The first problem area for Barcelona is in the centre of defence. While their rivals Real Madrid have set themselves up well with the combination of Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varane, Barcelona have an aged Carles Puyol and an ineffective Gerard Pique. Call it controversial if you will, but Pique has been Barcelona’s least Barcelona-like player, and the big Spanish defender has made one unforgivable error too many for both his club and his national team. Pique signed with Barcelona in 2008 and quickly made his way into the starting line up, but in the last two seasons, he has failed to perform at the same level that made him so valuable during the start of the Tiki-Taka revolution.
His consistency has suffered and his ability to defend one-on-one and on set pieces has been poor. Pique’s time at Barcelona may not be up just yet, but the club needs to find a central defender to at least compete with him for a spot in the starting line up. Meanwhile, both Puyol and Javier Mascherano have shown a lack of speed necessary to maintain a position in the centre of defence and, though they have done well in their time with the club, maintaining a spot in the starting line up means Barcelona is risking their backline with slower, older and injury-prone defenders whereas Madrid has a wealth of options in which to both rely upon to start and to call up from the bench. The likes of Pepe and Raul Albiol alongside Varane and Ramos give Madrid a strong core of central defenders for a long season.
Now, Barcelona has options, too.
The club has been linked repeatedly to Paris Saint-Germaine’s Thiago Silva. The Brazilian defender showed he is a capable and smart centreback, so much so that he took an average Brazilian defensive line and made it competent enough to win the 2013 Confederations Cup. Truly, a backline made of defenders like Marcelo and Dani Alves should have been exposed more often than it was, a testament to Silva’s strong vision and physical ability. He, alongside Alves, would be the perfect fit for Barcelona. It’s why he’s being courted by the likes of Manchester United, too.
Curiously, David Moyes’ Manchester United team is also looking at Cesc Fabregas in an effort to, one must assume, replicate Arsenal in some fashion. Barcelona simply cannot afford to lose Fabregas, having already sold Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich. Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez are only human, so selling long-term players at this stage is detrimental to the overall success of the club. It’s the centre of midfield that is the next area Barcelona need to target.
Young Sergi Roberto is the latest Barcelona B product to make his way up the ranks at the club, but with Thiago gone, Barcelona have little to call upon throughout the season. There is, of course, the established trio of Iniesta-Xavi-Sergio Busquets, and Fabregas is a constant in the starting line up as well, but on the bench, Barcelona have, well…Alex Song. It’s not enough, certainly, for a club that requires a consistently honed attacking midfielder.
As legs grow tired throughout the season, so too will Barcelona’s midfield, should the club not find a suitable player to compensate the contributions Xavi and Iniesta offer. In this position, Barcelona has options, too, though one less since Madrid swooped in for Malaga midfielder Isco one month ago. However, Barcelona should look not for a young Spanish player to fill in at midfield, rather, an older one: Xabi Alonso. He is, at once, a familiar, competent player whose time at Real Madrid may be up. Linked with moves to England, Alonso would make an excellent addition at Barcelona – he is already comfortable playing alongside the majority of the team and would finally, finally give Barcelona another option other than the ordinary Sergio Busquets in defensive midfield. Finally, Barcelona needs to figure out who the third forward in the 4-3-3 will be. The club has gone through forwards so regularly that running down the list of failed forwards over the last five years is actually rather depressing.
Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic played enough games with Barcelona to be considered suitable options yet each were shipped off without much thought, and for good reason – younger, stronger options. It’s why David Villa has been sold to Atletico Madrid for so little – his place in the team, as well as his time, was no longer assured, and, with young options like Cristian Tello and that Neymar fellow waiting in the wings (literally), Villa was excess to requirements. Now, Barcelona know for a fact that Lionel Messi at centre forward is not going to change – it works far too well to tinker with. Neymar on the left wing seems to be the consensus, which means Alexis Sanchez and Pedro will need to duke it out for a spot on the right wing. Let them compete. Meanwhile, Barcelona should look to find a real number nine, to play contrast to Messi’s “false nine” position.
This player, though not a starter, is completely missing at Barcelona and though the club has done well without a big target man up top, it will be increasingly difficult to find success in La Liga without one, as more and more teams figure out the Tiki-Taka style and combat it with physical defenders who boss around Barcelona’s smaller wingers and midfielders. Barcelona need not look far for an option – Roberto Soldado.
The Valencia forward has scored consistently in the league for years now and he would be a perfect forward for a team requiring something up top when under pressure. Barcelona is a side that, like a well-composed piece of music, flows from start to finish, but the club – or, rather, the core group of players – have shown that frustrating their style can result in an ineffective counter attacking measure.
Soldado coming in off the bench can give Barcelona another style of play, forcing the wingers to stop making runs and, instead, aim for a target in the centre of the box. Soldado is one option, Alvaro Negredo, the other. Both would work, and in reality, any player in this mold, such as Brazil’s Fred, could give Barcelona anotherdimension in attack. So, Thiago Silva, Xabi Alonso and Roberto Soldado, three players who would breath life back into the Barcelona XI and assure that a club in transition stays in a position of dominance. While these names may not actually grace Camp Nou, they are symbolic for the kind of players the club needs to target in this summer transfer window; a strong centreback, a depth midfielder and a target forward make for a well-rounded injection of reinforcements for Barcelona.