Saturday, August 1, 2009

Which Position To Strengthen Now?

Barcelona's signings of Maxwell and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have filled up the left fullback and striker positions respectively. However, at least one more player needs to be bought, to give the squad enough depth to compete for six trophies.

Barcelona's signing of Ibrahimovic has been criticised in the media, and the club has been accused of overpaying to get their man. The fee paid has also decreased the budget available dramatically.

The questions that come to mind are - now what? Which position is remaining? Which player(s) to sign now, to make the treble winning team a sextuple winning team?

To answer these, we must look at the positions Barca employs and the players and backups available for each.

Goalkeeper: Not a problem. Victor Valdes proved last season that he is reliable in the biggest of games. A few errors notwithstanding, VV was immense last season, and justified his new contract. Jose Pinto is an adequate replacement. Jorquera is disappointing however, and could be discarded in favour of youth keepers Oier Olazabal and/or Mino.

Right Full-Back: Daniel Alves. The fittest player in La Liga, he played exactly 4614 minutes last season. That was the most for any player in the squad. Barca were lucky, however, that he was never injured. In the event of his absence, El Capitan Carles Puyol is a solid replacement, while back-from-loan Henrique can also play in that position if required. In other words, this position is covered.

Central Defense: Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique are rocks in central defense, ably supported by Rafa Marquez. Martin Caceres, however, has left on loan. Gabriel Milito has still not recovered from his long term injury, while Henrique has not exactly impressed in his first two preseason games.

Marc Muniesa and Andreu Fontas of Barca Atletic are good backups, however. Also, in dire straits, both Eric Abidal and Yaya Toure can cover for this position. Though this is a possible problem position, it seems unnecessary to spend on another backup. A young signing is a strict no-no as this could stagnate the development of Muniesa and Fontas, who are both brilliant prospects.

In my opinion, Barcelona should gauge the performance of Henrique during the remaining pre-season games before considering signings for the central defense position.

Left Full-Back: Covered with the signing of Maxwell. Earlier, Barcelona only had Eric Abidal for this position. Now, they have two able players who can give each other strong competition for this last position in defense. If really needed, Muniesa can also pitch in for this position. Covered.

Defensive Midfield: Yaya Toure had made this position his own last season until he was forced to cover for central defense towards the last few games of the season. He was replaces by Sergi Busquets, who started the Champions League final, and in general was impressive last season.

Though this position is looked on as a problem position by many, I feel this is unnecessary. Agreed Toure will be out for 1.5 months during the African Cup of Nations, but we have a very impressive replacement for him in the shape of Busquets. Also, Marquez and Maxwell can play in this position. Then there is Barcelona Atletic prospect Oriol, if everything else fails. In my opinion, covered.

Central Midfield: Xavi and Iniesta, the Gods of midfield. With these two controlling play, Barcelona never really had a problem keeping the ball and beating teams, not only with 5-0 scorelines, but with 65:35 possession ratios.

Problems occurred when Iniesta was injured. With his injury, the creativity of Barcelona's midfield was reduced to half. Though Busquets and Toure can cover for this position, neither is really of the same class as Xavi or Iniesta. The bottomline is that Barcelona would fail miserably if either of them was injured/suspended.

This is a definite problem position, despite the presence of four backup players in Busquets, Toure, Keita and Jonathan. Not because of the numbers, but because of the amount Barcelona depends on this position, and because of the sheer quality of Xavi and Iniesta. Any replacement that Barcelona has seems inadequate if try to compare with the first choice players.

I will be coming back to this position later, when I put forth my verdict at the end of this piece.

Right Wing: Lionel Messi, the best player in the world and also the key cog in the Barca machine. He has made the right wing his own, either cutting in and shooting lethally with his feared left foot, or dribbling through the entire opposition to provide a killer pass for the strikers.

There is no denying that Barca were very lucky that this man did not suffer a single injury during the previous campaign. He was ever present and immense throughout the season.

