Transfer Window Closing and Barcelona's Unavoidable Defender Issue

Valerio Pennicino

It's deadline day but, if the higher ups at FCB are to be believed, no new signings will travel to Catalonia. Seeking a defender seemed like an obvious priority, but Barca have not delivered.

Deadline day recalls furious phone calls and drama as teams scramble to finalize their teams. In Catalonia, the situation is different. There are no frantic phone calls and there is no haggling. Barca's Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta has all but ruled out a late addition to the squad.

The search for a centerback became the #1 topic of discussion after the successful transfer in of Neymar, and while bids were made and targets identified, no new face will be lining up alongside Gerard Pique.

The match against Valencia at Mestalla was another reminder that Barca's defense is showing some fissures. Up 3-0 from a Lionel Messi hat trick, Barca conceded two quick goals. They were able to hold on to a 3-2 win, but Valencia's surge was enough to make everyone nervous.

Sure there was some buzz that Barca may have something up their sleeve, a late deal is looking quite unlikely.

It's true that Barca haven't conceded too many so far this season, but that has in large part been due to the tremendous form of their goalkeeper, Victor Valdes. Valdes is known to have dips in form lately, and a big one could spell catastrophe.

The team has four committed centerbacks - Pique, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, and Carles Puyol. Pique's form and concentration have been called into question despite his natural ability. Mascherano has said he is not naturally a centerback, though he's adapted well to the position. Bartra is still very inexperienced, though he has put in decent performances so far. Puyol is a legendary player but in the latter stages of his career and still injured.

Pique and Mascherano have played every single minute of the season so far, which does not say many things for coach Tata Martino's confidence in young Bartra. In the Supercup first leg against Atletico Madrid, Bartra did not even make the bench.

Martino said he would have brought in Alex Song to play defensive midfield and moved Busquets back to defense - and even that makeshift solution will be temporarily unavailable with Busquets picking up an injury yesterday in the match against Valencia.

After failing to land Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, David Luiz, and Daniel Agger, Barcelona do not seem interested in looking elsewhere. Players like Paris Saint-Germain's Mamadou Sakho and Valencia's Jeremy Mathieu and Adil Rami were still available, but for some reason or another, they are not attractive enough options for the Blaugrana braintrust.

Martino does have one trick up his sleeve right now. With the international break coming up, Barcelona do not have a game until September 14th. Fortuitously for him, both Pique and Mascherano are suspended due to red cards and will miss the international matches.

This essentially gives them both a built-in break. Possibly, Martino was fine with playing them both so much because he knew this break would allow them to rest. But in the future, he will not have that luxury.

If the team does not trust Bartra enough to play him in the rotation, they are making a mistake not reinforcing the position. Puyol's return will help ease the load on Bartra, but his constant injuries and advancing age make his continued presence uncertain.

Both Martino and Zubizarreta have said they are looking at the winter transfer window as the time to finally make their centerback addition. But finding players in that window has problems. One, teams are in midseason and unwilling to part with key pieces. Two, some of the best players will be cup-tied for the Champions League. This means they could not play for another team in that competition.

Sure. Barca could still add someone from a team not in the CL, like Agger, Mathieu, or Jan Vertonghen from Tottenham Hotspur, but the chances are more limited. And if Barca really were looking to add those players, why wait?

Despite all this, the biggest blunder of the summer may not be the failure to land a player. No, the biggest headscratcher has to be the decision not to renew Eric Abidal's contract.

Abidal's relationship with Barcelona is extremely special. The club stood by him and supported him as he came back from fighting cancer not once but twice. When the team won the Champions League in 2011, Puyol allowed Abidal to lift the trophy in his place.

With Abidal now a full-time CB, and looking good in his first few matches for Barca, back from a liver transplant, why would the team force him out? There was no question Abidal wanted to stay and that his teammates wanted him to stay as well.

Dani Alves wears the #22 shirt in his honor and even publicly questioned letting him go. Privately, other players surely must feel strange about the decision as well.

It's even stranger because Abidal has looked steady at the back with his new team AS Monaco and has even received a call-up back to the French national team.

"If Zubizarreta is still looking for a defender," Abidal told the press, "I'm In good shape. Maybe he can take a look."

It was said in a joking manner, but it really makes you think.

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