OGC Nice announced on Monday that they won’t be buying Moussa Wagué after his short loan, and his season comes to an end after just 8 matches and 377 minutes enjoyed.
At 21 years of age, what a footballer needs is to play. But this is the complete opposite to what has happened to Moussa Wagué. The Senegalese right-back was promoted to the Barcelona first team last summer, after three good La Liga games by the end of the previous season. At Barça B, under Pimienta, his adaptation coming from Belgium’s KAS Eupen had been satisfactory, and the board considered he was ready to make the step up. Indeed, Wagué has always shown maturity and a fairly complete skillset, in spite of certain limitations and not excelling in any particular facet.
In the summer of 2019 some optimistic fans, myself included, even predicted Moussa to battle with Semedo for a starting spot in Valverde’s side, due to the announced move of Sergi Roberto to midfield. But nothing could be further from the truth. In total, the youngster has only featured in 8 matches, with two different teams, this campaign. A campaign that has already finalised for him. 377 minutes played, with only 4 times playing the entire 90 minutes, and 4 more fixtures in which he got just cameo appearances off the bench. Let us hope that, at least, this has allowed Wagué to improve certain aspects, but the reality is that this has almost been a year lost for him. Three big factors have influenced this unfavourable outcome: Sergi Roberto’s switch back to right-back, the loan to Nice, and the unfortunate coronavirus outbreak.
Sergi Roberto’s move back to right-back had a collateral victim
During the 2019/20 preseason, Ernesto Valverde expressed his intention to move Sergi Roberto to his natural position, midfield. “Our idea is to use Sergi Roberto in midfield this season”, El Txingurri declared. While the midfield seemed overcrowded, Valverde’s tactics and plans had changed a bit for this new term: a desire to get closer to a more positional football, the aim to use more advanced midfielders, and Rakitić’s decreasing minutes. This was translated to the pitch when, in the final preseason friendly against Napoli and the opening La Liga clash at San Mamés, the midfield trio was formed by De Jong as the pivot, and Aleñá and Sergi Roberto as the interiors.
❛ I will play wherever Valverde says. What I want is to help the team ❜
Nonetheless, the poor initial results, despite an improvement in the style implemented, as well as Semedo’s fitness problems, saw Ernesto use Sergi as the main option to replace the Portuguese. Even with Nélson back, Valverde was again more convinced by Roberto’s performances. “The seasons start with you having one idea and the players start following that plan. But later, you have to make adjustments”, the manager said.
This step back in his original beliefs had some collateral damages, though. In particular, Wagué, who had been promoted to compete as Semedo’s back-up, now saw how he was relegated to being the third-choice right-back. When Semedo was injured, Sergi would play. When Sergi was injured, Semedo would play. There was little playtime left for him. Only when both were unavailable, which only happened against Leganés, did the African start. Apart from that, he only got one minute in a home game against Dortmund, and 90 minutes in the duel with Inter at San Siro once Barça were already qualified as table-toppers of their Champions League group.
An uninspiring loan to Nice
With so little minutes, it was obvious that a solution needed to be found for Wagué. A loan to the Ligue 1 seemed the most plausible option. So, in January 2020, he was loaned to OGC Nice. There he struggled to fully grasp the associative concepts of Patrick Vieira’s football, as he was somewhat erratic in his decision making. While he was just adapting, he only got 18 minutes in Les Aiglons‘ first five matches after his arrival. Nice had been interested in Wagué given that 23-year-old Youcef Atal was injured from December until April. Despite Atal had been transformed into a winger lately, fans still noticed a big difference between Youcef and Moussa.
Barça bought Moussa Wagué in 2018 after he became the youngest African to ever score in a World Cup | Photo by Donat Sorokin / TASS via Imago
That said, Wagué had played the full 90 minutes in the last two fixtures. He even delivered a surprisingly crucial assist against Monaco. The game was tied at 1–1 when, in the 93rd minute, the Senegalese delivered a low cross for Kasper Dolberg’s backheel goal. A 2–1 victory that saw Nice climb to the fifth position in the table. With the confirmation that the Ligue 1 will not resume after the coronavirus outbreak, Nice’s current fifth position will remain as it is. Therefore, Wagué’s assist will allow the Eaglets play in the Europa League next term, although the right-back won’t be with them anymore.
An early end of the season
When it looked like Wagué was finally establishing himself as Vieira’s starter, the coronavirus stopped everything. As the Ligue 1 season came to an end, Nice declared on Monday that they will not activate the €10 million purchase option they had on Moussa. The Barcelona loanee had neither disappointed nor stood out, and the French club have considered that it was not worth paying it.
This means that Wagué is free to return to Catalonia at present, but he won’t be able to play for the blaugranas in the remainder of the season since he was registered as a Nice player. For next course the board is already looking for an exit for the 21-year-old. Quique Setién does not seem to count on him, with the club being more interested in more established names like Cancelo. Barça will try to either sell Moussa, who was bought in 2018 for €5 million, or loan him out. What’s undeniable is that in the next campaign he should play many more minutes than the 377 of the current one.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.