Who Will Be a Barcelona Forward? Alexis, Villa, Neymar, Bojan, Cuenca, Afellay, Tello, or Deulofeu?

The future of Ibrahim Afellay, right, on loan at Schalke 04, is uncertain - Shaun Botterill

With Alexis Sanchez still indecisive in front of goal, the spots for nearly all the forward positions are open at Barcelona. David Villa has scored lots, but his injury history and age make the management nervous. Neymar is strongly linked with Barca but questions abound about how he will adapt. Bojan, Cuenca, and Afellay are on loan and must prove themselves away from the Camp Nou. Youngsters Tello and Deulofeu are on the team but their spots are not reserved, either.

"We have to support Alexis Sanchez," FC Barcelona's interim manager Jordi Roura told the press. "He works hard." The Chilean ran back and defended with enthusiasm, ran forward and set himself up in great positions, but missed key chances.

The team affirms they like Alexis, who himself admitted he had felt nervous in front of goal at times. But Barca is not a social club, as Barca boss Tito Vilanova, still recovering from health issues, would say.

His future at Barcelona is uncertain, with several teams, including Juventus, inquiring about his services. In truth, besides Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez, it's impossible to know who is on his way in and who is on his way out in the Barcelona front line at the end of this season.

The arrival of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal has pushed Andres Iniesta into the left wing position, further limiting the available time for other forwards. Their performances over the coming months will be crucial in determining who will be lining up alongside Messi and Pedro.

There's David Villa, in fine scoring form; it's been more than a year since the Asturian suffered a terrible broken leg that made him miss significant time. The team would not sell him in the middle of the season, but at the end, is he out? His finishing is world class, but the management are unsure how long he can remain a Barcelona player given his age and injury history.

With every passing week, the reports linking Santos FC's Neymar to the Camp Nou grow stronger. Certain Catalan publications even say the deal is already done, and it's only a matter of announcing it at the end of the season. But can the young Brazilian make an immediate impact as he adjusts to the quality of European football?

Then, there are three players that play elsewhere whose return to Catalonia is imminent: Isaac Cuenca, Ibrahim Afellay, and Bojan Krkic.

Cuenca has recovered from a nasty knee injury that kept him out for half the season, and he has done pretty well so far for Ajax AFC. The Catalan agreed to move the Eredivisie side because Ajax shares a similar philosophy to Barcelona, and he's been used mainly for only parts of each match. Still, he's been involved in some goals and handed out a few assists. An encouraging start, but the Netherlands are not known for possessing great defenses at the club level.

Afellay is a similar story in that he missed lots of time with an injury and was loaned out to see if he could regain his form. The Dutchman plays at Schalke 04 in the German Bundesliga, where his performances have been good, including scoring a few goals. However, at 26, he does not necessarily have the potential to be a world class player like a younger player such as Neymar still does.

Bojan is technically an AS Roma player on loan to Milan, but Barcelona have the option to buy him back at the end of the season. Bojan was a legend at La Masia and seemed gifted beyond his years in La Liga, but his development hit a wall and he did not form a part of the first-team plans as much as he would have wanted.

At Milan, Bojan has been used as a sub quite often and started a few games. After a slow start, he has been in a more productive stage lately, getting to three goals on the season for the Rossoneri. Most Cules are hopeful Bojan can one day fulfill his great promise, but his chances are getting smaller and smaller by the day.

Finally, two players in the squad could fill the roster spots. Cristian Tello has four goals this season, one more than Alexis, and on significantly less time. A blazing fast player with a great shot, Tello has sometimes come under fire for poor defensive contribution or decision-making. His moves in general make him slightly one-dimensional, but man, is it a dimension! Atletico Madrid are said to be interested in the youngster; the capital outfit had made an attempt to secure his services before the beginning of the season.

Gerard Deulofeu is the "next big thing" coming from La Masia. Currently the top scorer of the Segunda Divison playing for Barcelona B, the eighteen-year-old has played less than one half in minutes for the senior side this season.

Unpolished and raw, but holding incredible potential, the team is keen to promote him. However, there are concerns that Deulofeu is too much of an "individualist" to play at Barca, and other teams are also very interested in his services. It's unlikely Deulofeu may be sold, but he could be loaned out if he is not quite ready for Barca's senior team.

Currently, the team has four of these eight in the squad, plus three on loan and one as an incoming transfer option. It's clear that not all eight will remain, and probably not even four as Villa, Tello, and Deulofeu will be pushing for more time. Some may be sold, others merely loaned out.

What is certain is the performances in the latter half of the season will go a long way to deciding who will be in the squad next year.


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