It is impossible to find a backup of equivalent quality, as such players are rare. However, for the sake of argument, he was backed up by Bojan and Pedro, both Barca youth products. Is this a problem position? Whenever Messi is unavailable. Can anything be done about it? Not really. There is no backup that would come even close to Messi's quality in the event of his unavailability.

Striker: Earlier this summer, Barcelona bought Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is the man for this position, strong shots, good aerial ability and excellent technical ability. With the supply that he will get at Barcelona, Ibra will doubtless perform brilliantly.

He is also backed up by a good young prospect in Bojan and the old but reliable Thierry Henry. This position is pretty much secure.

Left Wing: Henry was excellent last season in this position. He is backed up by Iniesta and Bojan. There is also a possibility that Gai Assulin will be promoted this season, which means he will be added to the list of backups as well.

This is however, one of Barca's weak points. Henry, though still great, is not getting any younger. The left flank just does not possess as much steel as the right one, which has Messi and Alves. However, there is some backup in Iniesta, Bojan and possibly Gai for this position.

Verdict: The positions that look dangerously thin are central midfield and the left wing, both of which have very little backup.

Since Iniesta can be moved to the left wing when needed, Barcelona do not really need to be too concerned about quality in that position. However, shifting Iniesta will leave a hole in midfield that will be difficult to fill.

There is also a possibility that defensive midfield could be stretched dangerously thin during the ACN, when Toure and Keita leave.

My recommendation is this - a cheap, versatile midfielder, who can play in both central midfield and defensive midfield, and would not really mind being benched for a large proportion of matches. A left winger would also be a welcome option, as this would free up Iniesta to be used only for the central midfield role.

Possible Candidates
  • Patrick Vieira: Strange as this may sound, Vieira would be a good signing. He is old, which means he is a short term replacement and will not affect the youngsters in the squad. He is cheap, which is required. He is also highly experienced.
  • Hernanes: Reportedly available for 10 million euros, Hernanes will be a decent replacement for either Xavi or Iniesta when desperately needed. However, he is young and this could affect the youth players who will be looking forward to breaking into the team in the near future.
  • Angel di Maria: He would be a good backup for left wing. However, it is very unlikely that he would play second fiddle to Henry, as 2010 is World Cup year and he would want to break into the Argentinean national side, which is not something that can be achieved from the Camp Nou bench. However, he is a good player and Barcelona also have first option on signing him from Benfica, as part of Keirrison's loan.
  • Jan Vertonghen: He is a player who is extremely versatile. He can cover the entire defense line as well as defensive midfield. A good, cheap signing. An added advantage is that he plays for Ajax, which employs a 4-3-3 similar to Barca's and will thus adjust quickly.


buj said...

Wow! Nice analysis. I want to see more of these when the season starts.

I want to give a bit of my opinions but I'm a bit swamped now so I'll do it later.

Great article, again.

buj said...

BTW, I also read about this on

Anurag said...

Thanks, buj. I took only about 45 minutes to write this, guess everything I wanted was in my head, waiting to spill out :P

I will certainly be writing analysis during the season. The reason I have not written them for the pre season games is because my streaming speed sucks, can;t watch the games properly :(

Anonymous said...

Hey Anurag,

Great Post, Must say you have analyzed this right down to the last point, everything so clearly broken down.

I hope to read great stuff in the near future as I am pretty sure u are more then capable of it.
Apartments in Barcelona

Cheers Mate

Anurag said...

Thanks Anony

yeh said...

hey man, first of; great blog.

then i just wanna say i think you're spot on. this echoes most of my own thoughts of what positions barca should reinforce.

ibra, henry and messi is the first choice. after that we only have 1 pure striker that is ready for first team football. that isnt enough. en yes we need another creative midfielder, when deco played we always had iniesta as backup, now we dont have one and even though toure is capable of playmaking its hard from his position and i find he doesnt team up well with keita.

so you're on the right track imo.

Anurag said...

Thanks yeh, it is emotionally satisfying to be told that I'm on the right track :D.

Cesc's transfer would be a dream...