Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Which Position To Strengthen Now?

by: Anurag

Barcelona's signings of Maxwell and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have filled up the voids 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 may also have 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 in my opinion, 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 also play in this position. In my opinion, covered, but possibly problematic.

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. Maxwell has also played a few games at this position for previous teams.

Verdict: The positions that look dangerously thin in terms of numbers 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.


barca4life said...

First off good article anurag, well thought out, good analysis. I agree with most of what you have said but i think we should go after cesc

At first i didnt really want another midfield signing but after seeing how ordinary barca looked without xavi and iniesta running the show i kinda hope we do get cesc. Iniesta can move to the LW giving us some more options up front (right now we look very bare with ibra messi henry only being backed up by bojan and youngsters like pedro gai and jeffren) and cesc can give xavi a rest given the sheer number of games xavi has played and will have to play.

Xavi played the 2007/2008 season reaching the semi finals of the CL and far in the copa del rey then went to euro 2008 and went to the final then playe the 2008/2009 season winning the treble, then off to the confederations cup where he played up to the semi finals and next season we have 6 competitions to travel to/play in and then the world cup and this doesnt even mention the qualifiers he has played for the WC and Euro 2008. Xavi risks getting serious burnout if we dont get somebody who can give him a rest. Against the USA was one of the worst games i ever saw him play and I have to say having cesc who can give xavi a rest from some games as well as play alongside xavi would make me feel a lot better.

Anonymous said...

vieira lol.

barca4life said...

I mentioned vieira since before the end of last season. He is perfect if we can get him on loan in january in my opinion. Sort of like albertini and davids before him. A player with experience who can come in and do a job for us without us havin to spend much.

Ekar said...

Hernanes is the same age as Iniesta.A all round mid.The best choice...although he wouldn't get that much playing time...Di maria is also good

Anonymous said...

Barca4life: I agree, Cesc would be a nice option, but I can't imagine Arsene being willing to let another player go after losing Adebayor and Kolo Toure. I've always been a fan of Cesc and want him to eventually claim the 4 of Barca...maybe next season? Still, if it could be managed this season...

Marc4barca said...

it's a very good article but i think you are focusing to much on the youth. the idea of young talent coming in stopping youth is rubbish to me. if the youth product has the skill he will overtake whoever is there young or old.

Anonymous said...

Ajax doesnt play 433 anymore. They played 442 against Groningen last weekend. Verthongen is a good player for the depth of the squad but never as a starter when Yaya can play.

Joseph said...

Terrific analysis. I virtually agree with everything that you said. I also agree with the anonynous comment suggesting that we go for Cesc. That way, the midfield will be secured for the next 6years. If we get Viera for 1yr, that will be great. He will bring the physical presence that will be absent without Toure, but the downside is that both he and Busquest are slow. I think we need to get a backup for Henry; mata and di maria are my prefered candidates because of their speed and huge potential for developing into awesome left wing. As for central defence, please give muniesa more playing time, may be against the likes of low level teams.

Anurag said...

I agree about Cesc b4l, but I had written this article when i was under the impression that we have spent a lot of our money and hardly have anything left. Now that we "have money for more transfers", I would also go for Cesc.

@Marc - Well, its your opinion and I respect it. But do you think, for example, Jeffren, would play as many games if Mata came in? And don't you think it would lead to insecurity among the youth? Something like "I worked my butt off to get considered, and now some young brat from another team will steal my place."

Just my two cents...

TakeBackTheCity said...

i would go for hernanes for that kind of s bargain, no its the sale of the f.king century.

peter said...

Ähum..what about Gudjohnsen? And Jeffren?

Vieira is probably going back to Arsenal.

buj said...

Good point M4B. As much as I agree with your argument that any Barca's youth product need to show their worth and not expect a silver spoon, these players will always be at a disadvantage when competing for places against any talent being bought by Barca, whether young or experienced.

Spending millions bringing a talent into the team and not use them is not a good business move especially if that player is what the coach asked for. I'm not saying any youth product making it into the first team be given preferences but as they are the cream of the crop of the Barca Athletic (maybe 1 or 2 per season), they should be used if the need arises or chances present themselves i.e non-critical matches and as player injury/fatigue cover. Players bought will always get the first call ahead of these youths.

