There are still almost two months left in the transfer window, but Barcelona need to get a move on. At least, that’s what the Twitterati would have many believing. Some Barcelona fans may agree with that assertion.
Last season was a disappointing one for the Blaugrana,despite the club picking up silverware by winning the Copa del Rey. The club’s defensive frailties were a source of concern time again, along with a lax attitude when facing smaller sides.
A main reason for this was that, in Luis Enrique’s final season in charge, Barcelona failed to look like Barcelona at all. The control of midfield was gone, along with the pressing from the front. Part of that was due to the managers instructions but injuries and loss of form affected various players throughout the season.
There were additions aplenty during the summer of 2016 but only one player, Samuel Umtiti, proved capable of handling the Barcelona cauldron.
With Enrique’s departure common knowledge for the last quarter of the season there was plenty of anticipation surrounding who his replacement would be. Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde was the man chosen in the end, in a solid but somewhat underwhelming move. The 53-year-old is a good coach and one that has proven himself in La Liga, but Barcelona is an entirely different beast compared to Bilbao.
The speed with which the decision was made suggested that Barcelona would be in for a decisive summer. The renewal of Lionel Messi’s contract also helped calm any worries. Still, Barcelona fans are likely casting envious glances upon seeing the money being spent in the England, by their rivals, Real Madrid, and even in Italy, by AC Milan.
There are plenty reasons for fans of the Blaugrana to stop worrying, though.
Valverde’s appointment means at least one point of contention during Enrique’s tenure, the development of youth prospects, will be addressed. Valverde has no problem trusting young players with talent and one can expect the likes of Sergi Samper and Carles Alena to get a decent amount of chances.
Those a step ahead, like Munir, should also see more regular minutes, along with the now permanently signed Marlon, who performed well in defense at the end of last season. Those players will help with issues of rotation and depth, providing they take their chances if they stay at the club. There were still glaring issues for the new coach to fix, but those have been dealt with in a relatively fuss-free manner.
As reported on Barcelona’s official club website, Gerard Deloufou returned from Everton after four seasons. His addition, along with Munir’s return from loan, helps address the issue of depth up from for the Blaugrana.
There may be some worry about his overall impact given his inconsistency but he has the technical skills one would expect from a former starlet at La Masia, and his form at Milan in the second half of the 2016/17 was full of positive moments.
His return may result in Rafina spending more time in midfield when he returns form injury. Another addition comes in the form of Benfica right-back, Nelson Semedo, whose arrival the club recently confirmed. The Portuguese defender may not be Dani Alves reincarnate, but he and Aleix Vidal provide Valverde options in a problem position.
Semedo’s arrival means Sergi Roberto will spend the majority of time in a more familiar midfield role. That would leave Valverde able to choose between him, Rafina, Andre Gomes, Ivan Rakitic, Denis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and, sometimes, Arda Turan for the three available midfield berths. Neither depth nor quality should be an issue in midfield for Barcelona.
Barcelona fans will still be hoping for that blockbuster signing, with Marco Verratti the top rumoured target, as reported by the Daily Mail. While his signing would definitely energize the fans, and possibly the squad as well, it may result in a few departures that hurts the squads overall depth.
There’s no guaranteed thing in football and Barcelona have made two solid additions in key areas of need. There are few players available that would make this squad better. Free from the extreme intensity of Enrique, and armed with a fresh approach under Valverde, there is the possibility of success next season.
Other big teams across Europe may be spending to fix multiple issues, but Barcelona’s main concerns lasts season were in the game plan and mental approach in certain matches. The continued adaptation of last season’s additions should make any squad rotation less of a risk next term.
Barcelona will have plenty to prove throughout the 2017/18 campaign, with both players new and old and the coach looking to silence any critics. Money alone won’t help with that. Barcelona’s summer so far may be low-key but it maybe just what is needed to return to the top in Europe.
Would Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele make Liverpool title contenders?
Jurgen Klopp has expressed his interest in the 20-year-old.
Liverpool should make a move for the La Liga ace Ousmane Dembele if the Barcelona winger becomes available this summer.
Manager Jurgen Klopp spoke of his fondness for the 20-year-old in a press conference yesterday and suggested he may be interested in signing the French international.
In quotes reported by the Daily Mail, Klopp admitted he was interested in the former Borrusia Dortmund forward by saying: “Is he on the market? Now I’m interested.”
Klopp’s interest may not actually lead to the club pursuing Dembele.
However, with a current squad losing bodies by the day following a large number of injuries to crucial players, Dembele would be a perfect addition for the Reds.
Some would argue he even may be capable of challenging Sadio Mane in the club’s starting eleven.
Reports linking the club with Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann could spell concerns to the 20-year-old that he isn’t in Ernesto Valverde’s future plans.
The arrival of Dembele’s fellow countryman will make it significantly more difficult for him to keep his place alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Dembele endured a tough first season for the La Liga champions, which included only nine Primera Division starts due to a long-term hamstring injury.
Understandably, a club as competitive as Barcelona can’t afford to wait around for Dembele to fulfill his outstanding potential and, therefore, a move may make sense.
The world’s third most expensive player certainly has the talent to be one of the brightest stars in the game.
If Liverpool genuinely want him, they will have to fork out a lot more than the initial £96.8 million that Barca paid less than 12 months ago.
Following Barcelona’s drawn-out pursuit of former Reds talisman Philippe Coutinho, the tables could now turn.
This time, it would be Jurgen Klopp’s side testing the Catalan giants resolve in their attempts to pry away a once-prized possession for an astronomical fee.
Dembele was initially considered a panic buy after the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint Germain and the Catalan’s failure to sign Coutinho in the same window.
Having now captured Coutinho, and with the club being linked with Griezmann, both of whom can slot into Barcelona’s famous front three, it is difficult to see what Dembele’s role in the team will be next season.
At just 20 years of age, the Frenchman is too talented to sit on the bench and with Liverpool proving themselves to be among the best in Europe this season, he could be the perfect player for Klopp to break the bank, to ensure the Reds continuing improving under his control.
With Naby Keita set to join this summer, and considering Virgil van Dijk’s immediate impact, the addition of another top player, in the form of Dembele, could be the move that allows Klopp’s side to seriously contend for the Premier League next season.
Is Barcelona’s Andre Gomes the man to take West Ham to the next level?
This season has been a disappointing one for West Ham as they have once again failed to match the rising expectations of fans and owners after their move to the London Stadium, but there could be hope in the summer with rumours of a sensation signing from Spain.
Barcelona midfielder Andre Gomes is believed to be a target, according to the Mirror, as he looks for a fresh start after a disappointing two years at the Camp Nou.
The former Benfica and Valencia man has struggled to adapt since joining the La Liga leaders and has only been a bit part player this season, with the Hammers ready to make a move to bring him to London.
There is no doubting that such a signing would be a coup given the quality of Gomes that he so regularly displayed before moving to Catalonia and he could benefit from moving to a club content with fighting for Europe, rather than titles.
The Portugal international relished his role as a leader in attack and the freedom that came with it in the past, so much so that it earned him his big-money move, and a deal taking him to West Ham could see him return to such a role.
David Moyes’ side have been sorely lacking creativity, particularly with Manuel Lanzini out injured and struggling for consistent form, and Gomes could be the man to help lead a charge back up the table next season after a disastrous 2017/18.
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.
A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.
However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.
Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…
Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends
But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.
That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.
As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.
Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.
The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.
Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.
Third time lucky for impressive Willian
The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.
But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.
It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.
He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.
Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.
Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.
It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.
Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?
Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say
It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.
Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.
Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.
However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.
A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.
Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.
It could be the decisive moment.
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