Barcelona’s squad is rapidly approaching a huge period of transition.
The core of the team that grew up together under Pep Guardiola (that is: Leo Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué and then later Jordi Alba) are all entering or are already in their 30’s. As is the team’s talismanic striker Luis Suárez and metronomic midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Basically, Barcelona have a lot of old players, so need to sign a lot of youngsters. Hence the recent arrivals of Ousmane Dembélé, Clement Lenglet, Jean-Clair Todibo, Malcom and Arthur. Not to mention the impending arrival of Frenkie de Jong for a whopping €70m.
But that’s not all: Barcelona are also after Frenkie’s Ajax team-mate Matthijs de Ligt who would cost about €70m as well. In addition to this they are also looking to sign a striker, with word around the campfire suggesting €60m-rated Serbian hitman Luka Jovic being their target.
All that to say, the Blaugrana are spending some serious coin this summer. And their already astronomical wage bill is only going to go up and up and up. As a result they will need to offload some players to both raise funds and lighten the wage bill. And because they want to reduce wages, the players who are rumoured to be potentials for Ernesto Valverde’s chopping block are some shocking names.
Who are they? And should Barça actually sell them? Read on and find out!
Samuel Umtiti was a masterpiece of a signing, costing Barcelona just €25m back in the summer of 2016, he has been exemplary ever since. A perfect blend of athleticism, technique and mental strength. Umtiti has been one of the world’s foremost defenders, which culminated in a fat new contract and his titanic display for France where he helped his country win the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
But here’s the thing: he played that whole tournament with a knee issue. And when the season began, that issue flared up again. The club wanted him to have surgery to correct the problem, but Umtiti refused, preferring to let it heal in its own time. As a result of that he’s missed over 120 days of action and played just 10 games all season.
With how well Clement Lenglet has played in his absence, and Matthijs de Ligt being a clear target for the Blaugrana in the summer, it could soon be that Barcelona have four top-class centre-backs for next season. In a situation like that, something’s gotta give, and that’s probably gonna be Umtiti’s knees. He’s stupendously world-class when fit, but the club are worried the situation could be chronic.
In an ideal world he stays because honestly, he’s just that good. But if that knee issue is going to flare up again, and if the clubs alternatives are as brilliant as Piqué, Lenglet and De Ligt, and if Manchester United’s desperate search for world-class centre-back has led them to looking seriously at Umtiti, maybe now is the time to say gracies per tot and move him on for a huge wedge of cash.
Few Barcelona players are as misunderstood and unappreciated as Ivan Rakitic, a bonafide world-class midfielder who can play no. 10, no. 8 and even no. 6 yet is constantly treated as a pariah by certain sections of the fanbase because he’s as press-resistant as a soggy biscuit.
The arrival of Frenkie de Jong and the form of Arthur as well as the burgeoning career of Riqui Puig have combined with the enduring excellence of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic to leave Barcelona’s midfield looking very, very stacked. So much so that many have speculated that Ivan Rakitic could be the first player sold to generate funds and lighten the wage bill.
That speculation is backed up by Barcelona not entering into negotiations with Rakitic over a contract extension. His current deal expires in 2021 and given he his 31-years-old the board seem fine with that. So, he’s being sold, right?
Rakitic is a brilliant player and along with Busquets is the only true “defensive” option in midfield. Protecting against counter-attacks is an important part of playing for Barcelona and the Croatian does it superbly. Moreover he’s really nice and Ernesto Valverde loves him. There’s even rumours that a condition of the manager’s contract renewal was that Rakitic not be sold.
Four starter-quality players for three midfield positions seems healthy, so maybe you keep Rakitic around and use him in rotation with Busquets, Arthur and Frenkie next season. Then sell him next summer. Or, hell, let him run his contract out. He’s earned it.
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This was always a very strange signing for Barcelona to make because he’s not a player who plays in their style at all. He’s a rough and tumble box-to-box ball of energy. There’s no doubt he adds a unique dimension to Barcelona’s midfield, and is an upgrade on Paulinho who the club sold the same summer they brought in Vidal, but is he worth a spot?
Vidal usually ends up looking essential when he comes off the bench because he makes loads of tackles and interceptions. But this situation only really happens because, with Vidal on, Barcelona cannot defend through possession because he’s too scattered and reckless, so the game becomes stretched and open which is how he shines `. But with Frenkie de Jong’s arrival and the retention of Ivan Rakitic, Barça will become so much better with the ball. So adios, Arturo!
Barcelona courted Coutinho for a year before they went in hard to sign him in summer 2017. They had all their legends and players speaking of his qualities, and the way in which the Brazilian was now playing midfield for Liverpool… it even looked like it was making sense for them to play him as Iniesta’s replacement.
Liverpool held firm, however, and Coutinho only arrived in January 2018. He did so for an eye-watering £105m (potentially £142m), making him Barcelona’s record signing and the third most expensive player of all-time. And he was good in that first half-season, scoring big goals and playing without fear.
This season, however? Coutinho looks a different person. With the midfield experiment abandoned, Coutinho has been pushed back onto the wing. That’s his natural role and yet he looks completely lost, utterly bereft of confidence. He’s scored just three times since October, twice in the Copa del Rey and once in the Champions League.
Obviously Coutinho is a world-class player. There’s no doubting his ability. But his place in the Barcelona side doesn’t seem to exist. He’s a high-usage playmaker that is too defensively flimsy to play midfield in a 4-3-3 and not quite dynamic enough off the ball to work as a winger in a 4-3-3 either. He’s a tweener who, if he were the main playmaker of a side, would be absolutely fine.
But he’ll never be the main playmaker at Barcelona. Because Leo Messi exists. That said, even that would be fine, because a player of Coutinho’s quality would be able to make himself useful. Except he is so bereft of confidence he can’t even do that. He looks in desperate need of a move, and Barcelona should oblige him. He could easily raise €80m or more and would significantly lighten the wage load.