In an interesting turn of events, Barcelona are reported to be pursuing another centre-back — on loan — apart from Eric Garcia for the winter transfer window. An experienced one, apparently, as Ronald Koeman wants to expand his squad depth in the defence in an attempt to rotate more.
As it stands, the Dutchman has the likes of Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Ronald Araujo, and Samuel Umtiti at his disposal. While Umtiti is yet to play this season, any pairing of the other three has failed to put up an impressive display in defence and is turning out to be Barcelona’s Achilles heel this season. Eric Garcia, still 19, can only add so much to the backline even if Barça are able to woo him in January.
According to reports floating around, there are three names that have come up for this spot, namely Shkodran Mustafi, Antonio Rudiger, and Joel Matip. All three of these players are experiences Premier League defenders, and all above the age of 27, with Rudiger the youngest, and yet only a couple of months older than Umtiti.
Unsurprisingly, Culés showed their dismay at hearing these names, which, truth be told, sound far from promising. Barça Universal now runs the rule on these three men in an attempt to see if anyone fits Koeman’s bill.
#3: Antonio Rudiger
Rudiger is far from the ideal solution for Barcelona at this point. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Inarguably the most underwhelming name on this small list, Rudiger finds himself in a tough spot at Chelsea after the arrival of Thiago Silva. The German has been pushed down the pecking order as the fourth, or even the fifth choice centre-back given his performances on the back of last season.
In the 20 games he played last season, Rudiger made one direct error that led to goal, and countless other mistakes that did not help an already frail Chelsea defence. Apart from that, the 27-year-old was only able to manage a handful of five clean sheets in that time.
Despite being 6’3″, Rudiger fails to add a solid defensive shield in the air for the team, even though his attacking headers are rather useful, especially if Barcelona play their set-pieces right. However, at the end of the day, the German is the worst option of the three, and should not be pursued.
#2. Shkodran Mustafi
Mustafi has improved, but is far from his best. (Photo by Shaun Botterill)
Mustafi arrived at Arsenal a World Cup winner and one of the best defenders in the La Liga with Valencia. However, as life took a sharp right, he quickly became the laughing stock of the Premier League. This was a result of several errors in the 2017/18 season, including multiple misplaced passes, runners untracked, headers uncontested among more.
Under Mikel Arteta, however, the German has enjoyed a redemption arc. He has become more reliable, and far from the shaky presence at the back he looked like earlier. His only two errors last season came in the first half of the season under Unai Emery.
That said, Mustafi probably does not make a cut at Barcelona, not over Ronald Araujo and Samuel Umtiti anyway. Ideally, he might end up becoming a fifth, or even a sixth choice in the heart of the defence.
On the flip side, though, he is a player Arteta is fond of, and given his return from injury, it looks rather impossible that Arsenal will let him leave, even on loan.
#1. Joel Matip
For all his defensive prowess, Matip has not been able to escape injuries. (Photo by JON SUPER/POOL/AFP)
Based on ability alone, Joel Matip is the only option in this list of three that is worth pursuing, and his experience in the Champions League, and the Premier League with Liverpool make him, at least in theory, the most reliable one, as well.
Standing at 6’4″, Matip wins most aerial balls that come his way, and is a wall at the back. Despite having a lean figure, he is quick off the ball, and is able to track runners in wide positions or centrally. Even though he played just nine games last season in the Prem, Matip conceded no more than seven fouls.
On the contrary, the Premier League winner comes with his own set of intricacies. One that involves injuries. He has missed 61 games since his arrival in England since 2016/17, including 20 games last season after sustaining a knee injury.
These are not recurring injuries, though, and are a result of the lack of a dependable medical team. Given Liverpool’s current injury crisis, one which involves all four of the first-choice backline sidelined, it seems next to impossible that they will allow Matip to leave.
Instead of looking for a veteran centre-back to bring on loan, Barcelona should shift their focus on Eric Garcia, who will become the fifth member at the core of the backline. If somehow five centre-back options are not enough for Ronald Koeman, the club should look to pursue a young option who is looking for minutes on the pitch, and has the hunger to prove himself, like William Saliba or Fikayo Tomori.
How should Barcelona lineup against Osasuna?
