Javier Mascherano has found his name all over the gossip pages this week as rumors of a Barcelona exit and a lucrative move to China have appeared.
The Argentine has even taken time out to discuss the speculation, where he’s basically said he wants more playing time but he doesn’t yet know what will happen.
The upshot is that it sounds like he wants to leave, and it goes without saying that Mascherano has been such a superb servant to the club, he really deserves for his wishes to be respected.
But, and this is a big but, Barca have a massive problem at the moment with Samuel Umtiti out injured, most likely until the end of January.
Until then Ernesto Valverde only has Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Thomas Vermaelen as senior centre-backs, and Vermaelen’s injury record hardly inspires confidence.
Vermaelen has also been pretty vocal about the fact that he wasn’t allowed to leave in the summer and has regularly been linked with a January exit.
It says a lot that Valverde even tested out Sergio Busquets at centre-back during the midweek win over Sporting and said after the game, the midfielder is an option in defence.
All of which means that when Mascherano is fit again, he will be massively important to Barca and will most likely go straight into the team alongside Pique.
An injury to Pique, Mascherano or Vermaelen would leave Barca scarily short and while there is the B team, Valverde seems reluctant to use the youngsters at the moment.
David Costas has joined in with first-team training but has only managed a substitute appearance in the Copa del Rey so far.
Barca could, of course, look to bring in a centre-back or two during the January window, but big-name signings in the winter are rare and can take time to adjust.
Barcelona are also still being linked with a move for Philippe Coutinho and he still appears the club’s priority, rather than a defender.
The name of Yerry Mina will undoubtedly crop up again, but the latest speculation still suggests he will arrive in the summer after the World Cup, rather than the winter.
Barca’s defence has been their greatest strength so far this season, and unless they bring in quality reinforcements they simply can’t afford to let any of their centre-backs leave.