Struggling with constant injuries and a glaring lack of form, can Samuel Umtiti finally return to his best when Barcelona need him most?
Barcelona just cannot seem to shake off their injury woes at the moment. The knee injury to Gerard Pique is a huge blow to the Catalans who are already having a very rocky season so far. With only one senior defender to turn to in Clement Lenglet, all eyes now turn to Samuel Umtiti.
The Frenchman has had a rough few years of late, with his knee problems constantly plaguing his form. The issues first began with the left knee back in May 2018, just a month before the World Cup in Russia. With the severity uncertain, he decided to risk it and played the tournament. It turned out to be a great decision at the time, as he was one of the cornerstones in Didier Deschamps’ France backline, who went on to lift the biggest trophy in world football.
However, the 27-year-old has constant trouble with the knee ever since. During the 2018/19 season, he was sidelined for almost 6 months due to recurring issues with his meniscus. After his first relapse in September of 2018, he was presented two options; undergo surgery or begin a conservative treatment plan in Qatar. Umtiti opted for the latter to ensure he would be back earlier. Alas, the knee is still causing major issues. The World Cup winner seems but a shadow of his former self.
The medics always have to be ready when Umtiti is on the pitch. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
Dire situation at Centerback
After his injury against Atletico Madrid, Pique seems set for a lengthy spell out on the sidelines. Reports suggest that he may be out for anywhere between 4-9 months after Barcelona confirmed that he sprained his knee and sustained partial damage to his ACL. The veteran defender’s absence not only is a huge miss for his ability but also due to injury issues with other centre-backs.
With Ronald Araujo also yet to return, Lenglet is the only senior centre-back fit for selection. With a wave of crucial matches coming up for the Blaugrana, the big question remains will Umtiti return soon? He has not played a single match for Barça since last season, but Ronald Koeman hopes to have him back soon.
“Hopefully Umtiti will be back with the team in a couple of weeks. His last game was last season, he’s been out for six or seven months and he needs time.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game Presser, Dynamo Kyiv
Until Umtiti and Araujo return, it looks like Oscar Mingueza will get more chances at the heart of the defence. An up-and-coming prospect, who can hopefully build on his performance against Dynamo Kyiv ahead of a congested schedule.
Scope for redemption?
Up until his injuries halted his progress, Umtiti was hotly tipped as one of the best central defenders in the world. The Frenchman’s aggressive but composed style of defending, brilliant reading of the game and assurance on the ball, made it seem as though he was set to be a key piece in Barça’s defence for years to come.
One of the best defenders in the world at a time, Umtiti’s fall has been heartbreaking. (Photo by David Ramos)
Lately, however, the drastically changing landscape at the club ad fitness issues have left a huge question mark hanging about the future of Umtiti at Barcelona. Amid the whirlwind of restructuring, it has seemed more likely that Umtiti may be on his way out. Over the past year, he has been constantly linked to moves away, especially to his former club Olympique Lyonnais.
Even so, it is up to the 27-year-old defender to prove he has a lot left to give. While he expressly stated that there are certain things he would have done differently during his recuperation, he also expressed his keen desire staying and succeeding at the club.
With the right attitude and some fortune, Samuel Umtiti can return to the Barcelona XI and be a huge asset. Given the club’s dismal financial situation and lack of defenders, he will definitely get a chance at redemption. And he deserves it to try and prove himself. But there is little doubt that if things don’t turn around soon, Umtiti’s days at the club are numbered.
The Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s only saving grace this season
With the league out of sight, and the Champions League a distant dream, the Copa del Rey could be the saving grace Barcelona are looking for this season.
As much as it wrenches a Culés‘ heart to see the club they once witnessed conquer Europe with all it’s might now look like a pale shadow of its former self, it’s also vital to come to terms with the fact that Barça are still in the process of recovery, patching their wounds while attempting to rediscover its former glory.
Winning the Champions League and La Liga will invariably be the main motive at a club as big as Barcelona. Still, for once, the chances of contending with Europe’s elite seems immensely slim, especially with the continuous spells of inconsistencies the Azulgranas have endured this season.
Woefully, the club have also made it a customary practice to flounder against relatively bigger oppositions, cracking under pressure in amateur fashion. It’s safe to assume these old habits will once again die hard.
It might be a little too late to kickstart a challenge for the league, as Atletico Madrid do not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the league and teams like Bayern Munich and Manchester City are always major forces to reckon with in the Champions League. Not to mention, last year’s finalists – PSG – await Barça in the round of 16, who will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack over the two legs. Having a shot against established sides in one of the club’s most vulnerable states does not seem plausible in the slightest.
However, despite the chances of winning the two big trophies looking ever so minuscule, the Copa Del Rey stands in solitude, waiting to reconcile with the team that has one way or another always found itself reclaiming this esteemed trophy as it habitually dresses in the Blaugrana colours at the end of the campaign.
Having been knocked out disgracefully in the Spanish Super Cup finals, the Copa del Rey may end up being a crucial source of silverware for the Catalan giants. The prize may not be as notable as the aforementioned competitions, yet it undeniably holds value and possesses the ability to save Barcelona’s turbulent season.
Albeit there’s no guaranteeing the road to success will be a stroll in the park for the Blaugranas, it’s apparent that the situation has been made considerably easier, as the fickle finger of fate blesses Barça’s fortunes with the shocking exits of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Additionally, the fact that Sevilla square up against Valencia and Real Betis lock horns with Real Sociedad implies that two prominent teams will be forced to bid farewell to the competition in the next round, making Barça’s road to the final substantially less complicated.
While the Copa Del Rey’s primary stages are typically utilized to award youngsters and players from the B team opportunities with the first team, Ronald Koeman understandably appears to be opting for his best players in the upcoming round of 16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, who sit at 4th place in the Segunda Division.
Owing to the fact that two of Spain’s biggest teams have already departed the competition indicates that there is simply no margin for error and seeing how even the underdogs cannot be underestimated, Barca must use this as a lesson to showcase their winning mentality, even against sides from the lower divisions.
“It is an important moment of the season, we are doing well away from home. We will put up a strong line-up tomorrow. We know that the Cup is the shortest way to win something.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game press conference
For a team that has basked in silverware and has reigned supreme on the big stage for years, it’s absolutely quintessential to get back to winning ways. After a season full of turmoil, the Copa Del Rey is the least Barça should salvage. With the context perfect for victory, the acclaimed Spanish Competition could very well be Barça’s saving grace this season, and possibly sow the seeds for success.
Of course, it is too soon to write Barça off in any competition yet, but if there’s one thing the club have proven time and time again, it is that they are still a serious work in progress. That said, the Copa Del Rey would be a respectable achievement for Barcelona during these troubling times. Although it may seem as if it is simply an acceptance of mediocrity, the cup would be a great stepping stone for the future, a chance to not only lift silverware again; but also to get into the habit of winning.