Héctor Bellerín, former Barça academy player, is linked with a move back to his fellow club. But with a right-back position that has been lacking a certain kind of consistency and solidity since the departure of Dani Alves, is Bellerín what Barcelona really need or does he leave open the same holes Semedo has been suffering? Let’s analyse who Bellerín is and what can he bring to the blaugrana cause.
The three-times FA Cup and Community Shield winner, Héctor Bellerín, has come to a crossroad. After six years of first-team football in London, he might have felt the need to change. And Arsenal’s eternal crisis and lack of high competitive seasons may have something to do with it. Especially when you are a talented, young footballer that is reaching his peak years. But at the end of the day, it is all too relative to talk about motives for a divorce, since both the North London club and the Spanish player are taking the path back to the light, really slowly but effectively.
As Arsenal is beginning its journey back to success with Pep Guardiola’s alumni, Mikel Arteta, Bellerín came back from yet another series of injury that have, until now, compromised much of his career. Perhaps, taking aside those fitness issues, he may already have been in a big club and we would not even be talking about a potential transfer for him in this stage of his career.
Unfortunately for him, he has been heavily influenced by injuries throughout his whole professional life. After he had his breakthrough season with Arsenal, in the 2014/2015, nobody would have thought the unfortunate series of events that would have characterised him later on.
Up until 2018, Bellerín’s only fitness problems had been a couple of groin strains and ankle injuries, which resulted in a mere four weeks away from football in four years. As his talent was developing in what has always been a great place to play entertaining football, his body had always responded well to the Premier League’s workloads. Until the 2018/2019 season.
While that campaign opened with the same continuity he showed in the previous ones, the problems began to show their marks just before Christmas. In a league game against Southampton, Héctor Bellerín sprained his ankle. Nobody knew, but that was going to be the start of a new delicate, unfortunate era for the Spaniard. And after the return on the pitch, a month later, Bellerín’s knee couldn’t take it anymore. Against Chelsea, the tragedy came to a sad reality: cruciate ligament rupture, meaning the end of the season for the footballer and the beginning of a long ordeal.
Héctor Bellerín already was a strong option to sign for Barça in 2017 before they went for Nélson Semedo | Photo by Julian Finney via Getty Images
Beginning last season still as injured, he slowly recovered from the trauma, getting back to full fitness around late October 2019. But the lack of luck followed him furthermore. After a month of benches and a small number of minutes on the pitch, he got injured again. This time, hamstring. But will has never been an issue for Bellerín, as he eventually got back onto the pitch a month and a half later and felt enough trust and faith from Arteta, who rarely left him out of that starting eleven spot until the end of the course.
Héctor Bellerín’s career has been a journey. As much as he has always shown character and determination, he has always been one of the most talented players Arsenal has developed over the last decade. Offensive and aggressive on the pitch, his dynamism and speed form a phenomenal conjunction down the right-back side. But apart from physical aspects of his game, even his technical ability has shown improvements year after year, as he has registered 25 assists in his 205 appearances in a red shirt. Just imagine what some pure Barça style training could do to him and to his overall affinities.
He has always been a pure talent, but at the same the risk of getting another Nélson Semedo or Ousmane Dembélé is huge. What do I mean by that? Barcelona’s problems in the last few years have always been the defensive system. Not the defensive players, but the collective all together. How a team defends is the representations of a group’s effort, rather than the individual brilliance, which can help in moments but not in a long-term vision. And next to this very problem that has been afflicting Barça ever since Dani Alves’ departure is the fact that lots of players bought by the Catalan club have resulted in a false promise, due to technical misconceptions or injury addiction.
Without pushing too much against Semedo, the Bayern Munich game emphasised yet again how fundamental the full-back positions are in modern football. It is no surprise that Guardiola has spent a lot on those kinds of player: Danilo, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and joão Cancelo.
At the same time, it is just the same with the likes of Liverpool, who completely changed the way football is perceived through the wings and the quality brought by both Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Bayern Munich, who found in Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich the foundations of another complete and powerful wing work combo with Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry up down the line. Full-backs are the present and the future of football, both defensively and offensively, but especially tactically.
While Barcelona has never shown much interest in reinforcing those full-back positions – apart from Semedo –, football was evolving and the Catalan club has found itself in a blind spot. After many consider Nélson Semedo’s time has come to an end, the question on whether to begin to improve such a crucial yet difficult position to fill starts to arise. And without thinking too much of the similarities between the Portuguese international and Héctor Bellerín, Barça seems to be set in changing names, but not concepts.
Would Bellerín really be a big upgrade to Barcelona’s current options? | Photo by Naomi Baker via Getty Images
Bellerín can be extremely talented and exciting for both the future and the present, especially if he really ends up in a place like Barcelona, where he could refine his technical and offensive movements skills. But the doubts in whether his defensive work will ever improve to such heights will always be there, as Barcelona has shown not to care much about improving their full-backs¡ defensive positioning.
As much as Jordi Alba and Semedo can have excellent offensive movements and ball abilities, they have rarely shown improvements on the other end of the pitch. That is the risk that signing a player like Héctor Bellerín for Barça could bring. A talented full-back, but without a prior defensive foundational work behind him. And injury prone. Does Barcelona really need to make such a bet, again?
