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The left-back issue at Barcelona: who should they sign?

Suhas Achanta

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Header Image by Jan Kruger via Getty Images

Freefall is a term that aptly describes the situation at Barça right now. Still, keeping the infamous issue with Lionel Messi aside, several holes require plugging. Clearly, the team’s full-backs are nowhere near good enough to remain regular starters for the club. Thus, in this piece we shall look at the left-back issue and the options that Barcelona must consider to sign.


For the time being, Barcelona’s left-backs are Jordi Alba and Junior Firpo. It is safe to say, though, that the former’s decline is visible and the latter is far from ready. In the azulgranas‘ painful hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich, they were heavily exposed on the flanks. Upon comparing the impact of Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich for Bayern with the uninspiring and weak performances from Jordi Alba and Nélson Semedo, it is clear that there must be a change. Alba was consistently caught out of position while Semedo was outclassed by Davies. 

Now, sticking to the left, Alba could still play valuable minutes, but he needs to be replaced in the XI before the new season starts. He has been an excellent servant for the club, with his trademark cutbacks into the box to Lionel Messi being Barça’s primary form of wing play for several years. Now, with the Argentine’s future pretty much in the air, even that tactic could no longer be in use. Furthermore, the opposition has actually begun to predict this strategy. Either by closing the spaces ahead of Messi or by obstructing Alba going forward, the rival sides have found a way to stop this connection.

Ultimately, there is a pressing need to move on from declining players. The 31-year-old is a shadow of his past self. He is not only being exposed at the back but is also now seemingly easy to handle when he pushes forward. Unfortunately, this campaign the reality of the Catalan outfit’s ageing squad was exploited massively. Indeed, Ronald Koeman has shown intentions to shift out those whose decline is evident. While several fans have gotten emotionally attached to numerous players across the years, everybody understands that the rebuild, albeit painful, is an absolute necessity.

While Jordi Alba will reportedly stay, he will need some serious competition for the starting spot. And so, there are two main options that the club seems to be looking at if they are serious about their intentions of rebuilding the team the fans once fell in love with:

Angeliño, Manchester City

23-year-old Angeliño has received enormous accolades for his performances during his loan at RB Leipzig. The Spaniard’s exuberant service and explosive pace complimented with Julian Nagelsmann’s ambitious attacking football. He was a perfect fit at left-back for the German side. Angeliño was a crucial part of Die Roten Bullen‘s extraordinary run in the Champions League, where they bowed out in the semi-finals. Now back at Manchester, there’s still a massive doubt over his future at the club.

The reason why the blaugranas should be all over this deal is primarily that Man City wants Messi. At this point, the rumours of the Argentine leaving Camp Nou are edging closer to the reality. Therefore, if president Josep Maria Bartomeu has any intentions of salvaging anything out of Messi’s potentially unprecedented departure, it’s to send him on Barça’s terms. The club has already refused to let go of the 33-year-old on a free. And so, asking the Citizens to include Angeliño in a player(s) swap plus cash deal is not a bad idea at all.

Angeliño has been impressing under Julian Nagelsmann in his loan at Leipzig in the second half of the 2019/20 season | Photo by Jan Woitas / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

Albeit just 23, Angeliño already has a wealth of experience in big games. He doesn’t appear to be the kind of individual who would crumble under pressure. Koeman should not only look at players with skill but also those who have the guts and mentality to thrive in intense situations. The footage of Jordi Alba weeping during half-time at Anfield last year has not really supported this cause.

Angeliño is a player who can not only play left-back but also as an advanced winger. His ability to beat the man in one-on-ones is something that Koeman could use a great deal of. Furthermore, he has immense stamina levels. He can run throughout the pitch for the entire 90 minutes and still have the energy to go again within days. There are a lot of boxes that he ticks. And since Messi’s situation appears to be inevitable, the board should at least look to resolve its positional issues.

