Thoughts on FdJ

Discussions about FdJ are frustrating. People hold completely incompatible views on his ideal role in the team, but everyone asserts that his evaluation is self-evidently correct.

I think everyone agrees that he is a very high quality player. He's also a guy who excels in many different facets of the game: he's brilliant with the ball at his feet, he's not shy when things get physical, he's capable of making great passes, he has an engine that never stops, his ego doesn't seem to get in the way of contributing to the team, he makes intelligent choices when he's on the ball and he makes great runs into the box from deep. His ability to move from the midfield to that libero role highlights the versatility that comes from having such a wide array of abilities.

Why is it, then, that his versatility doesn't translate to adapting to different roles in the midfield?

Some people are insistent that he will be best as a single pivot, and argue that our failure to use him in that role is limiting team performance. Some people argue that he should operate in a more central role, where his ability to dribble through the middle of the field can be exploited. Some people argue that he needs to be deployed in a double pivot. And all of these statements seem to be made to explain why we are still waiting to see the best of him.

We see versatility across midfield roles displayed by other top quality players. Kante, Thiago, Kimmich, Verratti and de Bruyne have all shown an ability to adapt to different midfield roles. Busquets was undroppable for Spain when they used a double pivot as well as for Barca when he played alone in that space, and over time he adapted from a short-passing game to become Barca's deep playmaker. Pedri came to Barca as an attacking midfielder but cemented a role in the center of the field. Even Gavi has shown an ability to adapt, and he's only 17. So why are we left having to make so many excuses about de Jong being deployed in the wrong role, or needing to adjust our midfield arrangements, in order to get the best out of him?

For all of his strengths, I feel that de Jong has one weakness in his game that limits him in the Barca midfield. I feel he doesn't move well enough without the ball to receive passes in the middle of the field. In Barca's heyday, Xavi and Busquets were always masterful in the dimension: it really didn't matter where the ball was on the field, these two ALWAYS established a passing lane to make themselves available for the man with the ball. In particular, they were always available to each other. The ball would move to the middle of the field, drawing defenders to the center, only for the ball to find men in space on the periphery, or for Xavi, Iniesta and Messi to thread the ball through the tiny spaces between closing defenders. De Jong seems much more committed to maneuvering into larger spaces to receive the ball, and that often means positioning himself to receive a backwards pass. When he does find pockets of space to receive a progressive pass, and he's able to push the ball forward or pass towards the flanks, Barca looks their best. But I think this happens too infrequently. Potentially this has been influenced by the tactical role he's been asked to play in some games (like the last one against Osasuna) - but I feel this has been a general issue for quite some time.

It's possible, though, that I'm just nostalgic and wishing de Jong would transform into Xavi.

<em>This does not represent the views of Barca Blaugranes or SBNation</em>