There are lots of opinions regarding this latest rumours on Bellerín. Many are against it for fitness reasons, many for footballing ones. Other are in favour because it would bring some new flavour to the Camp Nou. But there are really not many who think it would bring a bettering of the team.
As much as having such talented players on a Barça side should excite every football fan because of what Barcelona itself represents and its technical bible dictates, the only reason behind such a transfer would purely be of a renewal. Changing faces, bringing in some new players, rebuilding around new personalities. But even with a bargain deal in the region of €20 or 25 million, in many ways, Héctor Bellerín would bring to Barça the same features Semedo currently provides. Nothing better, nothing worse.
Three potential loan destinations for Riqui Puig
Barça Universal takes a closer look at three clubs who could latch-up fan-favourite Riqui Puig on loan this January as the youngster is in the hunt for more playing time.
For all the numerous rapid changes taking place in the world, there seems to be the one constant: Riqui Puig just can’t manage to get minutes under his belt. For all the hype built around the talented prodigy at the back end of last season, Ronald Koeman seems reluctant to budge.
Before the commencement of the season, the Dutchman asked Puig to go out on loan to get as many minutes of game time as possible. The youngster blatantly refused, confident that he would indeed get his chance to impress. Yet, more than two months into the season and the 21-year-old has only seen 11 minutes of action.
Undoubtedly, he is at the age where he needs continuous playing time to grow and develop as a footballer. There is a growing sentiment that going out on loan to continue playing and developing remains the best bet for Puig. Losing his permanently, though, would be a huge mistake. Barça Universal takes a look at three potential teams the youngster could go to in order to earn some much-needed playing time under his belt.
Nine games into the season and Unai Emery’s men find themselves trailing league leaders Real Sociedad just by the two points. Sitting proudly at second, the yellow submarines have had just the one loss so far, which came against Barcelona.
A glance at the Villareal midfield, however, provides interesting findings. Undoubtedly, Dani Parejo has been the leader in the middle of the park. Samuel Chukwueze, Gerard Moreno and Moi Gomes being the go-to options at wide midfield.
The chance to learn from Dani Parejo will be massive for Puig. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
However, apart from the 29-year-old duo Francis Coquelin and Manu Trigueros, the options seem feeble. On the occasions when Vincente Iborra has played, the team has operated in a 4-1-4-1. This too opens up another spot for a creative midfielder.
Though Villareal has averaged close to 60% possession this season, they have only scored ten goals from open play in nice games. With just over two big chances created per game, there is a need for a midfielder who can break the lines, yet fit into the plans Emery has for the club.
The midfield as a unit has failed to conjure up opportunities, reflected by the fact that the captain Mario Gaspar has created the most ‘big chances’ while playing out from the right-back position.
Riqui Puig could fill the holes in Unai Emery’s side. The youngster could comfortably slot into a role alongside Parejo and replace the likes of Coquelin or Trigueros. His high press and comfort on the ball make him an ideal candidate for the Yellow Submarines.
Additionally, Barcelona stands to gain too, with the player staying in the Spanish first division and gaining invaluable minutes. It would be a deal that works out well for the player too, as he would avoid the hassle of moving to a new country. Could this be a win-win?
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
The Leverkusen based side sit at fourth in the Bundesliga and are currently among the handful of unbeaten sides in the top five leagues. They play a similar style of possession-based, football, powered by swift attacks, much like Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. They play a very organized game in possession, with meaningful forward progression of the ball given paramount importance.
Peter Bosz’s fluid attacking style of football will easily accommodate Puig, even if the language barrier is problematic. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
Peter Bosz has exclusively fielded a 4-1-4-1 in the Bundesliga, but the 4-2-3-1 has come into the equation for the Europa League fixtures. The team aim to capitalise on short central passes by establishing a numerical superiority in the midfield and the halfspaces. Leverkusen requires its players to be tactically well versed with tremendous composure on the ball; something Puig possesses in spades.
Bosz has had to rotate among Florian Wirtz, Kerem Demirbay, and Nadiem Amiri as his creative midfielders. The departure of Kai Havertz to Chelsea has seen them lose a key component of their midfield creativity.
With €20M signing Exequiel Palacios not particularly impressing, and Paulinho out for several months after rupturing his ACL, taking in Riqui Puig on loan may prove to be a masterstroke,
The most unlikely of the three options, but the most glamorous and promising one. Manchester City has endured a tough start to the season, languishing six points behind league leaders Leicester. They have some of the most skilled midfielders, with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Rodri in their ranks.
Yet, there seems to be a void created by the departure of David Silva, which they have been unable to fill right now. City have been associated in recent years with ruthlessly thumping in goal after goal. Now, however, they stare at just nine goals from open play in seven encounters in the league.
Puig may not be a starter at Manchester City. Yet, even appearances off the bench would be an upgrade to his treatment at Barcelona. The idea of working with Pep Guardiola, who just signed a contract extension, and learning from some of the best in the business in de Bruyne would prove to be a tempting option for Puig. It is certainly the least likely of the three, yet the most exciting.
Learning from Pep Guardiola and Kevin de Bruyne, albeit on loan, is too enticing to pass up on for Puig if the chance ever arrives. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
At the age of 21, Riqui Puig cannot while away the key years of his development on the bench. It is heartbreaking that there seems no other option. Yet, given how firm Koeman seems on his decision, maybe a move-out, hopefully only on loan, would be in the best interest of both Barcelona and Riqui Puig.