Barcelona’s dominant La Liga season was undone by their capitulation in the cups.
It’s incredible to think that two games can so define a season, but when they’re a 4-0 battering in the Champions League semi-finals and losing the Copa del Rey final for the first time since 2014 against Valencia, it makes sense.
Now Barcelona will be out for some serious squad overhaul. Thomas Vermaelen and Douglas are all-but confirmed to be leaving when their contracts expire, and the likes of Jeison Murillo and Kevin-Prince Boateng won’t have their loans refreshed, but what about the rest of the squad?
There are a handful of players that are deemed untouchable, but there are expected to be significant changes. So we’ve come up with a list of nine players whose futures are up in the air and decided what Barcelona should do with them: keep, sell or loan?
Sometimes great players just don’t fit. Ivan Rakitic never fit Barcelona, yet that is exactly what made him so great for the Blaugrana. Under Luis Enrique and especially under Ernesto Valverde, Barça moved slightly away from their philosophy and engaged in a more direct, straight-line type of football. Rakitic thrived in such a role, whether he was covering for Leo Messi, or Dani Alves, or drifting into space left by those geniuses and cracking off some worldies.
But now things are moving back towards the norm. After repeated Champions League humiliations Barcelona want, no need, to be able to play their style of football again. That’s why they signed Arthur, that’s why there’s talk of promoting Riqui Puig, that’s why they signed Frenkie de Jong and it’s why Rakitic just doesn’t fit anymore. The Croatian is a world-class player but he operates in straight lines and isn’t press resistant. He also earns a lot of money and the club need to trim their wage bill. As a result and, despite his stated desire to stay a the club, don’t be surprised if Rakitic leaves Barcelona this summer.
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Barcelona spent most of summer 2018 pursuing Willian for some reason. They really wanted Chelsea’s inconsistent Brazilian veteran. Still, Chelsea held onto their man. So in a spectacular bit of panic buying, Barcelona traded up by pinching Malcom off Roma. The Brazilian was all set to fly to Italy and join the capital club but a last-minute intervention secured a magnificent young talent.
Although you’d never know because he barely played. All season. And this wasn’t some adaptation thing, because whenever he did play he managed to look good. So why was he being excluded? No one knows, he had everything Valverde would want in terms of a skill-set and mentality. In the end, even he couldn’t remain positive and focused amidst Valerde’s callous attitude, and his form dropped to the point where he was about as threatening as a small child. Now Barcelona are thinking of getting rid, but this is a talent that should be cherished, nurtured and protected. So Barça should keep Malcom’s services for next season and give him more minutes to strut his stuff.
One of the bargains of the century was Barcelona picking up Samuel Umtiti for just €25m back in 2016. Umtiti matured constantly over the years, culminating in him arguably becoming one of the three best defenders in the world. This culminated in him winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup. All good, right? Well he played that tournament with a knee injury and has spent basically all season recovering as a result. He decided against having an operation to fix the issue back in the Autumn which is why he’s missed so much game time.
Now, Clement Lenglet played well in his stead, but can Barcelona really have a player on such colossal wages sat on the bench? Moreover with the club seriously pursuing centre-back prodigy Matthijs de Ligt, there could soon be one defender too many at the Camp Nou. Under those circumstances, maybe Barça allow Umtiti to move on. They would save a tonne on wages, make a tonne on the transfer fee and free up a slot for De Ligt to come in and start straight away.
Cucurella is a young left-back who last season was too good for the B-team but not good enough for the first-team. So he was loaned to Eibar where he had a spectacular season playing left-wing, which is akin to what Barcelona’s left-back does. He was so good Eibar will exercise their purchase option for €2m, only for Barça to likely use their buy-back clause to get him back for €4m.
Then the club has options. It could loan him out again (why?) or sell him for a decent profit. Or, considering that they badly need a back-up for Jordi Alba – the flying left-back whose skill-set is so important to the team – they could just keep him? Ideally you need to take 15 games off of Alba’s schedule to keep the 30-year-old in prime physical condition come the run-in, so why not give those games to Cucurella? He’s shown he can handle a heavy offensive workload, and that alone makes him the best back-up Alba has ever had as attacking is Alba’s most important contribution to Barcelona. It would save the club money and give a La Masia graduate (with great hair) the chance to shine.
Philippe Coutinho is the third most expensive player on the planet. The Brazilian cost over €120m in January 2018 and was supposed to be the heir to Andrés Iniesta. The club spent a year courting him and broke the bank to bring him in. Then they gave up on the idea of him being the new Iniesta after a couple of bad games and put him back on the wing.
He didn’t settle there, even though it was basically his natural position. Confidence drained from him, and with that went whatever physicality he possessed. Now he plays so soft that it looks like children would be able to knock him down and his lung capacity seems to be that of a toddler as he is only able to play well (not even at any great speed, mind you) for about 30 minutes.
Whatever the inciting incident was, things have snowballed on Coutinho to the point where he looks bereft of anything resembling confidence or ability. It’s clear he still has talent, he just needs a team where he is the star of the show and everything revolves around him touching the ball as often as possible (he frequently take four touches when one will do). That team will never be Barcelona, so the Blaugrana need to take a financial punch in the gut and get this guy outta town.
VERDICT: SELL SELL SELL
Barcelona’s ideal midfield is one of enormous technical precision and glorious creative freedom. With the signing of De Jong they look to be heading back to that ideal for 2019/20. That said, sometimes you just need a sledgehammer.
Perhaps not away to Liverpool, no, but there will always be games and moments where you need a midfielder that’s just gonna hit people. Hit ’em right in the mouth. And that man is Arturo Vidal. He’s certainly been overused by Valverde this year, but he could play on for years and years as long as his role was small.
Denis Suárez barely featured in the first half of the season, the club wanted rid but they also wanted money. His contract was expiring in the summer so what they did was re-sign him and then loan him out to Arsenal in January. The hope being that he would impress with the Gunners and they’d sign him for a €20m fee. But then he didn’t impress, in fact he barely played and then got injured. So now he’s back at Barcelona with a contract that still has years to run. He’s a decent player but not up to the standard required at the Camp Nou. Get rid.
Everyone loves Rafinha. He’s hard-working and handsome and has a knack for scoring important goals. The major downside is that he gets injured the way regular footballers chew gum. It’s really unfortunate for a player so talented to be made of crate paper, but that is what it is and was likely the reason Inter decided against signing him last summer even though he impressed on loan there.
Rafinha is currently recuperating after a cruciate ligament injury, but he also only has one year left on his contract. As such Barcelona should be merciful with the Brazilian. Allow him to recover then look to send him out on loan, anywhere really, just somewhere that will let him play and boost his profile so that in 2020 when his deal expires, he can decide his own future from what will hopefully be a long list of suitors.
There’s no way that Jasper Cillessen should be a back-up goalkeeper, even for a club as grand as Barcelona. It’s an absolutely criminal waste of resources, both financially and in terms of pure technical talent. Cillessen should be starting for a Champions League calibre club, not hanging out on the Barça bench waiting eagerly to go to Cordoba and play in the Copa del Rey. He deserves better.
That said he is amazing, and an incredible bit of insurance should Marc-André Ter Stegen pick up an injury. So if possible, he should be retained. However if the player asks to leave to play first-team football, send him on his way with no trouble; he’s earned that kind of an ending by being so professional (also he was signed for €13m so he’ll make Barcelona a huge profit).
VERDICT: KEEP/SELL IF PLAYER INSISTS