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Three reasons why Barcelona should not retain Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo

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Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

At the start of 2023/24, Barcelona desperately sought quality reinforcements in both attack and the backline after a chaotic start to their title defence.

Thankfully, in the dying embers of the summer transfer market, Joan Laporta was able to pull some favours and sign the two ‘Joaos’- Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix on loan, from Manchester City and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Two talented footballers, devoid of trust and faith shown by their clubs, the duo found solace at the club of their dreams.

Initially, it seemed like a smart piece of business by Barcelona. With Cancelo, the team had an established right-back for the first time since Dani Alves. Even though a tad fragile defensively, he was a treat to watch with his marauding attacking movement.

The same can be said about Felix. He fit in perfectly as a more offensive option on the left of Xavi’s four-man midfield, turning defence into attack in an instant and combining with devastating effect with Robert Lewandowski up front.

Their incredible impact was on full display during Barcelona’s five-star performance against Royal Antwerp in the first match of their Champions League campaign.

Having cashed in on their motivation and burning desire to resurrect their careers, talks even began with their respective parent clubs to extend the stay of the two Portuguese internationals beyond the season.

However, fast forward to this day, the ‘Joaos’ are not guaranteed to continue at the club. The long and gruelling season endured by Barcelona brought out their inefficiencies for all to see. Some proved to be extremely costly too.

While an argument could be made for Cancelo and Felix to have done their bit in proportion to the ‘low-cost, reasonable reward’ nature of their transfer, there are reasons to believe the club seems better off without the duo.

Defensive Fragility

It’s no secret that Cancelo and Felix are two of the most talented players in their positions. However, as Barcelona found out this season, for all their attacking exploits, they proved to exert a heavy strain on the team’s defensive manoeuvres in their own frustrating ways.

Defensively vulnerable. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Cancelo, who is known for his amazing influence and a creative outlet for the team in attack, especially for a right-back, often forgets he is a member of the backline too.

An incredible threat going forward, the versatile right-back, who had been deployed on the left flank too to compensate for Alejandro Balde’s injury, showed his lack of defensive awareness throughout the season.

Cancelo walked into a backline with arguably the best defensive performance across Europe in 2022/23 with Xavi’s BACK (Balde-Araujo-Christensen-Kounde). Instead of building on that foundation, he contributed massively to its decline.

A safer bet in one-on-one situations, it is his passive defending that is found wanting more often than not. Unable to deal with simple crosses into the box or track the runs of his counterpart, Cancelo was found wanting on several occasions.

Not to forget, that while his forays into the final third compensate for his defending, his laxity has cost the team dearly in the most important games of the season, against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League Quarter-Finals and Real Madrid in La Liga.

Even Felix is guilty of being way too comfortable out of possession. While an argument can be made in favour of Cancelo’s efforts despite his troubles, Felix on the contrary, doesn’t seem to completely buy into the idea of the team pressing aggressively from the front.

If that isn’t enough, he also fails to track back either to help his full-back, who was mostly Cancelo, leaving that left flank of Barcelona to be targeted, exploited and plundered.

Similar to his namesake, Felix, on his day, is an unstoppable force capable of making a difference all by himself. However, a lack of effort and sheer incompetency to help the team defensively, saw him understandably overlooked by Xavi.

Consistently Inconsistent

For all their obvious quality, it would really do their club wonders, if only the ‘Joaos’ showed it with a more desirable frequency and consistency.

Cancelo has played for some of the best clubs in Europe – Inter Milan, Juventus, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich. Yet he never seemed to be a long-term option for any of them and that tells a lot.

The Joaos lack consistency. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

While his troubles at the back have been well documented, his swiss-knife attributes whilst going forward, however impressive and complete they may be, have only borne fruit few and far between.

Now at Barcelona, it’s no different. Cancelo has the potential to be the heartbeat of his team’s attack plan, but the plethora of tricks and skills in his locker fail to provide the end product frequently.

While it’s clear that defending is not his strongest suit, his inability to make it count offensively, the part of his game he is adept at, without minimum consistency, calls for caution while opting to retain his services for another season.

In a similar tone, the case of his fellow countryman, Felix can be said as one of football’s great ‘What If’ mysteries.

Felix is a player with an abundance of quality with the potential to entertain with the ball at his feet. A style reminiscent of street football – silky, deft touches and agile dribbling, he has the armoury to set the pitch ablaze with his scintillating skillset.

The fact he is not even close to reaching his potential is frankly annoying. Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and now Barcelona can’t all be wrong.

Capable of tipping the scales in favour single-handedly in a flash is a tantalizing prospect and yet he can’t seem to succeed with any real consistency. So much so that the Portuguese is consigned to play with a certain desperation that further hampers his impact on the game.

It must be said that when it gets personal for him, with a point to prove and a chip on his shoulder, Felix puts in unbelievably good shifts as evidenced by his impressive outings against Atletico Madrid (twice) and Porto.

However, it wouldn’t be prudent for Barcelona to go out of their way and invest in Felix hoping he is in the mood to turn up, given their financial situation.

Changing Priorities

Hansi Flick has other more important priorities. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

With all said and done, Felix and Cancelo have proved to be more of a bane than a boon at Barça. Brought in to fill crucial holes in the team, it wouldn’t be unfair to say they haven’t done so with conviction.

Judging by their returns, it certainly won’t hurt Barcelona to look for better and more accountable options elsewhere. After all, looking ahead to the summer transfer window, they have more critical priorities to address as well.

It’s imperative that Barcelona bring in smart yet quality reinforcements to strengthen the team in key positions after a difficult and trophyless season.

For starters, the team desperately needs a reliable defensive midfielder after suffering without one for the entirety of last season. They simply can’t afford to bring in another stop-gap to fill square pegs with triangles.

Funds will be required to procure the services of a top pivot with the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Amadou Onana and Mikel Merino on the shortlist.

The very funds can’t be compromised just to return favours to a dear agent. Moreover, Barcelona can invest in exciting market opportunities and more consisent players in place of the ‘Joaos’.

It would bill Barcelona north of €50 million to acquire the services of Joao Felix alone, which could be used to bring in a left-winger in the explosive mould of Nico Williams. Not to forget, the latter would suit Flick’s system with far greater efficacy too.

With Jules Kounde establishing his credentials as a quality right-back and Julian Araujo returning from an impressive loan at Las Palmas, Joao Cancelo might find himself out of contention due to his tendency to be a liability at the back.

Even with Alejandro Balde returning from injury and another loanee worth giving a shot in Alex Valle, the squad seems to be well-covered in both of the full-back positions.

Felix and Cancelo may have waived off their huge salaries and made a concerted effort to play for their dream club, but Barcelona can’t afford to splash whatever money they have on half-baked solutions.

As harsh as it may be, the club have other priorities to attend to, much urgent in its gravity, rendering the ‘Joaos’ surplus to requirements.

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