be. At 19, however, he has a lot of time to work on all of these. The unfortunate two-part news is that he has not shown enough promise to warrant a place in the Barcelona squad based on his background as a La Masia graduate.
Furthermore, he is up against two of the strongest candidates in central defence to come through the Barça youth ranks since Gerard Pique himself. Ronald Araújo and Óscar Mingueza’s breakthrough season should not be taken lightly, at all, especially in context with Garcia.
Taking into account the City-starlet’s last season (because of sample size), compared to Mingueza and Araújo’s current season, both the Barcelona players attempt more pressures at 13.1 and 9.86 per 90 respectively when put against Garcia’s 8.41. They win a larger part of their pressures at well with 34.7% and 37.5% respectively, compared to Garcia’s 27%, who played in a much press-dominant system.
While Garcia is superior on the ball, especially in his ability to carry the ball out of the defence, the difference between him and Mingueza is no more than 34 yards (per 90). As for passing, Araújo has the edge over him in both seasons for long passes per game with 2.5 compared to his 2 from last season and 1.3 from this.
As it stands, Barcelona boast of three other centre-backs in the form of Piqué, Clément Lenglet, and Samuel Umtiti. Umtiti will likely be shipped out, leaving the team with one left-footed centre-back and three right-footed ones.
Given Barça’s habit of building from the back, a left-footed centre-back is a priority; the spot Lenglet has made his own. Barcelona should be in the market for a left-footed centre-half, instead because Araújo and Mingueza seem more than ready to take over the mantle from Piqué.
Eric Garcia’s return to Barcelona seems all but official as it stands. All it is missing is a here we go, and the official signature of the president who will take over administration late in January. His fit at the club, though, will be highly debated. Both sides of the coin weigh up quite strong argument, but as it stands, a defender with a high ceiling is returning to Barcelona, for free no less, so the financial stronghold on the deal certainly holds the gravitas over anything else.
Stats from FBRef/Sofascore/Whoscored