Barça is making massive moves in the transfer market in terms of outgoings. The azulgranas have offloaded Ivan Rakitić, sending him back to Sevilla. While Lionel Messi’s transfer saga continues to shake the footballing world, there is a need for Ronald Koeman to bring in his type of players. One name that’s lingering around Barcelona is Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum.
29-year-old Georginio Wijnaldum played a crucial cog in Liverpool’s pursuit to their first-ever Premier League title in the modern era in the 2019/20 term. Still, what Barcelona fans remember him with is bitter memories, due to the brace he scored against them in the Champions League semi-finals at Anfield over a year ago. Today, the Dutch midfielder is tipped to be one of the names that new Barça coach Ronald Koeman has suggested to the board. With Ivan Rakitić having officially moved to Sevilla, and rumours of Arturo Vidal also heading the door, there are now two freed spots in the midfield.
While culés expect these spots to be filled up by La Masía graduates like Riqui Puig, Carles Aleñá and Monchu Rodríguez, the likelihood of this happening is less. Koeman wants to sign experienced footballers who not only have tactical know-how but are also strong-willed. It’s a no brainer that there is a pressing need for introducing players who have a winning mentality and don’t crack under pressure.
However, while the transfer window always leads to some bizarre rumours emerging, Wijnaldum’s situation at Liverpool adds fuel to the fire. He still hasn’t renewed his contract with the Scousers, as it expires in 2021. And, with the English outfit looking to sign former Barça man Thiago Alcântara, Wijnaldum’s links to the Camp Nou have strengthened.
Gini Wijnaldum has come a long way in his career as a footballer. Having spent the majority of his developing years in the Eredivisie, he moved to the Premier League in 2015, joining Newcastle United. He was one of the silver linings for the Magpies who were relegated in the 2015/16 season. At the end of the campaign, Liverpool were quick to snap him up, paying £23 million with a further £2 million in conditional add-ons. And since then, he hasn’t looked back.
Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool is not a team that depends on the midfield for creativity. The vast majority of the Reds’ creative output comes from the ever-pressing, ever-running full-backs. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are responsible for stretching the game wide and making overlaps to their wingers. The service into the box from these two has been sublime. Therefore, that’s the primary source of their chances.
Georginio Wijnaldum has been a key part of Liverpool’s most recent successes | Photo by Paul Ellis / AFP via Getty Images
And so, the midfield functionality is entirely different from most football teams. The trio of Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson is responsible for putting an endless shift in the middle of the park. They press heavily, closing down opposing midfielders and preventing them from having any time in building the attack. Klopp’s so-called Gegenpress works magically due to the midfield combination he has assembled. Amongst them, Wijnaldum is the underrated workhorse. His understanding with the other two midfielders allows that trio to be mobile in their ball retrieval tactics.
Wijnaldum is more of a box-to-box midfielder. He is an intelligent player who is always well-aware of what his manager expects from him. From winning the ball in the centre of the pitch to making late runs inside the opposition box, Gini‘s work rate is visible on the pitch. He never stops running and is always communicating with Henderson and helping the team out not only in defensive but offensive aspects as well. His unparalleled work rate is something that several coaches and players have spoken highly of.
Koeman working with the Dutchman in the national team must have allowed him to make a detailed assessment of his abilities. And this would explain why the new Barcelona boss wants to sign him.
What would Georginio Wijnaldum bring to Barcelona?
For starters, Wijnaldum is a more tactically astute and technically capable midfielder than the soon departing Arturo Vidal. We have seen the Chilean midfielder’s efforts in the centre of the park, where he aggressively closes opposing players down. Vidal’s work rate on the pitch has been appreciated by many fans. But on the contrary, he is deemed as reckless for the number of fouls he makes in the process.
Unlike Vidal, Wijnaldum has a more calming presence on the pitch. He is aware of when he should push forward, and when he should stay back. Furthermore, his chemistry with Frenkie de Jong for the Dutch national team would amplify the familiarity in the midfield. In addition to the defensive work, he is also aerially steadfast. He would provide a different dynamic to Barça’s set-piece tactics, and basically improve the mobility in the midfield.
Ronald Koeman seems willing to expand his Dutch Barcelona army | Photo by Maja Hitij / Bongarts via Getty Images
For years, Barcelona have refrained from feeding crosses into the box as they prefer to patiently play within the lines rather than forcing the issue. Sadly, the directness of their play needs to be high against sides who press heavily. It’s impossible to patiently build attacks versus teams like Bayern. The midfield shouldn’t only be positionally aesthetic but also be capable of quick transitions. Wijnaldum can find those passes that would urge the wingers to stretch the play wide and cause an advanced counter-attack.
There is a pressing need for Koeman to devise a Plan B for his team as the culés seem clueless when they have to approach the game differently. To have diverse tactical approaches, the coach should have players with diverse tactical profiles. Thus, even if Wijnaldum does not fit the profile of an ideal Barcelona midfielder, he wouldn’t be a terrible signing.
