When I was first tasked with covering the best transfer of the season, I thought it was going to be the easiest post I could have written—I had a clear choice, everyone would agree unanimously, and all would be well in the Barca-verse. But as I sat down to actually do the deed, I realised that I was tasked with the impossible—what could I possibly say about Samuel Umtiti that hadn't been said already? Could I discuss his ability on the ball? Or maybe his aerial prowess? Surely I could talk about his fantastic sense of positioning?!
I tried, and I fell short.
There's a lot to say about Umtiti and how great he has been in the heart of defence for Barcelona but one of the many things that often goes unspoken is how seamless his transition has been in to the first team.
Barcelona and its defence haven't been the same since Carles Puyol decided to hang up his boots; Javier Mascherano did a commendable job of taking over from el capitan, but the little chief could never quite truly fill in. What he lacked in ability, Mascherano made up for, in tenacity. However, the honest truth is that there is no overlooking of defensive frailties for a centre-back—the role is demanding and the margin for error is non-existent at a club like Barca.
After multiple failed attempts and years of stop-gaps in the role, I had forgotten what a dominating centre-back partnership looked like—that is, till the arrival of Umtiti.
I had already seen the Frenchman at Lyon, and was expecting him to be crucial in phasing out Mascherano from the starting XI. However, nothing could have prepared me for the outright authority of Big Sam in defence.
Not only did he freeze Mascherano out, he formed a formidable partnership with Gerard Pique and was arguably a better performer than the World Cup winner throughout the season. While it is well accepted the Pique has done his best to take up the mantle of being a defensive leader, the substantial lack of quality around him has often been Barca's crucifix. The defensive stability that we've witnessed this season in spite of the lack of a true right-back goes a long way into emphasising just how crucial Umtiti has truly been in holding the fort.
After watching Puyol put his body in jeopardy time & again for the sake of the jersey and witnessing the club failing to fill the void that the captain left in the wake of his retirement, I can safely say today, that Barcelona have finally accomplished what they set out to do nearly five years ago—they have found someone worthy of taking Carles Puyol's place.
While there will be many names contesting the race to be the second best signing from last season, I think the French centre-back has quite rightly run away with being the best of the lot.
My second favourite player from this season's new recruits is another Frenchman; there are many who dislike the fact that Barca went out and got Digne despite the presence of a world-class potential in their own ranks. However, for what it's worth, Lucas has done just enough to warrant a place as the second best signing—while some would argue that the full-back did not do enough to inspire confidence, I'd like to say that he did just enough to be a solid bench piece throughout the season.
Switching between being a left-back and a centre-back, the strong Frenchman continued to put in solid showings on a consistent basis, unlike the rather hot 'n' cold nature of the rest of the arrivals. Ignored for a large part of the season on the left flank by Neymar, Digne still managed to display his defensive efficiency every time he was forced into action and that's exactly the kind of attitude one needs to perform when called upon from the bench.
It is difficult to quantify Gomes' performances. For starters, the Portuguese arrived for big money from Valencia and has been floating around in the line-up ever since. From the wings, to defence and every role in midfield, Gomes played just about every position Luis Enrique could think of. While a part of it was a consequence of his exhorbitant price tag, a major contributing factor was the lack of appropriate squad planning.
However, the midfielder did enough to convince part of the fan-base and the club that he deserves his place in the squad, and should be given another shot to prove his value to the club—I agree.
Another player from Valencia with a big price tag and the baggage of having forced out an academy player, Paco Alcacer comes with the preconceived notions surrounding both Digne and Gomes, but was not provided with as many chances as the the duo to show just what he could do.
Coming in with little pre-season, Alcacer started slow but eventually managed to find his scoring boots, helping Barca secure the Copa del Rey. More playing time and the support of the fans and club should do wonders for this promising player.
While Paco Alcacer started the season on a low and ended it on a high, Denis Suarez started strong and drifted off into mediocrity. After some excellent performances including his notable chemistry with Lionel Messi, Denis Suarez experienced a drastic reduction in his minutes as his performances continued to be wildly inconsistent.
While the player is talented and has a bright future ahead, I personally do not see him ever truly finding a place in the Barcelona squad.
Brought in as back-up and competition to Ter Stegen, it is safe to say that the Dutchman is a strong second choice and that's the only thing that matters. Besides, he did manage to save a crucial penalty for us, despite his horrendous record at them.
The former Ajax man however, is over qualified for the role of a back-up and it shouldn't be a surprise If the shot stopper decides to depart Catalonia for a larger share of minutes on the pitch.
Who was your favorite new signing?
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