A good eg. is Juan Mata for Valencia. He got to show his abilities through the injuries and non-selection of first-choice players.

rory said...

first, let's remember these are great problems to have...deciding between buying for depth or promoting promising youth players. Here are my thoughts:

-i'd buy a CB. especially if chygrynskiy is coming at 10-15 mil. If he can't play in the CL, then that allows the team to rotate more in league games and copa games using him there and resting the starting four. I'm starting to lose confidence in marquez's game (too many random big mistakes when last man least 2 a game), honestly. Muniesa's still so young, and i'd prefer him to learn to be a top LB if he could, so the top-four back line in a year or two could be him/pique/chyg/alves. damn that'd be great.

buying at CB allows Puyol to move to RB and spell alves. I liked Puyol at RB when I saw it and that allows maximum efficiency in terms of defensive subbing.

As for the midfield, we could use another player, yes (why not!), but Keita was a decent sized signing last season and he didn't get much burn. Considering the jump to a new style and pep claiming keita's his favorite player, i think he deserves a longer look--especially at this summer's prices, a good midfielder will be hard to sign at a decent price. If busquets continues to improve, toure becomes a more flexible MF option. nobody can replace the xavi/iniesta pair...they know each other so well. cesc is worth considering for the future, but i don't see it as a priority and it'll never happen this summer now that xabi alonso's in real. maybe a youthful player, but i don't know any that jump out to me.

i agree, though, that a center/def mid is a better signing than a LF, but if Mata's available for a relatively cheap price, we can't let that pass. he's too good.

Ondra said...

I think the possibilities are: a)Chyrgynskiy CB/DM, Fabregas CM, then Iniesta more often as LW.
b)Mascherano DM, Toure more often as CM, Mata LW
c)Chyrgynskiy CB/DM, Mata LW
d) Chyrgynskiy CB, Vertonghen/Topal etc. DM, Iniesta more as a LW, Toure CM.

Etc. Etc..I think we won't sign more than two players. Most of the possibilities together cover CB, DM, CM and LW.
Personally i'd prefer two ways equally:
a) Cesc, Chyrgynskiy
b) Mascherano, Mata

(c) Chyrgynskiy, Mascherano)

HOSNI said...

iam maybe crazy but if i was Pep i would take instead of a central defender, a right full back because puyi wont be happy to replace alves all the second idea is to try alves as a right winger when messi is injured or need rest or even play with messi as a left winger and alves as the right winger, iam sure he can do a great job : he is very quick very skillful very good scorer and will defend very well wich messi and henry dont do always well

HOSNI said...

puyol was thinking to leave barça this summer for the first time of his career because he is tired of playing at all positions and wants to be settled as a central defender for good ,he is 31 or 32 now he cant play at the postion for another season even if his performance against manchester was simply amazing

Ondra said...

Oh, i forgot Hernanes. If we didn't have enough money, i'd sign Chyrgynskiy and Hernanes.

FCBarca said...

Nice work...Agreed, DM and a left winger are really the only potential areas of need...Left out Mata out though.

Pep apparently seems bent on a CB too...Wonder if that's in the event he doesn't feel comfortable enough with Henrique

KluivertsBoots said...

Pedro and Jeffren can play either flank, so wing depth is not a problem. That's the only part of the article that struck me as odd.

I think Barca badly needs a creative option for center midfield (Hernanes perfect type) as well as someone like Vertonghen. I would be really comfortable with the team if the center mids are reinforced.

Anonymous said...


just get cambiasso and we have our second triple ...

so easy and so sure

cambiasso will be the future player in xavi position he can play as am im and dm so he covers all problems.

and besides he is argentinian...


Anurag said...

@KluivertsBoots - I have made it clear that quantity is not a problem in the wings. The problem is QUALITY. The backups we have are really inadequate when we look at our first choice on the right wing. Left wing - I am not really worried (I think I made that clear too).

@ej - Just a question, are you Argentinean? First El Kun, now Cambiasso, so I was just wondering. And I am looking at CHEAP backups, which Cambiasso would never be...neither cheao nor a willing backup.

Sune said...

Goalkeeper without a doubt.