Why the deal is unlikely to happen
There is no way that Jürgen Klopp would be willing to let go of a player who has contributed enormously to the club’s success. Even though the links to Thiago have increased, Klopp wouldn’t want to lose a man like Wijnaldum as it’s challenging to find similar workhorses. Furthermore, from Barcelona’s point of view, this isn’t a player that would appeal to the fans. Having swapped Arthur Melo for Miralem Pjanić, the Bosnian is likely to join Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets to form a three-man midfield or in a double pivot.
“It’s all between us and the player, it’s all good at the moment. All fine. Gini looked very good in preseason, played a couple of good seasons for us. So that’s all I can say about that”
Jürgen Klopp on Wijnaldum’s future
Signing a 29-year-old who still has a lot to offer and is in his prime only to keep him on the bench might not be a feasible plan. Wijnaldum is probably at the best place for him as a footballer, and could even renew his contract in the following days. President Josep Maria Bartomeu and his fellow board members might not even grant permission to pursue Gini. As the board is in massive pressure to justify its performance, Wijnaldum might not a signing that would epitomise ambition.
Albeit the strong links, the chances of this deal going forward are less, at least at the moment. Any sensible associate to the club would be aware that the primary issue persists at the wider areas. Koeman can’t go into the season with the same full-backs and the same number of wingers. Even if the midfield is technically gifted, the entire team needs to be improved in a well-rounded manner. Wijnaldum is an excellent footballer. That said, he does not appear to be one that would immediately plug the tactical holes.
The midfield should be a position that the club looks at after signing full-backs and wingers. Fans would be massively excited if the board pushed to sign Sadio Mané instead of Wijnaldum. The Senegalese’s explosive wing play over the years has not gone unnoticed. If Lionel Messi leaves, they should invest whatever money they get from the deal to sign someone like Mané. A frontline of Ousmane Dembélé, Antoine Griezmann and Sadio Mané, for example, would be a statement to depict the dawn of a brand new Barcelona.
Regarding Georginio Wijnaldum, the transfer should not happen as it only complicates the midfield situation. Koeman should prefer integrating Riqui Puig into the first team while slowly giving new signing Pedri chances whenever possible. For now, the club does not appear to be working on any incomings until they resolve the most crucial issue they have in hand with Messi.
Four candidates for the right-back spot at Barça are on the table
The last few years have been quite disappointing from Barcelona for not only the fans, but also the board. In sporting scenarios as well as commercial, Barcelona are not where they want to be. As a club, FC Barcelona needs a lot of changes if not a huge rebuild. One of the positions which must be strengthened is the right-back role. Wih Nelson Semedo’s move to Wolves all but confirmed, a new right-back is more of a necessity than ever. In this article, we’ll go through and review the four main potential replacements for the Portuguese at right-back.
Though Sergi Roberto has played at right-back often, it’s not his natural position and that is apparent against tougher opponents. As much as watching a La Masia graduate like Sergi make it big is special, a better right-back is a necessity. The four main candidates that we will go over are Hector Bellerin, Sergino Dest, Max Aarons and Emerson Royal.
Bellerin is someone who once was a very promising youngster. His performances at La Masia caught Arsenal’s eyes and he moved to Arsenal in the summer of 2011. Since then, he has gone on to play 207 matches for the Gunners’ first team in all competitions. Tactically, Bellerin is a smart player. Something that is admirable about the 25-year-old is that he knows when and when to not commit himself to the tackle. This is somewhere he edges out Roberto. The latter is patient when defending but his judgment against dribblers is often lacking.
Photo by Will Oliver – Pool/Getty Images
Bellerin’s most characteristic trait is his pace. He is aware of this fact and uses it in tandem with spatial exploitation well. If he has a lot of space in front of him, which is often the case in Barcelona with Messi drifting inwards, Bellerin is a great asset to progress the ball. However, he does need space. Unlike Semedo, the Spaniard doesn’t operate as well in tight spaces. In terms of crossing Bellerin is quite average. His deliveries are often redundant which is the main drawback. However, the ex-La Masia player has good awareness and often pulls the ball back accurately.
Arsenal have reportedly agreed to sell Bellerin if an offer for £18m arrives. In Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Arsenal have a wing-back who could take over the right-back spot soon. For Barcelona, Bellerin would add a different profile in the dressing room, and with his outgoing nature and Spanish connection, fitting in would not be a problem as it often can be for English players at Barcelona. Though he isn’t the best positionally in the final-third and he does have a history with injuries, Bellerin could be a good signing for Barcelona. However, this does not necessarily mean that he would be the best signing from these four. This leads us to our next candidate.
Dest is someone that a huge number of Barcelona fans have always been drawn to. The void left by Dani Alves has not even come close to being filled. In Dest, Culés see a full-back of a similar mould.
Sergino Dest has the profile of an ideal Barcelona right-back. Positionally smart, pacey with good dribbling, and naturally good in attack, the Netherlands born right-back is a United States international who joined Ajax in 2019. At Ajax, Dest has been a reliable and impressive player. Playing 37 matches and 2,709 minutes, he has scored twice and assisted six goals.
