As a fan, having to watch Sergi Roberto run up and down the flank on a weekly basis can be incredibly exhausting. By the time the clock has reached the 60-minute-mark, the Catalan is usually overclocking himself and one can noticeably see him gasping for air every time he makes an overlap.
A full-back is defined by his athletic ability, which helps him to hold his own when the opposition counters. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba have been instrumental to Barcelona’s tactics in recent history and the latter continues to be a crucial part of the puzzle for the Blaugrana. Dani Alves’ departure, however, has crippled what once used to be Barcelona’s dominant flank.
Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Dani Alves had an almost telepathic connection on the right wing which continued even after the midfield maestro departed. Alves’ transfer away from the club meant that Messi was, more often than not, isolated on the flank with no one to play quick one-twos with. The Argentine is a player who likes to have the ball at his feet. If you deprive him of it, he will vacate his position to drift into an area with greater possession as can be seen in recent pass maps.
One of the prime reasons why that dynamic worked despite Xavi’s absence was Rakitic’s ability to evade the press. He may not have been able to keep up with Messi and Alves, but he did not let the play slow down on his account. With Alves gone, the triangle has been reduced to a line. Sergi Roberto, for all his drive, is unable to provide the telepathic outlet that his predecessor did and therein lies the problem. Not only is he stranded on the flank alone, but he is also vulnerable to counters on account of his athletic limitations.
Nelson Semedo,who is already 25, remains the alternative to Roberto. The Portuguese full-back has been here long enough to impress the coach and demand minutes. He has the defensive ability, raw pace, and athleticism that are quintessential for a man in his role. However, his output has disappointed and that has left him vulnerable to criticism and exclusion from the coach.
It may seem a reach from the fans’ perspective, but the dressing room is a living, breathing organism and there’s a very good chance that the players have an influence on who gets to play on the pitch. At the moment, Roberto is ahead in terms of pure production and that could be another factor leading to his regular inclusion.
Still, Semedo is currently the only viable long-term solution to a systemic problem that has impaired an important aspect of Barcelona’s structure. If chemistry is truly the only thing missing from his game, then it would be wise to give him the game time necessary to understand his team-mates and their movements.
If not, then the fans should continue bracing themselves for a season of lethargy and exhaustion in the coming months and beyond.