The metamorphosis of Sergi Roberto is nearing completion.
A product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, the Spaniard has long been thought of as a long-term replacement for the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta and whilst his ability to contribute in the middle has rarely been questioned, it’s as a full-back that the 26-year-old is flourishing.
This transformation is undoubtedly less aesthetically appealing than his original hopes of becoming the next great Barcelona man in the middle but it’s just as important. It’s not every day a player gets labelled successor to the likes of Xavi or Iniesta; a role that’s often described with superlatives such as maestro and virtuoso but he’s worth no less to the Blaugrana as a full-back.
His willingness to play out of position under coach Ernesto Valverde has ensured Roberto remains a constant first team player this season but what’s surprising to many is his ability to contribute so effectively on both ends of the pitch.
Roberto’s pace and stamina are vital to this success at full-back and he’s more than surpassed all expectations thus far. He covers a great deal of space down the right flank and his sense of anticipation when marking or defending against quality attacking opponents is evident for all to see. Up front Roberto is just as lethal with six assists in 19 appearances.
Ernesto Valverde’s tactics clearly rely on the creativity of his full-backs, as evidenced by both Roberto’s and Jordi Alba’s level of play this season and the departure from the highly successful 4-3-3 formation has given ample opportunity to both full-backs to play an integral role in creating for the Blaugrana attack.
Still, there are many who see Nelson Semedo as the player who stands to oppose Roberto’s chances of becoming the first choice at right-back but statistically it’s clear that Sergi has him covered. Semedo has failed to create a single assist this season and despite his defensive nous, the Portuguese international will need to improve his attacking game to mount a serious challenge to Roberto.
With a great deal of football still to be played in a number of competitions this season, there’s clearly room for both Roberto and Semedo to contribute to the team but it’s becoming abundantly clear that Sergi Roberto’s future is as Barcelona’s first choice right back.