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Copa del Rey, Barcelona-Levante: Liverpool Target Cristian Tello's Decline

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Cristian Tello is only 22 but he seems to have hit a developmental wall. He's experiencing arguably his worst season so far in the senior team. Even so, Liverpool are known to be interested in his services. The Spanish Copa del Rey presents a unique opportunity for him to regain his confidence.

Denis Doyle

Cristian Tello is fast. Lightning speed. He's fairly tall, and most of his height comes from his long legs which give him a big stride to go along with a super motor. When he kicks the ball forward, running down the sideline, it's usually him, not the defender, who is there first to receive it.

That's exactly how quickly he made an impression in the Barcelona senior team. Tello scored his first goal 8 minutes after making his first start. He got his first two goals within 8 minutes of his first Champions League game.

Tello got his debut in Pep Guardiola's last season, and he became an integral part of the rotation only because Ibrahim Afellay and David Villa were out with long-term injuries.

He finished the season with 7 goals, but questions lingered. Tello was fast and could shoot, but he was extremely limited otherwise. He was great at a few things, but had little else to offer.

On the other hand, his fellow rookie Isaac Cuenca displayed maturity beyond his years, all-around game, and industry. Gerard Deulofeu, a few years his junior, had hints of becoming a superstar. Tello could only run and shoot to the far post

Tito Vilanova, appointed after Guardiola, had his doubts, but he ultimately kept Tello. With Villa, Afellay, and Cuenca all returning from injury, Tello could be needed for depth.

The speedy winger responded with some flashes of greatness. His passing improved (finally notching assists as well as goals), while he added some variety to his offensive repertoire. Tello was rewarded with his first call-up to the full Spanish national team at the end of the season.

Under new coach Tata Martino (his third in as many seasons), Tello has yet to find his groove. Though he's been rewarded with a long-term contract, Tello has not had regular playing time. When he has played, Tello has been true to stereotype: kick, rush, shoot, and nothing else.

His defensive displays are questionable and his link-up play below par. Worse, even the things he was supposed to be good at have seen decline. His lone goals this season was Barcelona's sixth against a hapless Celtic at the Camp Nou, and the 6-1 on aggregate goal against Cartagena, a lower division opponent in the cup. Worse, that goal was more of an epic fail from the keeper than a good goal.

When brought on, Tello has started to looked too desperate to impress sometimes. Too often he lashed out any shot opportunity he got, hoping to regain the ease with which he scored so frequently in the past two seasons. Instead, he'd just become a possession-wasting machine.

With Adama Traore and Jean Marie Dongou, Barcelona are not short on forward promises from the B team. Meanwhile, Deulofeu has grown a lot on a season-long loan to Everton.

Liverpool FC reportedly are interested in bringing Tello to help bolster their precarious depth along the forward line, where Iago Aspas and Victor Moses hardly inspire confidence.

It's unlikely Barcelona would sell Tello in this transfer window. For the moment he does reasonably well in his assigned rotation role, and finding a replacement in January doesn't seem in the cards. But what is his future?

Tello's potential was always seen as rather limited despite his precocious displays. Has his development finally hit a wall? Has he finally become too predictable? Or is it merely a slump?

A start today against Levante in the Copa del Rey would be ideal if it's the latter. Rather than a rushed substitute appearance, Tello could use some time to grow into the match. Plus, it would be a great chance to set the record straight after he was denied a winner against the very same team in the league earlier, when Keylor Navas made a great diving save.

Whether Tello has a future long-term at Barcelona will depend on if he can keep the things he's good at in top shape while continuing to fortify his weaknesses. If not, La Masia tends to create talented attackers by the barrel...