Barring a meltdown of catastrophic proportions, Real Madrid are on the verge of not only winning just their second La Liga title in the Cristiano Ronaldo era, but also becoming the first side in the modern Champions League era to win the title on two consecutive occasions. Unless Barcelona address a number of concerns in their not only starting up line-up but their bench, then the club could find themselves playing mere observers in what could potentially be a decade of unrivalled dominance for the club side from Spanish capital.
During Barcelona’s “glory years” served under football great Pep Guardiola (2008-2012), it was evident to most analysts that although the famed midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets reeled in most of the acclaim from the general public, it was in fact that the defensive quartet of Barcelona, led by defensive stalwart and Spanish football legend Carlos Puyol, that was in fact the backbone and heart of the Barcelona side.
However, with Gerard Pique being the only remnant left behind from the revered backline which consisted of Dani Alves at right-back, the duo of Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique at centre-half, along with Eric Abidal at left-back, it has become increasingly evident that Barcelona’s recent failures in the UEFA Champions League and their domestic league have come as a direct consequence of their neglect to fortify their defensive, which has culminated in them suffering 4-0 and 3-0 thrashings served at the hands of PSG and Juventus, respectively, but also in Sergi Roberto, a central midfielder, having to play as a make-shift right-back due to an abysmal 2016-17 transfer window which saw Barcelona fail to find an adequate replacement for Dani Alves who is now currently flourishing at his new Juventus club.
Here are a shortlist of defenders Barcelona are most likely to ship in this season in order to strengthen up their backline heading into the 2017-18 campaign:
• Hector Bellerin
• Serge Aurier
• Davinson Sanchez
• Benjamin Mendy
Hector Bellerin (PSG)
Rumors have lingered around for years that the former La Masia product was headed for a return to his old club, but with the prospect of Arsenal not qualifying for their UEFA Champions League and the possible firing of long-term manager Arsene Wenger, what was once speculation may now finally become reality.
The right-back renowned for his pace and offensive capabilities would serve to reinvigorate Barcelona’s attacking spirit on the right-hand side which was a key element of their success during their glory years with the trio of Dani Alves, Xavi and Messi all lined up alongside Barcelona’s right. However, talks of a £40 million fee needing to be coughed up for a defender with bags of potential, but very limited defensive abilities, it may mean that Barcelona will have to look elsewhere this summer for a new right-back.
Serge Aurier (PSG)
Step in 24-year old Serge Aurier. The right back hailing from Cote D’Ivoire not only provides the attacking threat of Hector Bellerin, but the strength and defensive capabilities that Barcelona have been longing for ever since Eric Abidal’s premature decline. Aurier has found himself rotting away on the bench for PSG for much of this season in favor of the Belgium international Thomas Meunier, which means that Barcelona will not be asked to pay the hefty fee that Arsenal are presumably throwing around for Hector Bellerin.
However, Barcelona’s preference for Spanish internationals due to their familiarity with the way in which Spanish football is played, may mean that Barcelona will have to look elsewhere for a right-back to replace Sergi Roberto unless they are prepared to gamble on Aurier’s capability to adapt to an entirely different system to the one in which he has been accustomed to playing in whilst in PSG.
The 21-year old Brazilian international is among the most highly touted young central defenders in world today. With talks of the aging Mascherano heading overseas to play football in China next season, finding a central defender to line-up alongside Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti will be one of the primary objectives for the club heading into this summer’s transfer window.
Marquinhos has all the attributes of a “Barcelona defender” as he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet; strong aerially; a tenacious tackler and an excellent reader of the game. All of these features of the young Brazilian have resulted in many analysts likening him to fellow Brazilian Thiago Silva who has been a long-time fan favorite of the Catalonians, but at 32 years of age and having just signed a contract extension with PSG, Silva may just be too old to ever make the move to Barcelona that many fans were longing for. Therefore, Marquinhos would be an excellent alternative for a Barcelona side in search of a new centre-back.
The 21-year old has blossomed this season playing a part of the backline of an Ajax team who have steamrolled their way into the Europa League finals this season. He may be a more realistic signing for Barcelona than Marquinhos, given the fact that Barcelona are rumoured to be lining up a blockbuster deal with PSG for the Italian Marco Verrati. If that deal takes place, then it is highly unlikely that an elite club like PSG will be willing to sell another one of its superstar to one of its UCL rivals in the summer transfer window, thus making Sanchez a more viable option for the Catalonians.
Despite the Colombian international only being 21 years of age, his tackling, aerial presence and god-like speed would make him a great asset for Barcelona. With talks of the side looking to experiment with a “back three” formation following the successes of Chelsea, Juventus and they themselves in their home tie against PSG this season, having a centre back who possesses the speed of Sanchez is most essential in a 3-man backline formation that is highly susceptible to counter attacks, which are of heightened concerns when you factor in that the man in which he will be playing besides in Gerard Pique is one of the slower centre backs in football today.
