Barcelona ended a four-year La Liga title drought in emphatic style last season and will now undoubtedly seek to become European champions once again.
It’s been nearly a decade since Luis Enrique won the club’s fifth crown. Back then, Barca’s midfield was the envy of their rivals, while their front three perhaps goes down as the best-ever assembled.
Xavi, on that day in Berlin against Juventus, came on as a substitute for the last of his 767 appearances. He now sits in the dugout. This forthcoming campaign will be his second full season, and there’s already seismic change in the air
Two stalwarts have departed: Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. Between them, they collectively made just shy of 1,200 appearances for the club. In a recent interview, Xavi, while reflecting on Alba, stated that Barcelona will not be signing a new left-back this summer as the club already have Marcos Alonso and Alejandro Balde.
Replacing the inimitable Busquets will prove to be an extraordinary challenge, though. Ilkay Gundogan, who doesn’t exactly possess the same profile, has joined and will bring a new dimension to Barca’s game, but the Busquets question still looms.
Exploring at strong rumours, we’ve looked at who could join Gundogan in the upcoming weeks.
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Fenerbahce’s exciting youngster is Europe’s hottest prospect at the minute, and plenty of top clubs are already monitoring him. Just watching a few clips of Arda Guler and you can understand why the likes of Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, as well as Barca, are reportedly coveting him.
Guler turned 18 earlier this year, and with him entering a critical development phase, the four-capped Turkey international has an important decision to make.
Guler reportedly has a release clause of just £15m and according to Mundo Deportivo, Barca’s sporting director, Deco, has already flown out to Turkey in an attempt to engineer a move for the teenage sensation.
Barca president Joan Laporta also recently confirmed that the club are talking with Fenerbahce, but stressed that they are not the only ones courting his signature.
“He is a very young player, it is true that our scouts have been following him for a long time and many big clubs in Europe want him. We are talking to Fenerbahce,” Laporta told TV3.
Arda Güler’s Fenerbahçe career by numbers so far:
◎ 1920 minutes
◉ 10 assists
◉ 9 goals
— Squawka (@Squawka) June 24, 2023
Signing a former academy graduate is something Barca do not shy away from. Alba, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas represent a few famous case studies. Oriol Romeu was, at one point, seen as the next big thing, but it never worked out for the defensive midfielder given Busquet’s indomitable presence.
He relocated to Chelsea before enjoying a lengthy spell at Southampton, but he can now be found playing in Catalonia for Girona — and there’s reported interest in a reunion now. With Marcelo Brozovic’s move to Saudi Arabia now confirmed — another Barca target — interest in Romeu is likely to intensify.
Five of the nine top goalscorers in Brazil’s international history turned out for Barca at one point. Given that rich lineage, you can see why many of their compatriots want to follow in those footsteps. However, in recent years eternal rivals Real have stolen a march on them, signing Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior, Reinier Jesus and Endrick.
Not wanting to miss out again the Catalans have been tracking Athletico Paranaense teenage forward Vitor Roque who, to date, has bagged 22 goals across 65 appearances for the club. Barca is his ‘dream club’, a notion he voiced to Spanish publication Sport earlier this year.
According to the same publication, an agreement has been reached in principle of €35m euros (plus €10m) between both clubs, but Barca are just trying to strategise their transfer plans in line with Financial Fair Play rules before confirming the deal.
For a while, the right-back position has been a problem for Barca, with midfielder Sergi Roberto ultimately being converted into playing that role. Now it seems the focus is on signing a specialist this summer.
Ivan Fresneda enjoyed a stop-start campaign at Real Valladolid last season but the 18-year-old prospect showed enough to catch Barca’s eyes.
According to Mundo Deportivo, the former Real Madrid academy graduate is attracted by the possibility of playing under Xavi and is waiting for an approach.
Given Barcelona have certain financial restrictions this summer, they will have to act smarter and not harder. That means spending within their means, rather than chucking money left, right and centre. One of the names that has popped up as a potential midfield reinforcement is now 34-year-old Dani Parejo.
According to The Athletic, the veteran midfielder has been considered by the Barca board as a short-term fix to their Busquets-less midfield. Not as hard-hitting as their other quick solution in Romeu, but Parejo does offer an elegance and refinement in the Busquets passing and positioning department.
The Bayern Munich midfielder has emerged as another target, according to Sport. He has reportedly been offered to the Camp Nou club following his loan spell at Manchester United in the second half of last season. He has failed to establish himself as a regular in Bavaria since moving from RB Leipzig in 2021, and could be looking for a new environment to revitalise his career. Catalonia would certainly provide that.
Three ways Barcelona could line up under Xavi next season
Being a disciple of a footballing lineage that includes Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola it’s no surprise to find Xavi predominantly deploys his Barca team in a 4-3-3 shape. That should remain a constant presence next season which means any significant changes will be through personnel.
Same and new
You can make the argument Busquets was Barcelona’s second most important player (behind Lionel Messi) during their relentless period of dominance. His role was vitally important for everything to seamlessly work. In this line-up, Parejo undertakes those responsibilities as Barca’s pivot. He’s supported in midfield by Gavi and Gundogan.
Guler would be a statement acquisition given the hype around his name. He could bring a new dimension to Barca’s attack and link with the club’s other precocious sensations in Pedri and Gavi. Also in this above hypothetical XI the right-back position is filled by Fresneda, another teenage wonder.
A prospective midfield of Sabitzer, De Jong and Kessie doesn’t exactly scream Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets, but it brings a tremendous amount of tenacity, industry and enterprise. It’s almost a very atypical Barca-looking midfield, and yet, it could just bring the requisite robustness to push on in a post-Busquets world for Barca.