I'm still angry we didn't sign Asenjo when we had the chance

Anonymous said...

asenjo did not want to come to barca if he would have had to play the role of a backup. he made it very clear that he would only come to barca if valdes did not renew. and frankly, there is no problem with that position, we have quality in valdes and pinto, and talents in min and oier.

rory said...

i don't think puyol wanted to leave this summer. not one bit. and he'd still be a #1 CB if we sign chyg, he'd just occasionally play RB to give alves a breather.

if we sign a RB, then we don't gain nearly the same positional flexibility. But that's partly because I don't rate marquez that highly. if you rate marquez highly, then a RB may be a better signing.

Mast said...

"Hernanes: Reportedly available for 10 million euros"

where did you get this? only yesterday or the day before his agent said sao paulo is asking 25M?

other than that: good article, i would like to add I'm not to worried about our left wing, but more about our playmaking, we only realy have xavi (iniesta CAN cover but we need him in other places) you can see it by the massive amount of minutes he played last season (only the inhuman alves was in front of him) and none of your propositions are playmaking types, (maybe hernanes but I refer to my opening paragraph..)

Anonymous said...

Hernanes has had a very poor season so far (16 games into the season). Sao Paulo fans want him benched!

lawrenzo loves barca said...

hernanes is a good option but viera,i don't really know since he is a bit too slow.As for our youth products,i have faith in them and i personally don't see the need for us to get chingrysky or whatever.except if pep has no believe in henrique which i also believe that he could end up like carceres.we should rather focus on an experienced centre back instead of "KIDS"(just being skeptical)but seriously a good Left winger suits the bill rather than a centre back

Anonymous said...

Alberto Aquilani over to Liverpool... It's DONE
I really think we lost out on Aquilani, what a shot he has!!! But whatever. might prove to be for good :)
Just get Chyhrynskiy, Hernanes & MATA plz. Together they would cost around 18+15+17 = 50 Million. Since we are going to spend all the 45 million on Ibra this summer I guess that's affordable. We will be all set :)
Hernanes not just an option when THE beast is out on his national duty duting january, but also a back up for Xavi & Iniesta. Mata, a back-up for Henry, Meassi & Iniesta. Bojan, a back-up for Ibracadabra, Henry & Messi. Pique-Chyhrynskiy combination would become the defense of Barca for another 5 years or so. Muniesa would start as a LB and take over the job of leading our defense from center in the mean time :)

Anonymous said...

As it seems, the 45 million on Ibracadabra is gonna be paid in installments for 3 years. So we spent only 15 million of the funds that we have on him. We still have 80-15(Ibra)-15(Keirrison)-5(Maxwell) = 45. If guddi is sold for around 5, we have the 50 MIllion required for the operation I proposed :)
BTW next year, I'm not counting on the KING Thierry Henry. So the options for our forward line would be Messi, Ibra, Mata, Bojan & Keirrison.

E6 said...

CB doesn`t concern me right now, because we have 7 decent defenders(Puyol, Pique, Marquez, Henrique, Muniesa, Abidal and Toure), who can cover CB. We can easily handle first half of the season with those players, but if Milito won`t recover and Henrique won`t give good results until winter, then we need another CB. Also it will be cheaper to buy a player in winter transfer. I`m concerned about CM position. We need someone creative who can replace Xavi and Iniesta, like Cesc. Then Iniesta can play in LW and wings are covered. Since Henry and Iniesta usually don`t play for 90min, they can easily switch 50-50. Gai won`t get into first team, maybe as a substitute when the team is winning or in CL group stage when the position is secured like last year.
GK:Valdes, Pinto, Oier/Mino
RB:Alves, Puyol, Henrique, Sanchez, Montoya
CB:Puyol, Pique, Marquez, Henrique, Muniesa, Abidal, Toure
LB:Abidal, Maxwell, Puyol, Henrique
DM:Toure, Busquets, Keita, Maxwell, Marquez, Pique, Sanchez
CM:Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Toure, Busquets, Sanchez, Jonathan, Fontas, Maxwell, (Cesc)
RW:Messi, Pedro, Bojan, Jeffren, Iniesta
LW:Henry, Iniesta, Pedro, Jeffren
CF:Ibrahimovic, Henry, Bojan, Messi

Why I want Cesc?
+He was barca player and knows the philosophy
+Good relationship with Xavi and Iniesta
+Has a good shot from distance(good for double -decker defenses)

lawrenzo loves barca said...