The 22-year old French international has been one of the many shining stars in an AS Monaco side full of exciting young prospects. The defender can operate as a left back or a left-wing back if Barcelona opt to play with a back three formation heading into next season.
Barcelona’s current left back in 28-year old Jordi Alba was seen as replacement for club icon Eric Abidal, who saw his career unfortunately shortened due to liver disease. However, he has failed to meet the lofty expectations that had been levied upon him due to his defensive shortcomings. This saw him benched for Barcelona in their home game against PSG and their away tie to Juventus in the Champions League, which hint that his Barcelona career may very well be coming to an abrupt end. With Alba being linked with summer moves to Man City and PSG, the money secured from this transfer should be enough for the Catalan giants to acquire Mendy from AS Monaco this summer.
• Marco Verrati
• Thiago Alcântara
• Mesut Ozil
• Bernardo Silva
The young Italian is undoubtedly one of the most gifted footballers in world football today, and is certain to stake his claim as the best midfielder in the world once the likes of Iniesta and Modric finally hang up their boots. He has long been on Barcelona’s shortlist following the departure of Xavi and the aging of Iniesta, but has always vowed that he would remain at his current club PSG until he finally lifted the Champions League trophy with them. However, following their shocking 6-1 meltdown away at the Nou Camp which saw them give up at 4-0 aggregate lead that they secured in the first leg, a move to Barcelona may very well be on the horizon this summer for the Italian giant.
Graced with incredible ball control, unlimited passing range, exceptional tackling and elite reading of the game, Verrati is the exact kind of midfielder that Barcelona need to revitalize a midfield that has found itself being overrun and completely dominated by the midfield of their opposition. The midfielder can not only be deployed in Iniesta’s position, but if Barcelona opt to select a line-up with more attacking flair then Verrati can easily slot into the holding midfield position currently occupied by Sergio Busquet, which will enable Barcelona to play a three-man midfield consisting of Verrati-Iniesta-Rakitic. Needless to say, the addition of Verrati to the club could be what propels Barcelona to new heights.
Of the players that Barcelona have sold in recent years, ranging from the likes of Hector Bellerin of Arsenal; to Marc Bartra of Borussia Dortmund, Thiago has undoubtedly been the biggest mistake. The midfielder was sold to Bayern Munich in 2014 due to not being able to earn a starting position in a midfield which consisted of the iconic trio of Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets and has ever since solidified his position as one of the elite midfielders in world football today.
Complaints arising from Barcelona signee Arda Turan on how difficult it is for new players to adapt to the Barcelona system, as well as the mediocre performances of recent midfield signings Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez, mean that Thiago would be the perfect midfielder for Barcelona to sign due to his familiarity with the system. However, with the 26-year old enjoying football at Bayern Munich where he has been a mainstay in the starting line-up, it is unlikely that Barcelona will be able to pry the Spanish international away from Bayern Munich in this summer’s upcoming transfer window. This means that they may have to look elsewhere to find their Iniesta replacement.
The 28-year old German international is another Arsenal star being linked with a move to Barcelona this summer. Aside from a FA Cup double in 2013-14 and 2014-15, the Arsenal playmaker has failed to add any other significant silverware to his trophy cabinet in what many regard as an unsuccessful spell in Arsenal. Faced with the prospect of a new manager, losing Alexis Sanchez and most importantly no UEFA Champions League football, it is rumoured that Ozil may finally part ways with Arsenal and make a big money move to Barcelona this summer.
The German has been criticized for his inability to put on standout performances in the biggest of games, which makes the Barca switch the perfect one for Ozil. Playing alongside the likes of Messi, Neymar and Suarez, Ozil will no longer have to be the focal point of the team as he has been relied upon to be at Arsenal, and can thrive in the playmaker role that he had long been accustomed to whilst playing in Real Madrid and the German international squad. Ozil could serve as a worthy successor to Iniesta at Barcelona should he leave his current club this summer.
The 22-year old AS Monaco midfielders is currently having the best season of his short career and is among the shortlist of players nominated for the the Ligue 1 division “Player of Season” award, which he is expected to win once AS Monaco secure the league title.
The attacking midfielder would be a much welcomed addition to the Barcelona side. His dribbling and playmaking ability have drawn him much comparison to Andres Iniesta, which will free up Messi to play further up-field. His ability to play as left-winger due to his left-footedness also mean that he could serve as a long-term replacement for Lionel Messi who will be turning 30 next season. The young Portuguese international is as diverse as they come on offense, which is why his name is constantly mentioned among the players linked with a move to Barcelona this summer.
