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The Dilemma of Barcelona’s Center-Back Situation

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Can Umtiti compete for a starting role?

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FC Barcelona’s signings this summer transfer window raises some questions regarding their ‘Gala XI’ for the upcoming season. Following up their historic second treble with a La Liga and Copa Del Rey double last season, the idea of making changes to what has worked so well may sound asinine. However, it is something that needs to happen sooner rather than later for the benefit of the club.

The main point of speculation is the role of the center-backs entering the new campaign. Both Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano have been un-droppable under Luis Enrique these last two seasons. The addition of Samuel Umtiti raises questions into how long the Pique/Mascherano pairing will last going forward.

Umtiti impressed pundits and fans worldwide with his performance at the European Championships this summer, where he helped France reach the final. He had been a regular starter for Lyon since he was an 18-year-old and he fits the profile of a ‘Barcelona defender’. All the signs point to him being able to contribute sooner rather than later, but at the expense of whom?

Since rediscovering his form under Enrique, Pique has been arguably the best center-back in all of football. He played perhaps the best game of his career to help win the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla last year. He is still in his prime, so it is hard to see him getting dropped from the regular starting eleven anytime soon.

Barcelona v Sevilla - Copa del Rey Final Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The half of the pairing that raises the biggest question is Mascherano. ‘El Jefecito’ has been extremely important to Barcelona since he signed during the Pep Guardiola era, with some fans referring to him as ‘The captain without the armband’ for the presence and leadership on the pitch. He embodies the spirit and never say die attitude the club gives off. Despite that, towards the end of another long campaign, one could see Mascherano beginning to lose a step, if only a bit.

Mascherano isn’t exactly in his prime anymore. He is 32 years old and while one can assume he has energy in the left in the tank, age is something that catches up to everyone. As he begins to exit the prime of his career, one that has seen him make 282 appearances for Barca, what will be the situation going forward for him and the club?

Rumors circulated soon after the 2015-16 season that Mascherano was perhaps looking to leave along with Dani Alves to Juventus. Those rumors have died down, but the thought remains whether Mascherano has a guaranteed starters role at the club heading into this campaign. A season that could potentially be one of major transition at the club.

Barcelona v Sevilla - Copa del Rey Final Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Umtiti was brought in for the future of the Blaugrana defense, but is he ready to make a contribution right away and legitimately compete for playing time against arguably the best center-back pairing in the world?

Although he can also operate as a left-back Umtiti’s primary role will be in the middle of the defense.

Ideally for Barcelona, Umtiti would not be rushed into a pressure filled role right away, and would spend the majority of the season as the 3rd option at center-back and perhaps seeing a lot of minutes as a substitute and starting whenever Pique or Mascherano need a rest.

Enrique is known to make rotations at certain positions throughout the long league campaign, but the question of how long the transition will take is something that Barca fans should follow closely.