E6 you are spot on except to say that Sanchez, Montoya are currently not with the first team,i think that if we need to sign a player we should go for someone like fabregas or another better option,say hernanes. As for the Lw,i believe Mata will be splendid.i love the youth products but they can step in in say 2 years from now especially Gai,he is not ready for the first team,same with Dos santos.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand this obsession with signing a new CB or DM that Pep and the board seem to have. We have plenty of options in those spots. What we truly need is another CM. Unfortunately, I don't see us being able to get Cesc, who would be the best option.

Tyler said...

only people I think we should consider are:

1) cesc - he's amazing, but I doubt he'll be leaving

2) mata - fast, great pace, can attack and has great first touch, really impressive to watch

otherwise we are covered now. and people need to lay off henrique, two PRE-SEASON games, come on give him some time to develop!

Anonymous said...

Pep considers Yaya as CM. That is why DM is looked at.

Ondra said...

50 milion? Well, that should be enough for Cesc, with some pressure it would be Cesc + Chygrynskiy:)

E6 said...

We´ll have to wait and see what will happen with milan`s €35m offer. If wenger somehow will concider it, then we lay €35-40m to the table plus Cesc adds pressure and he will be ours.

Anonymous said...

Xavi = Iniesta = Jonathan(in the future, right now he is more than good enough to back up Xavi and Iniesta) = Thiago(in the future, right now he should stay with the youth team for another season) >>>>>> Cesc.

Cesc is overrated. period. people here are going by reputation, believe me Cesc is just overhyped by the english media, hes nowhere near to Xavi, Iniesta and will never become as good as Jonathan and Thaigo Alcantara will become in the future, this is fact.

Anonymous said...

I think you're overhyping Thiago and Jonathan. I've watched Cesc play, he is the perfect replacement for Xavi.

Ondra said...

Well, I also have some doubts about Cesc. But I saw him live about two years ago and he was the best from Arsenal, better than Hleb:P
There is no player near Xavi. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't sign a replacement for him.

LeónDragón said...

vieira?...vieiras time is over, he's surely no help anymore

sachin said...

shakhtar just drew against timisoara and won't qualify for the UCL this year as timisoara go through on 2-2 aggregate with the help of away goals rule... chygrynskyiy is getting ever closer and ever cheaper for barcelona:-)

Anonymous said...

Everyone should remember that we have puyol muniesa piqué marquez henrique alves maxwell abidal. Of which three are in their 30s.I really doubt marquez or abidal will end their careers in barcalona. In fact either one will leave next summer. That's why we need chgrinskiy. I expect signing him to be more easier as shaktar are out of cl . That leaves us with a midfield problem. Either vertinghen or veira should fix the problem. Vertonghen is a more long yet option and more versatile.

Sanur said...

Chgrinskiy has the ability to become a great centre back if he moves to Barca, he has the profile of being a great CB for us in years to come, tall, strong, passing ability etc so if we can sign him for lets say 12-15 million now that Shaktar are out it will be good, we can recoup 12 million next year from the sale of Caceres. We then need a Midfielder that can do the defensive duty and cover for Xavi and Iniesta, now there are a few DM options out there but I think Hernanes can do both effectively, yes his having a bad year, but then again weren't people calling for Puyols head the years before last when we finished 3rd, even the worlds greatest have an off period. This guy is smooth, can shoot and can create chances, he will bring something different to Xavi, where he is more likely to shoot at times unlike Xavi or Iniesta who are more interested in passing the ball into the net. So after Chgrinskiy it should be Hernanes now up to this point I reall do believe we can buy them both for around 25 million about 12-13 for each of them. The next most important I feel is the LW for which we should be able to get Mata for aroung 17-18 million. RW is a hughe problem too but I feel Pedrito will come good this season as a cover, he has played a few friendlies for us and you can see he is much more confident, also don't forget Bojan this kid is starting to cnvince even though they were in friendlies, he looks so determined and Im sure he will go for it each time he is given a chance.

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