Four wins in four games. Barcelona are cruising in their Champions League group, as they do every year. A second-string Blaugrana side, one that did not feature any of the four captains, was enough to tear down Dynamo Kyiv. The game midweek was not just important for the result in the Champions League but so many players on an individual level.
Carles Alena bossed the midfield with impeccable accuracy. A promising debut from the underrated Oscar Mingueza, desperately needed minutes for Riqui Puig. A performance from Martin Braithwaite and Sergino Dest that found them in the UCL Team of the Week!
Yet, the season seems to be sinking. The league seems to have slipped away even before its midway point. Injuries continue to damage even the existing fine line of hope. The bleeding must stop, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.
What to expect from Osasuna?
Los Rojillos sit level with Barcelona on points, having played nine games so far to the Catalans’ eight. Three wins, two draws and four losses see them sit at 14th, just one place below the hosts.
Arrasate will hope to mirror his Camp Nou exploits from last season. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
The last time the two sides met at the Camp Nou was the only scar in Barcelona’s otherwise unbeaten home streak. It is a game that one remembers vividly. A last-minute goal from Kike Barja helped the visitors run away with three points, and put at end to Barcelona’s misery in the title race. If anything, it is a reason for Jagoba Arrasate to be enthusiastic for his return to the Catalan capital.
Arrasate has largely deployed a 4-4-2 for Osasuna this season, with Ante Budimir and Enric Gallego the usual starters in the attack. In defence, however, they have played a 5-3-2, echoing the side that played Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season.
Jon Moncayola has played as the deep midfielder, often slotting in between the centre-backs to assist in defensive responsibilities. One immediately associates Osasuna with their sturdy mid-block. They do not unnecessarily commit men forward for attack nor pressing.
Instead, Los Rojillos outnumber the opposition attack in their own half, and the five-man line leaves no spaces for the opposition to exploit. When this forces the attacking side to commit more men forward, Osasuna strike on the counter. In particular, advanced fullbacks easily fall prey to their ploys with large spaces left vacant behind them to be exploited.
Arrasate’s side thereafter looks to capitalise by their potent switches in play, and dangerous cutbacks from the wings. Indeed, it is a style of play that Barcelona have struggled to deal with in past years. With so many injuries in defence, it will be an uphill task for the Barcelona backline to hold off the rampant counters.
How should Barcelona line-up?
After being handed the captain’s band midweek, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be back in goal at the Camp Nou.
In defence, however, Koeman surely has his reasons to panic. Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto and Ronald Araujo are not available owing to injuries, and the Dutchman finds himself in a fix.
Frenkie is expected to start, even if it means playing as a centre-back. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
In central defence, Clement Lenglet will likely partner Frenkie de Jong. The dutch-protege enjoyed a day off on Tuesday as Koeman did not call his up to the squad. It will be a tricky pairing, but one tried and tested in recent weeks.
Given Sergi Roberto’s injury and Dest unlikely involvement in Sunday’s clash, Oscar Mingueza might start at Right-back. Unquestionably, it will be a new challenge for the youngster. Yet, not one beyond his capability.
At left-back, One expects Jordi Alba to return to his starting position after being rested against Kyiv.
Sergio Busquets is expected ahead of the clash, yet it may not be wise to let him start immediately. A performance like the one against Kyiv demands a follow up for Carles Alena. The La Masia graduate could start alongside Miralem Pjanic on the night.
The wingers will likely continue to be the same as the Champions League clash. Ousmane Dembele could get yet another start in his natural position-right wing. Pedri, whose stocks are rising by the day, could start on the left side in combination with Jordi Alba. The newly-turned 18-year-old’s vision and composure on the ball will be crucial to breakdown Osasuna’s air-tight defence.
As the no. 10, in between, the two wingers would likely be Lionel Messi. After getting a much-deserved rest against Kyiv, one hopes that the talisman finds his magic back. It has been a tough 48 hours for Leo, and he will be itching to put up a tribute performance in honour of his legendary national team icon — Diego Maradona
One can expect Messi to give a tribute to the late Diego Maradona today. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
In attack, Antoine Griezmann is the natural option after being rested in the last game. However, the Frenchman needs to up his game, because Martin Braithwaite is knocking at the doors as a potential starter as centre-forward.
Pedri · Messi · Dembele
Aleña · Pjanic
Alba · Lenglet · de Jong · Mingueza