Dest is an excellent dribbler. His pace combined with his quick feet means that he can play as a wing-back as well as a more defensive-minded full-back. He uses quick bursts as well as good combinational play to get past the opposition. Something that Barcelona have missed sorely is the excellent combinations between Leo Messi and Alves down the right. This allowed the team to safely, yet quickly progress the ball.
Photo via Imago
The American is able to cut in very efficiently as well which makes him a good choice for overlaps as well as underlaps. Tactically, Dest is very quick at decision making. When the right-central midfielder drifts wider, Dest drives into the space created though the centre. He is very comfortable receiving and playing in tight spaces, which is something that could immensely help Barcelona. The 19-year-old isn’t shy to cross often either, and he backs those crosses with a good delivery more often than not. In the final-third, he shows good visions. Often, he can be seen drifting in and playing a ball through the lines.
As of now, Barcelona and Bayern are the front-runners to sign Sergino. Sergino Dest is a very young player who is very impressive for his age. In Dest, Barcelona achieve two highly important things. Firstly, to acquire a young player who could be an integral part of the squad for years. Secondly, and more importantly, the Blaugrana would take a step in the right direction, towards the playing philosophies the club is based upon, and away from the recent loss of identity.
Eemrson broke into Brazilian football at Atletico Mineiro and accumulated a playtime of over 2,000 minutes. He captured the attention of Barcelona and along with Betis, the two clubs carried out a deal in which he is contracted to play for two seasons with Betis and then join Barcelona. As of now, he has played 43 matches for Betis, getting three goals and six assists in the process.
Emerson has been given a lot of freedom at Betis. With Nabil Fekir drifting inwards, Emerson has a lot of space to himself. He has taken this opportunity well and showcased his attacking ability superbly. He drives forward at every opportunity and shows an attacking mentality. His work rate is impressive, not only in attack but in defense as well. He covers a lot of ground in each match. His defending, however, is not polished. Though it is partly due to the numerous tactical problems Betis have faced under Rubi, this is still an aspect the Brazilian needs to improve upon.
Emerson has had problems with positioning and knowing which run to track with Betis’ system putting him against more than one opponent at times. His acceleration has helped him many times though. With his pace and work rate, Emerson does work relentlessly in defense.
Photo by Joaquin Corchero via Imago
At six feet, Emerson can also be a threat from set-pieces. His attacking contributions are still strong without this aspect. Excellent at linking with the attackers and with attacking versatility, the 21-year-old shows more promise in attack than in defense. Emerson hence won more fouls and had more touches in the opposition box than any other defender in the 2019/20 La Liga season.
Barcelona would be improving over Sergi Roberto with Emerson at right-back. For €12 million, Barcelona can sign Emerson from Betis through a clause in the contract. However, Barcelona might face problems in terms of defensive stability the same way they did with Semedo. Though Emerson is a very promising player, he must defensively improve significantly to warrant starting for FC Barcelona.
Max Aarons has had an incredible rise in the past few years. From being selected in the Men/s PFA Championship Team of the Year to becoming one of the most important players for Norwich next to only Tim Krul and Pukki, Aarons has gone from strength to strength. Now at 20 years of age, the English youngster is one of the most promising right-backs in the world.
Aarons is another player who has the kind of profile a Barcelona full-back should. His dribbling ability and pace is superb, he is positionally very mature and is solid in attack as well as defense. One of his characteristics are his runs down the right, with and without the ball. Aarons has an attacking mindset which is showcased through his constant attempts getting forward when possible. Aarons completes a lot of take-ons and he is impressive when driving forwards as he often does.
Photo by JULIAN FINNEY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Though he has a strong attacking style of play, he does not compromise in defense either. Aarons is very calm when defending. He has great awareness and he knows when to commit and when to not. With well-timed tackles and good judgement, the youngster gets the ball through pure tackling as well as interceptions often and efficiently. However, somewhere he struggles is in a 3v2 situation. He often leaves space between himself and the central-defender and makes the wrong decision when tracking his marker.
In attack, Aarons shows incredible ability as well as the potential to do much better. He is very good at choosing whether to whip the ball in, or to chip it, or to lay it off for a teammate in the final third. His attacking decision making is very mature for his age. Often, he combines with his teammates to get into the box and take a shot or pull the ball back. His shooting ability is surprisingly good. Considering the tight angles full-backs usually find themselves facing, accuracy and good decision making is a huge factor. Aarons shows he possesses a fair amount.
As of now, Aarons is linked with Barcelona but not heavily. One thing to consider when signing him apart from his abilities would be the problems English players have when fitting into Barcelona. Recently, Marcus McGuane and Louie Barry found it tough and we’re unable to progress at Barcelona. Though he may be a good choice for Barcelona, it seems unlikely that he will leave Norwich, especially for a club outside England. Regardless, Max Aarons is one of the most exciting right-backs in world football with a bright future ahead of him and one to keep an eye on. For Barcelona, Aarons seems like a very good fit on paper.