Irrespective of whether Messi leaves or not, Angeliño is a player that the club must take a look at. He would be a smart and versatile acquisition that would solve several issues for the new manager.

José Luis Gayà, Valencia

Gayà is one of those players that every single football fan wants his team to have. For some reason, it is a surprise that no club has managed to lure him away from Valencia. The 25-year-old has bags of experience in the Spanish top flight and has been one of Los Ches‘ most consistent performers. He always puts in a good shift at left-back, is solid at the back and consistent when he goes forward.

Because Valencia – inexplicably – is in a bigger mess than Barcelona, this is another deal that could be achieved. The board has fallen out with a majority of the players and have put almost everyone up for sale. The likes of Dani Parejo, Rodrigo Moreno and Ferran Torres have already left on cheap deals. However, one of the only players who wasn’t put for sale is Gayà, which indicates how highly valued he is. There is no reason why the Spanish international wouldn’t push for a move to Barcelona if they approach to sign him.

Gayà is a tenacious but highly gifted and complete left-back | Photo by Ángel Martínez via Getty Images

With the departure of Parejo, Gayà could now be named as the club captain, which highlights his leadership skills. There is a pressing need for more leaders in Barça’s dressing room. Having graduated from Valencia’s academy, he progressively built his way up to the top. It’s only a matter of time before Luis Enrique chooses Gayà as his first-choice left-back for the Spanish national team. Gayà succeeding Jordi Alba at Barça would be something that the fans and the team would greatly appreciate.

Conclusion

As of now, despite slight rumours, there aren’t any signs that Barcelona are going to dip their feet in the transfer market for any of these two players. Koeman is still identifying the right targets, and the entire focus is on trying to miraculously keep Messi at the club. With the board’s attention on one of the most decisive events in the club’s history, it’s unlikely that they will sign players till they resolve it. Nevertheless, there will be a point when everybody reaches a logical conclusion to Messi’s saga, and that’s when they should learn from their mistakes.

Neither the fans nor the players are going to entertain the current business model and transfer policies. There must be a massive revamp in not only the squad but also in the policies that the board abides by. It’s going to take a lot of efforts from Bartomeu’s side to convince culés into believing Koeman’s project if they see their dearest player leave. And the starting point of the rebuild is to find players of the appropriate profile and fill the vulnerable positions.

There is no way that the unhappiness at Barcelona can be resolved within days. The club is going through an unexpected crisis, and the fans are revolting. The minimum the board can do to at least make Koeman’s job easier is by ensuring that they sign players who can immediately fit into the squad. Signing players like Semedo, Junior Firpo and Antoine Griezmann hasn’t gone too well for both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setién. The vast majority of Barcelona’s new acquisitions have taken a long period to settle into the club, while some haven’t even settled yet.

Still, both Angeliño and Gayà are players who could seamlessly integrate into the squad and get the ball rolling instantly. Is the board intelligent enough to pursue either of these two players? Only time will answer that question.

I started writing so that I could bridge the gap and pass time on days when there were no matches. But little did I know that writing about the beautiful game would amp up my love for it. I've always wanted to learn more, and share whatever insights I have on the game, to anyone, anywhere. The world stops for 90 minutes when your team plays, and that for me is very much true.

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    David W

    05/09/2020 at 13:35

    Either Angeliño or Gaya would be great. But, offloading the poor Roberto and getting Hateboer should be priority number one. I would even ship Coutinho off plus cash for Hateboer, that’s how good the Dutch RB is (and how awful Coutinho fits into the Barcelona lineup). Most important though is for Koeman to quit the tired 4-3-3 that has been leftover since the Neymar days. It’s time for more of a 4-4-2 (actually like a 2-3-3-1-1).

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Four candidates for the right-back spot at Barça are on the table

Anurag Agate

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Photo by CATHERINE IVILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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.

Hector Bellerin

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.

Sergino Dest

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.

Emerson Royal

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

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.

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