Of all the rumoured transfers expected to take place this is arguably the least likely due Isco’s immediate ties with Real Madrid. However, should Isco pull off what would undoubtedly be the most controversial transfer signing since that of Luis Figo’s to Real Madrid from Barcelona in 2000, then his decision in doing so cannot be blamed.
The 25-year old Spanish international has found it difficult to find first-team action since his 2013 arrival to Madrid due to the fact that he has to compete with the likes of Bale, Modric and Rodriguez for a starting position. Needless to say, this will not be the case in Barcelona as Isco would likely find himself starting in centrally in place of Iniesta who has made some significant declines this season due to his age and some unfortunate injuries he has suffered along the way. If Barcelona can pull of the impossible and complete the signings of both Isco and Verrati, then it could be argued that the team would have finally found worthy successors to the great Iniesta-Xavi duo of yesteryears.
• Paulo Dybala
• Kylian Mbappe
• Dries Mertens
• Ousamane Dembele
The 24-year old Argentinian attacker is regarded by many of today’s football analyst and pundits as the “heir to Messi’s throne” and when examining his play-style the comparisons are validated. Dybala is not only a great dribbler, but he can also score when asked upon. Despite this not being reflected in his Serie A goal tally this season (9 goals in 24 appearances) as fellow Argentinian striker Higuain is the focal point of their offense, his two goals scored in Juventus’ quarter-final Champions League home tie against Barcelona displayed to the world that when given the opportunity the young attacker has no problem gracing the stage and delivering in the most spectacular fashion.
However, unless deployed in an attacking midfield role, it is unlikely that Dybala will start as it will be a few years before he replaces anyone in Barcelona’s revered “MSN” frontline. Additionally, Juventus are rumoured to be bolstering up their attack with swoops for Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Torino’s Andrea Belotti being planned for this summer. With the young attacker going out of his way to state on several cases that he does not want to be compared to Messi or live under his shadows, should Juventus successfully defeat Real Madrid and win the UEFA Champions League this season, then Dybala may just opt to remain at Juventus and forge his own legacy at the club instead.
The 18-year old wonderkid playing for AS Monaco had sent shockwaves throughout the football world due to his great performances this season. His 24 goals in 41 games has led many to draw comparisons between the young French international and his fellow national hero Thierry Henry. His relentless pace, great positioning and uncanny finishing mean that the 18-year old will be dominating world football for many years to come.
The left winger has been linked with an 80-million-euro blockbuster move to Real Madrid who are linking to ship Benzema out and play Ronaldo centrally, thus vacating the left winger position in their 4-3-3 formation for the Real Madrid international. However, with talks of Eden Hazard also being linked with a move to Real Madrid, the attacker may find himself rotting away on the bench as the likes of Morata, Rodriguez and Isco have found out this season. This will leave Barcelona as his next best option as Suarez has turned 30-years of age, and his back-up striker in Paco Alcacer has been one of many failed signings for Barcelona this season. The chance of forming what potentially turn out to be the most electrifying partnership football has ever seen with Neymar could be too good an opportunity for the young attacker to turn down.
The 30-year old Belgium international has been in scintillating form this season for his club side Napoli, where he is their top scorer and the third highest goal scorer in the Serie A with 24 goals. The loss of winger Pedro to Chelsea during the 2015-16 was one which greatly hampered Barcelona as they failed to find an adequate replacement, with experiments of Arda Turan on the wing not producing the results they were expecting. With rumors circulating around the sporting world that the Mertens would be fine playing as a fourth striker off of the bench had Barcelona sell Paco Alcacer this summer, then Mertens would be a great addition to their team as he provides a goal scoring threat Barcelona have been sorely missing since Pedro’s departure.
The 19-year old winger is just one of many promising players to arise from this current crop of young French internationals. The recent Borussia Dortmund signee has taken the Bundesliga division by storm and his blistering place combined, choppy dribbling and two-footedness has earned the teenager comparisons to a young Pele. Whether or not he lives up to such a high billing is left to be seen, but the fact that he’s even being mentioned alongside one of the greatest footballers of all time highlights just how talented a player Dembele already is.
Dembele snubbed Barcelona for Dortmund this past summer due to the fact that he would not see adequate playing time behind the likes of Messi and Neymar. Nonetheless, Barcelona’s interest in the wonderkid has only heightened following his great first season at Dortmund and similar feelings have only been reciprocated on Dembele’s behalf who was quoted as saying that “someday I’ll play for Barca”. If the acquisition of Dembele does take place for Barcelona this summer, then the teenager could serve as Messi’s successor at the club once the Argentinian finally retires from football.