We know the player, we’ve seen the reports, but is Gonzalo Higuain the right fit for FC Barcelona? Before we can address that question, it’s worth asking something a little more fundamental: do Barcelona even need a new striker? At face value, scoring goals wasn’t a problem for the Blaugrana and never has been; however, anyone who actually watched last season will know that the statistics are misleading.
While Barça could score against the likes of Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid, they struggled against the league’s more disciplined defenses. Take Atletico Madrid for instance – Barcelona scored just three goals in six encounters against Diego Simeone’s side. The tiki-taka system isn’t broken, but on rare occasions, it couldn’t thrive with the personnel that FC Barcelona had at their disposal. After all, without a focal point in attack, Barcelona couldn’t retain possession close to the area, and consequently, were forced further from goal.
Of course, the media aren’t particularly keen on the details – so the label tiki-taka is slapped on anything that vaguely resembles a possession-based philosophy; but against Atletico Madrid in particular, Barcelona weren’t actually playing tiki-taka. They weren’t allowed to by Simeone, and ultimately, that’s what led to their repeated downfall.
With the right ingredients however, tiki-taka remains a viable, and brutally efficient, tactic. Consider the first-half of the season under Gerardo Martino – everything was falling into place tactically, and as a result, Barcelona cruised to an incredible start, both in La Liga and in the UEFA Champions League.
Contrary to the widespread reports, it isn’t tiki-taka that’s in need of a refresh, it’s the FC Barcelona roster – and that’s why Luis Enrique has Catalunya so excited. Whether he is the spearhead for this summer of change remains to be seen, but whoever the catalyst is, they seem to understand the real issues at the club.
Cesc Fàbregas is a wonderful player, but his presence in the Barcelona midfield created chaos. His presence in the Barcelona attack discouraged positional interchange and general fluidity; with Fàbregas on the pitch, Barcelona struggled to play tiki-taka – so he’s gone, sold to the highest bidder, who just so happened to be the creator, or at least biggest supporter of tiki-taka’s antithesis, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea.
Alexis Sánchez is another great player; he possesses incredible skill, great athleticism and displays a wonderful attitude, but again, there are question marks about whether he has truly adapted to and embraced the Barcelona system. Look at Alexis’ best performances in a Blaugrana shirt: can anyone argue that they have come in "typical Barcelona performances"? Maybe that’s why FC Barcelona have been hesitant to dismiss rumours linking Sánchez with a move away.
In terms of arrivals, Ivan Rakitić edges ever closer to making his move from Sevilla official and while his playing style can be similar to that of Fàbregas, Rakitić possesses and regularly demonstrates greater discipline, an impressive work rate and an appreciation of the finer details. He’s a system player – whether that means sacrificing his own personal gain to play a deeper role for his country, or working for the greater benefit of his team in a wider role on occasion for Sevilla.
In essence, Rakitić is all about control. Greater control of the midfield, coupled with greater defensive control – he will shore up the Barcelona midfield in every facet of the game, solving one of their most pressing issues from the past few seasons.
Of course, the defense remains a concern – although Marc Bartra’s rise to prevalence and stardom in the final stages of the 2013/14 season lends credence to my belief that Barcelona only need to sign one central defender. Given Bartra’s excellent performances, it may even be inconsequential whether that player is signed to start, or simply serve as a back-up; ahem, Marquinhos.
And that leaves the attack – seldom mentioned as a major concern for Barcelona, but an issue that will potentially serve as the difference between failure and success. After all, Barcelona didn’t really lose La Liga and the UEFA Champions League to Atletico Madrid because of poor defending – we only conceded three goals in the final three matches against Simeone’s side –we lost because of our inability to impose our style, and as a consequence, an inability to score goals.
So, Gonzalo Higuain. A natural striker, a "nine" without the prefix "false". Above all else, a goalscorer, but also a team player. Of course he possesses the ruthlessness required to thrive at the pinnacle of the game, but he is capable of taking a backseat for the team, if necessary.
At this stage, all we have are rumours. However, if there is any truth to the story and FC Barcelona are targeting Gonzalo Higuain, we have every reason to be excited. Perhaps more so than a Marco Reus or a Sergio Aguero, Higuain is a more natural fit to complement our current crop of strikers whilst providing the team with the key attributes it has been sorely lacking.
For once, let’s pray that Marca are right...