Sadly, Barcelona full-back Aleix Vidal will be out for the remainder of the season. A shame as he was getting into peak form before he suffered this ill-timed injury.
Sergi Roberto will likely be the starting right-back, but he will still need to be rested from time to time, and he’s suspended for the Copa del Rey final. Plus, God forbid he gets injured...
Barcelona need to plan for this, so here are their options among players already in the squad:
Status: Center-back and occasional defensive midfielder
Strengths: Positioning, tackling, somewhat familiar with RB position, right-footed.
Weaknesses: Lack of offensive output and speed.
Mascherano remains the quickest and most dependable fix available to Luis Enrique. Lucho has played Mascherano at right-back this season, and he has had experience playing there from his days at Liverpool. Mascherano isn’t the fastest, but he makes up for it with great positioning and few are as adept at tackling as the Argentine. He won’t bring a lot in terms of attack, but he can solidify the defense. Of course, you lose him in the center of defense, but Samuel Umtiti has been doing extremely well in his position.
Status: Backup left-back.
Strengths: Familiar with being a fullback at Barcelona, reasonable mix of pace and strength in the air.
Weaknesses: Left-footed and hasn’t exactly set the world on fire on the left.
Digne has done a reasonable job as Jordi Alba’s deputy and could perhaps be counted on to switch flanks. He’s not been outstanding, but he’s not been a failure either. Digne’s biggest weakness might be being left-footed, as fullbacks usually much prefer defending with their favored foot towards the flank.
Status: Central defender
Strengths: Strong, reasonably fast, and good in the air, doing an outstanding job in his first season at Barcelona.
Weaknesses: Left-footed, not proven as a creator from the wing.
Umtiti and Mascherano could switch places. Umtiti is faster than Mascherano, which could be a boon for a fullback. The biggest issue is that he is also left-footed, and not particularly familiar with the right-back position.
Strengths: Knows the Barcelona system, reasonably fast, good offensive output.
Weaknesses: Not the strongest defensively, unfamiliar with defense.
Rafinha could be “the next Sergi Roberto”, another midfielder converted by Luis Enrique into a right-back. Rafinha has comparable speed to Roberto, plus he’s a La Masia product who understands the system very well and can become quite adaptable. Rafinha has played as a right-winger and a right midfielder, so why not right-back? The Brazilian is not a defensive powerhouse, but he’s a good passer, great dribbler, and has a good shot.
Strengths: Rapidly improving and fitting into the system, good rapport with Lionel Messi on offense.
Weaknesses: Not very strong in defense, still inconsistent.
Suárez has been showing his potential lately and is making a case for playing more time. His chemistry with the rest of Barcelona, and particularly Messi, would be an invaluable asset at right-back. Despite this, he’s not the strongest in defense. There’s also the question of whether Suárez should be allowed to concentrate to fitting in in midfield, rather than being asked to play somewhere else.
Which of these would be the best choice? There are other, more creative solutions as well. Check back later as we take a look at a little more thinking outside the box.