Football Features

Who will complete Xavi’s new front three? Six strikers Barcelona should target

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:55, 4 January 2022 | Updated: 12:02, 7 January 2022

With injuries, poor signings and the retirement of Sergio Aguero; a new striker is on the agenda for Barcelona in 2022.

The Blaugrana have got holes in their team and will need a few more signings if they want to reach their best level again. However, chief among those signings is a striker.

Xavi’s new project is proceeding nicely in terms of improving Barcelona’s structural play and mental strength. The players have shown much more courage to play “the Barca way” and, of course, more ability and tactical awareness to actually do that as well.

However, one thing that is still missing from Barcelona’s game is goals. In the nine games they’ve played under Xavi they’ve only scored more than one goal on three occasions. They so often labour to create chances and then have an even harder time converting them.

What is missing from Barcelona’s attack?

The absence of Ansu Fati goes a long way to explain this; the teenage forward is a goalscoring sensation and Xavi will be eagerly awaiting his return from injury. Although it is only a small sample size, Fati has converted two of his three Big Chances in La Liga since the start of last season – promising signs from a special talent. If Barcelona can just keep him fit, great things will surely follow.

But given how special Fati is, they won’t want to rush him back nor overburden him with minutes. That means they need other players to come in and score. That’s why they signed Ferran Torres from Manchester City for €55m.

What does Ferran Torres bring to Barcelona?

The 21-year-old may seem like a strange purchase at first but you have to consider his age, the fact that he knows many of the Barcelona players from the Spanish national team, and finally; that he scores goals.

In the Premier League since the start of last season, Torres scored nine goals at an average of 0.5 per 90 minutes, and converted six of his 12 Big Chances with a 50% conversation rate.

Moreover, he has 12 goals in 22 starts for the Spanish national side, including both goals in the 2021 Nations League semi-final win over Italy. He is a goalscorer whose movement and predatory instincts make him so dangerous.

But Torres is not a classic No.9. He can play there, sure, but he can also play on either wing. And given the departure of Ousmane Dembélé in January seems likely, Torres is probably going to spend a lot of his time as a goalscoring winger, which leaves the side in need of a No.9.

What strikers to Barcelona have?

Memphis Depay is the man in the No.9 shirt but he has not once looked remotely comfortable playing for the club under Xavi. Of his eight league goals for Barcelona, only five have come from open play, but more damning may be his Big Chance Conversion. The Dutchman has converted 35.71% of his Big Chances in La Liga this season, scoring five of his 14, a player who seems to miss chances by the hatful.

But it could simply be a question of confidence, as Depay converted 64% of his Big Chances in Ligue 1 for Lyon last season.

Luuk de Jong was a deadline day signing by Ronald Koeman that never made sense and word is Barcelona are already looking to shift him out to generate space for the club to register Torres. It’s not that De Jong is bad, he scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over Mallorca. He’s just the wrong kind of striker for Barcelona.

There are more departures planned too as Xavi tries to make space. “The exits are being worked on,” said Xavi. “Many things have to be valued but for players to come, others have to leave. That is very clear.”

What strikers could Barcelona sign in the summer?

Barcelona have been linked with a move for striking sensation Erling Haaland. The Norwegian goalscorer is one of the hottest properties in world football and you can see why. Since the start of last season, in Europe’s top five leagues, Erling Haaland has scored a massive 40 goals (second only to Robert Lewandowski) from an xG of just 32.56, a nice differential of +7.44.

While xG differential can be unreliable for some players in purple patches, for Haaland it does prove just how clinical he is, especially when you look at his 59.26% conversion of Big Chances. And only six of his 40 goals have come from penalties. Sure he will probably regress ever so slightly, as no man can keep those numbers forever (though an android might), but Haaland is still one of the best goalscorers in the world right now and someone who would add the cutting edge Barcelona are desperate for.

And should Barcelona lose out on Haaland, rumour has it they will be going for Fiorentina’s striker Dusan Vlahovic as an alternative. The Serbian has scored 37 goals since the last of last season from just 28.88 xG, a differential of +8.12. But that will, once again, drop as Vlahovic surely cannot keep that up unless he was the greatest goalscorer in football history and future. However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t good as his Big Chance conversion of 65.85% (27 from 41) proves.

Either of those men would be tremendous successes, but they could also only realistically arrive in the summer. They are too good and too important to their current teams to join in the middle of the season.

But Barcelona need someone to join in the middle of the season.

What striker could Barcelona sign in January?

Alvaro Morata

  • Age: 29
  • Club: Juventus (on loan from Atlético Madrid)
  • League xG since 2020/21: 16.75

Surprising everyone, Morata emerged as a candidate to join Barcelona in January. Allegedly he was requested by Xavi himself, and in many ways you can see why. Morata is tall and athletic with genuine pace; he knows how to lead the line both in terms of holding the ball up and pressing opponents.

Of course, his reputation as a goalscorer is somewhat poor and given the Blaugrana’s need for goals it seems odd. But Morata does have his moments and if the confidence is there he can feast, as shown by his 25 goals in league and Champions League since the start of last season.

Unfortunately for Morata and Xavi, it seems like Atlético Madrid (who are loaning Morata to Juve) have no desire to strengthen a direct rival. Having benefitted twice from Barcelona selling them a striker, Diego Simeone is in no mood to return the favour.

Romelu Lukaku

  • Age: 28
  • Club: Chelsea
  • League xG since 2020/21: 27.47

Romelu Lukaku’s beef with Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea appears to have blown over for now, but it certainly revealed interesting things about Lukaku’s mentality. Firstly that Chelsea were a back-up option, and secondly: “there are three teams at the top level – Barcelona, Real and Bayern,” Lukaku said.

“All players dream of them, that’s the truth. I thought I was going to one of those clubs after Inter.”

So why not now? Given the controversy, Chelsea may be happy to ditch their £97m man out on loan, and Barcelona could offer the Belgian a chance to live his dream – though all reports suggest they have no intention of selling him in January or the summer.

Lukaku has scored 35 goals in league and Champions League action since the start of last season, and looked in good nick before that interview temporarily took him out of the Chelsea team. He’s not a natural fit with Barcelona’s style of play but his desire to be surrounded by team-mates and play in a more proactive style of play could seem him thrive in Catalunya.

Anthony Martial

  • Age: 26
  • Club: Manchester United
  • League xG since 2020/21: 7.37

Outcast at Manchester United first under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and now Ralf Rangnick, Anthony Martial has scored just 7 times since the start of last season. However, no one can question his sensational talent, and the idea behind this move would be that Barcelona could take Martial and finally allow him to make good on his enormous potential.

Jonathan David

  • Age: 21
  • Club: Lille
  • League xG since 2020/21: 20.09

The Lille youngster has a very impressive 25 league goals scored since the start of last season, and at just 21 has so much scope to improve under Xavi’s tutelage. Moreover, he has said he used to dream about Barcelona as a youngster in the USA. “European clubs made me dream,” David said to L’Equipe. “I watched Barca a lot, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, with Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.”

Well, why not try and make that dream come true? Obviously he would have to be forego the Champions League for this season, but Lille aren’t beating Chelsea and his arrival could make Barcelona favourites to actually win the Europa League.