Barcelona are having a busy start to 2019 in the transfer market, reportedly.
The La Liga champions currently top the table with a five-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid and thus are well-placed to retain their title. But the Blaugrana are not resting on their laurels; led by director of football Eric Abidal, they’re actively trying to improve their squad.
Within the last couple of weeks, they’ve received clearance to play a World Cup star signed in the summer, made moves to let go of promising youngster Munir and secured the free transfer of a defensive prodigy for the upcoming summer.
There are also persistent rumours they will beat the rest of Europe to two of the brightest young prospects in world football as well as an extremely talented midfield misfit.
Quite the fortnight, eh? And that’s before you get to all of the strikers they have been, or will soon be, linked to!
But exactly what could all these signings mean for the team? We know how Barça look here and now, at the start of the year, but just how could the Blaugrana line-up by the end of 2019?
1. The Dream
When you dream, dream big. And when you have superstars who need replacing, do it early. Barça waited for Xavi and Andres Iniesta to fall off before they replaced them (and failed to deal with Carles Puyol and Abidal’s retirements at all for three years). So with Luis Suárez and Gerard Piqué about to turn 32 and Sergio Busquets turning 31 before next season starts, there are three clear signings needed.
Frenkie de Jong is Barcelona’s major transfer target in 2019. There are rumours they’ve already secured his signature, but even if they haven’t, they will certainly try to do so. De Jong could play any position in midfield. He’s that good. Meanwhile, they are said to be targeting his Ajax teammate Matthijs de Ligt, who is still a teenager mind you, to be their defensive anchor for the next decade.
And then there’s attack. Now, Barcelona have a shortlist of strikers they’re looking at, and the man at the top of that list is Harry Kane. One of (if not the) best strikers on the planet.
Signing him would be beyond the realms of fantasy, but once again: dream big. Kane is a genius whose movement and ability to link up with his teammates would make him a perfect fit to lead the Blaugrana attack.
Kane’s not fast, but that’s why you flank him with Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho, because they are. Kane is also one of the few strikers capable of replicating Suárez’s ability to be as much of a playmaker as he is a goalscorer, helping Leo Messi (playing at the heart of the side) to dominate proceedings and run the show as best he can with Busquets and De Jong as able lieutenants.
Then there’d be Samuel Umtiti fit as a fiddle again and forming a dynamic defensive duo with De Ligt, assisted by the defensively solid Nelson Semedo at right-back and Jordi Alba free to flood forward at left-back. This team would have goals all over it and be incredibly difficult to pin down and stop.
2. The Worst Case
Barcelona fans tend to be very pessimistic, they always manage to find the negative in a situation. You’d think supporting a club as good and successful as Barcelona would make that impossible, but it’s something that originates in Catalan culture and has spread across the now global fanbase of this soccer superpower.
So despite all the grand plans and hype, what if it all goes wrong for Barcelona in the market? What if their pursuit of De Jong and De Ligt fails and all they can get is Jean-Clair Todibo and Adrien Rabiot? What if Umtiti’s knee problems are chronic?
Well, then they’d likely keep on lining up in Ernesto Valverde’s favoured 4-4-1-1 formation with Clement Lenglet partnering Piqué at the back. Rabiot would sidle his way into the XI on the right of the midfield three, a role that would grant him a fair amount of offensive freedom to roam forward. The rest of the side would function as it does now.
3. The False Nine
What if Barcelona get Rabiot, but Suárez falls off much harder than imagined? It’s certainly conceivable; the Uruguayan is 31 years old and a big-body striker who plays at 100 miles per hour. And what if, as per the above worst-case scenario, the Blaugrana can’t find a replacement? It’s way too early to call on La Masia’s Abel Ruiz, so then what?
False nine, that’s what. Part of why Coutinho has struggled so mightily this season is confusion over his role in the side. Moving him deeper, then back forward, is confusing to a poor guy suffering from second-season syndrome as well as all that tactical malarkey. So make it clear for him: he’s a forward. Push him up onto the left side of attack with the mercurial Dembélé on the right. Neither are strikers but both are fast, tricky dribbler with an eye for goal.
In between them goes Messi, the world’s best player freed from defensive work and able to simply run the side in the final third. Behind him, Rabiot has the license to push forward and impact things in the final third, as will Alba from left-back, of course. Sergi Roberto will be able to reinforce midfield or push up to overlap Dembélé if need be. And if there’s a burning need for a No.9 then Valverde could always throw Piqué up-front!
4. The Kids
Barcelona have always prided themselves on youth development, and if they were able to secure De Jong and De Ligt, that would do wonders for the average age of the side. The two Dutch players provide a healthy transition away from their ageing legends but are also capable of starting for Champions League calibre clubs right now.
This XI showcases the incredible youth Barcelona could close out 2019 with. Jasper Cillessen, who is very much a veteran but an incredible player to have as a back-up, would be between the sticks.
De Ligt would marshal a youthful back-line, with Senegalese sensation Moussa Wague at right-back (he’s currently playing for Barça B, adapting to La Liga) and La Masia’s Juan Miranda on the left. Next to De Ligt would be French teenager Todibo, who will join Barcelona in the summer on a free. He’s a raw prospect, but has huge upside.
De Jong would take his place in a wonderful midfield with Brazilian Arthur and La Masia hotshot Riqui Puig. De Jong is the most defensively capable so would technically be the “anchor” but, in reality, all three of these players are capable of keeping possession, dribbling with the ball, playing killer passes and even taking serious shots at goal.
Then in attack, Dembélé would play on the left and on the right would be the brilliant Malcom. The young Brazilian has so much talent and ability that pairing him with Dembélé either side of a burly young striker like Maxi Gomez (who is on that striker shortlist) would form a deadly attacking trio full of pace, power, creativity and goals.