Barcelona may be top of La Liga and progressing nicely in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, but all is not quite right at the Camp Nou.
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Valencia will have set alarm bells ringing for new manager Quique Setien, who has plenty of work to do on the squad which, despite achieving continued success, certainly regressed under Ernesto Valverde.
Even before his injury, Luis Suarez appeared to be a shadow his former, dynamic self and with the Uruguay international now out for the majority of the season with a knee problem, the need for a striker has become even greater in the Catalan region.
“It is true that we are considering the signing of a number nine. We still have to develop things a little more,” Setien said recently when asked if he was targetting a forward in the current window.
So, with the Blaugrana in the market, who could they target to provide extra firepower alongside Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann? Here are some dream, realistic and wildcard options.
Dream: Lautaro Martinez
Inter Milan are pushing Juventus hard in Serie A this season and sit just four points behind the reigning champions. One of the key figures in Antonio Conte’s title push has been Lautaro Martinez.
The 22-year-old has scored 10 goals in 19 Serie A appearances so far for the Nerazzurri, adding a further five in the Champions League, and has formed an excellent partnership with Romelu Lukaku.
Martinez’s agent, Alberto Yaque, confirmed Barca’s interest as far back as July last year, while Barcelona director Pau Vilanova said in December: “Lautaro is a topic of conversation that concerns the technical staff. Lautaro is a great player, we have seen his qualities in our recent meetings.”
It’s reported the La Liga champions are now lining up a staggering £100m offer for his services. On the face of it, this makes total sense.
Martinez has that same all-action style of play which epitomised Suarez in his prime, driving at defenders, winning fouls and generally making an absolute nuisance of himself. Martinez has completed more dribbles (23) and won more fouls (44) in Serie A than any other Inter player this season. Furthermore, he already has 17 senior caps for Argentina to his name and so is well versed in playing alongside Messi.
The main sticking point? It’s January. With a league title to win, it’s seriously hard to envisage Conte allowing this deal to happen until the summer, regardless of how much money Barca throw his way. Martinez is Inter’s second-highest goalscorer this season and his departure would pretty much end any realistic hopes they have of overhauling the Old Lady.
Realistic: Rodrigo Moreno
Inter are a giant in their league and have no need to cash in on Martinez right now. So, looking a little closer to home, Barca might well look to Valencia forward Rodrigo Moreno to fill the gap up front.
OK, so Rodrigo isn’t the most prolific goalscorer around. In league play, he’s managed just two in 17 appearances so far this season, but he has notched six goals in 12 appearances in the Champions League and Copa del Rey combined this season, while his haul of eight goals in 21 senior caps for Spain is not to be sniffed at.
That said, he certainly gets the seal of approval from Barca legend Rivaldo, who feels Rodrigo would be well worth the outlay required to sign him from a La Liga rival.
“He’s one of the best goalscorers in La Liga and a key player for Celades,” said the Brazilian recently.
“I imagine that negotiations will not be easy, it would reinforce a direct opponent. They would have to pay a lot to sign him.”
But just as we’ve seen over the years with Roberto Firmino at Liverpool, the modern striker should never be judged by his goalscoring output alone.
Rodrigo has provided no fewer than eight assists across La Liga and Champions League play so far this season, while he has created more chances from open play (21) than any other Valencia player in the Spanish top-flight in 2019/20.
They may have beaten the reigning La Liga champions on Saturday afternoon, but Valencia have found it notoriously hard to resist the advances of Barcelona in the past. You would think Rodrigo, though he started his career at Real Madrid, would absolutely be tempted by an offer to join one of the world’s true super-clubs. Should such an offer be forthcoming, at 28, Rodrigo could feasibly see it as one of last such invitations he can expect in his career.
Wildcard: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
He might have shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah last season, and he may be Arsenal’s current club captain, but to suggest Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is completely satisfied with life in north London would be a tad presumptuous.
The Gabonese striker has been a constant source of goals since arriving at the Emirates, bagging 57 times in 91 appearances so far since joining from Borussia Dortmund, but that has done little to help the Gunners re-establish themselves as an elite force.
Aubameyang is yet to savour Champions League football with Arsenal and at the time of writing, they currently sit way back in 10th place in the Premier League, 10 points adrift of Chelsea in fourth. The former Saint-Etienne man turns 31 in June and as his twenties fade into the distance, so that Champions League itch will become more intense.
It has been rumoured that Barca are lining up an ambitious move for Aubameyang in this window and William Hill* rate his odds of moving to the Camp Nou before February 1st at 10/1.
Mikel Arteta has insisted Aubameyang will be staying put and it would take an admittedly huge effort for Barca to pull Arsenal’s prized asset away in January. However, the thought of a Messi, Griezmann, Aubameyang front-three is a mouth-watering one.