It is safe to say that the Clásico loss has not gone down well in Barcelona. The Catalan media has sniffed blood. They’ve published story after story, talking about disarray in the dressing room, problems with the assistant manager and the need for a summer rebuild. Apparently, President Bartomeu and Eric Abidal have decided that four new players are needed at the club, Neymar and Lautaro Martinez among them. Needless to say, this will be a very expensive operation, with the two of them alone costing around €300 million or so. Moreover, without a general restructuring of the squad, marquee attackers will only paper over the cracks.
This article is an attempt at constructing the ideal and, somewhat, realistic summer transfer window for the club.
So. Where do we begin? Well, Barça need new personnel in a host of places, yes, but their priority should be defence. In a team lacking width and general athleticism, it is the full-backs that are being tasked with the attacking onus. However, they themselves lack the ability to take on an outsized role in both attack and defence. Athletic full-backs are needed, and the club should make their acquisition a priority. Barça also need to invest in a central defender. With an out-of-sorts Samuel Umtiti and an ageing Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet seems to be the only Barça defender with any real promise, especially since Barça decided to ship off Jean-Clair Todibo to Schalke (under very puzzling terms). Investing in a physical presence at the back, with ball-playing ability, would go a long way to shoring up a rickety defence.
Barça could also do with a versatile attacker, a player who can play across the front line; someone who can play on left, down the middle and on the right, if need be. Midfield, perhaps, is the only area which does not need investment. With the return of Carles Alena and the continued maturation of Riqui Puig, Barça are stacked in the middle of the park.
With that in mind, let’s dig into this summer shopping list.
1. Timo Werner: (€60 million release clause)
A versatile attacker who can play across the front line, you say?
Well, Werner is the man for the job.
Under Nagelsmann (at RB Leipzig), Werner is the quintessential goal scoring winger. He can play in a front two, a front three or as one of two secondary strikers in a 3-4-2-1. Werner has functioned in two ways this season, either as a wide receiver on the left wing or as playmaker/secondary striker in the left half-space. When Leipzig play with four men at the back, Werner often plays out wider, dropping onto the left to link up with the left-sided midfielder. However, when Leipzig play with a back three, Werner often operates around the half-space space, linking up with the advancing wing-back. However, Werner is equally proficient through the middle, especially as a link-up presence with wingers.
His versatility has translated into significant end-product, especially this season. In 34 appearances this season, Werner has racked up 27 goals and 11 assists. His underlying numbers are solid, too (suggesting that this is not mere overperformance). Werner is taking an average of 4.1 shots per game, while also completing 2.1 dribbles and 1.5 key passes per 90, giving him an xG of 0.8 alongside an xA of 0.32. Impressive, indeed.
At Barça, Werner could play in a host of different formations and in a host of different positions, offering more versatility than Lautaro, at a much cheaper price. The ideal rebuild starts with him.
2. Dayot Upamecano: (€100 million release clause)
No, this is not just an RB Leipzig raid.
It’s just that some of their talents are just too good to pass up on. Upamecano is one of them. The 21-year-old is one of the most sought after defensive talents in the world and it is not hard to see why. Upamecano is, in many ways, the definition of the modern centre-half; a strong physical presence who is also excellent on the ball.
Upamecano averages 2.2 tackles per 90 alongside 1.9 interceptions and 3.3 clearances. Alongside, he racks up 71.2 passes per game with a pass accuracy of 88.9% while also putting up 1.6 dribbles per 90 (for reference, Pique manages 0.2 and Umtiti 0.6). The stats paint a clear picture: Upamecano is a good ball-mover with solid defensive numbers. He possesses great pace too. Remind you of anyone? A young Gerard Pique, perhaps? As a young defender under Pep, Pique possessed many of the same qualities (and still does, minus the pace).
With Pique aging out, Barca lack a solid progressor from defence. Umtiti was meant to be the one but he is not the player he once was. Upamecano could be that player. The one to fill Geri’s shoes. With the general athleticism of the team (and the back line) on a steep decline, the Frenchman could very well be the boost the back line needs.
3. Alejandro Grimaldo (est.€40 million)
A return would be very welcome. Barça are in desperate need of an overhaul at left-back and the Masia graduate could be the man for the job. The Spaniard has been immense for Benfica this season; he has been pivotal in attack, as usual, but has also cleaned up the defensive side of his game. He has been ever present for the LIGA NOS side, with the joint-highest appearances, and has notched up six assists, the second highest in the team.
His underlying numbers are, well, pretty ridiculous. He averages 2.2 tackles, 1.1 interceptions and 1.5 clearances per 90, while also chipping in with 2.3 key passes, 1.4 dribbles, 1.8 crosses and 1.2 shots per game. Astonishing. Right across the board. Grimaldo is quick, athletic and can replicate the attacking prowess of Jordi Alba, without being a defensive liability. At an estimated €40 million (his market value is around €35 million), Grimaldo is affordable and relatively low-risk. He has played in the Barcelona system before and is still relatively young, with a lot of room for improvement.
As a side note: If possible, the club should also look to bring Emerson back from Betis early (his loan ends in 2021), with a severance fee, if need be. The Brazilian has been excellent this season and would provide some much-needed support to Nelson Semedo. However, it is unknown whether the termination of the loan is possible, and hence, Emerson did not make it on to the list.