Pep Guardiola Brings Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich, Barcelona Now Count on Sergi Roberto

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

Bayern Munich coach Guardiola has brought his former player to his new home. Barcelona now look to La Masia, as they have for years, for a replacement. Is Sergi Roberto, newly promoted from Barca B, the answer?

Sergi Roberto has only had twelve appearances ever for Barcelona's senior team. Thiago Alcantara has had 101, despite being only a year older. Yet it was Thiago who was fed up with a lack of playing time, and the one who bolted to Bayern Munich to find it.

Roberto will be going into effectively his rookie season in La Liga, having previously gone up through Barca's youth ranks since he was 14. Already there are big plans laid out for him.

"We believe a lot in Sergi Roberto for this season," coach Tito Vilanova has said. Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta has already tipped him as Thiago's immediate replacement.

Roberto is by all accounts a good kid - an almost prototypical La Masia grad: humble, hardworking, possessing great technique and touch, and quick to learn. It's easy to see why the upper brass is optimistic about him. He's quite mature despite his limited experience.

Roberto, however, is not Thiago. Or really that similar. There are some obvious differences. Roberto is two inches taller and generally lankier, thinner. Despite this, Roberto is perhaps the better tackler, more combative certainly. Thiago is quicker, flashier, a better shot, and a better dribbler. Both are, of course, great at short passing. Thiago played risky, gambled with the ball. Roberto is safer.

Roberto is not considered to be Thiago's equal in terms of offensive prowess. That being said, Thiago does not have an amazing goal return (11 goals in 101 appearances for the senior team.) Roberto's 2 goals in 12 appearances is not bad, in fact, it's better than Thiago's, though it's probably too small a sample to conclude much from. In Liga Adelante, he scored one goal in 20 appearances this past term.

While Roberto has been compared to both Xavi and Iniesta, perhaps a more accurate comparison is to Seydou Keita. He is the closest to a box-to-box midfielder La Masia has produced in a while.

Still, being not a finished product, he can be molded into a different sort of player. As a deep-lying playmaker, he is improving. At Barca B last season, he was not often playing killer passes, but had a tendency to start the move that resulted in goals, in a Xavi-esque way, if you dare say it.

Physically, Roberto is still developing. He is probably a still just a bit too thin for a combative central midfielder. But that can be changed with the right physical training.

Roberto has scored a Champions League goal against BATE Borisov, and he came on to play the final minutes of a semifinal against Real Madrid when Barca were winning 2-0 thanks to two Lionel Messi goals. His appearances after that have been mostly in the early rounds of the cup and as a sub in La Liga.

He has been a part of Spanish youth team set ups and even scored a hat trick for the U17s. Still his resume in that department is not as decorated as Thiago's.

His style is more defensive than the man who has left for Bayern Munich. But despite the difference in skillset and role on the field, his role in the squad will be similar.

The idea is that Roberto is Thiago's replacement, which is actually a two-tier proposition. On the one hand, he has to replace what Thiago did last year - 36 appearances, 3 goals, 7 assists. But it also entails being the heir apparent to Xavi - one day, anyway.

That's a tall order for a guy who has very little first-team experience. There is the risk of rushing him to develop too fast. Barca can afford to be patient.

There's a scouting report, a few years old now, that said the coaches felt Roberto should aim to put his stamp on games more often. In effect, that he needed to not be so safe and try to play with more authority and confidence.

Perhaps the current management thinks that's still the case and are trying to help him along by putting big expectations on him. It is highly likely that next season will be the most important in Roberto's career so far. It is perhaps unfair to expect him to take such a big step forward. On the other hand, it could be a motivating factor to have that expectation laid out. And who knows? He may surprise all of us.

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