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Elche escape act shows Barcelona should focus on defenders in January

Too much talk of forwards, time to take seriously fixing the defensive line

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

All the chatter of signing a big-name forward this January will hopefully quiet down now.

La Masia has answered the call again.

Ez Abde and Ferran Jutgla have had the tryouts of their lives, and announced themselves as regular first-team players.

Xavi’s system requires fast and versatile wingers who can take defenders on. For the price, does anyone really think that Ferran Torres will impact the team more than Abde is right now?

How entertaining (and effective) to see the balanced and interchangeable firepower of Ousmane Dembele and Abde, owning the touchline and anyone who dared challenge them.

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

How long has it been since Barca played with so much vertical threat?

And how much space it opens up down the middle for the creativity of a budding superstar like Gavi.

Or a number nine who knows how to make runs behind defensive lines. Jutgla put in a center-forward masterclass against Elche with his movement off the ball.

That’s another box Xavi can check for the upcoming transfer window.

Let the young guys have their opportunity this spring, and reconsider bigger signings over the summer when the biggest and best names are available.

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images

With the imminent returns of Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite, and Memphis Depay, Barcelona will have a litany of weapons up front to achieve the goal of securing their spot in next year’s Champions League.

That is, if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with unforced defensive errors.

We may be entering a new era in international football where central defenders become the hottest commodities on the market.

The Messi and Ronaldo decades long goalscoring extravaganza is coming to an end, while the goal stopping, and club changing, ability of defenders like Virgil van Dijk and Ruben Dias is the new focus of elite clubs with ambition to be the best.

Barcelona should try to join that club sooner rather than later.

Between David Alaba and Vinicius Jr, who deserves more credit for the improved form of Real Madrid this season?

It’s an interesting debate, but the answer is of course both in equal parts.

You will never compete for titles without an elite lineup up and down the field. Real Madrid are now leading the league on both sides of the ball.

Barcelona’s defense, however, continues to be the weak point.

This needs to be addressed immediately.

The easiest solution would be to go the academy and throw Mika Marmol into the deep end. Sink or swim, the same as it was for Abde and Jutgla.

As a left-footed center back, Barca fans would love to see the young Marmol given a chance over Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti, especially if the latter can be moved on.

Marmol is a bit undersized (1.81m), but he’s a progressive defender in the Barcelona mould who has been anchoring the Barca B defense all season, and will surely be hungry to show the focus and intensity needed to be successful in games at the highest level.

The supply for center backs on the market may be low, but this is where Laporta needs to work his magic.

If Xavi has the humility, which I hope he does, he may even acknowledge he needs help on the coaching end.

The poor defensive organization on set pieces, and marking in the open play as well, continues to put vital points at risk.

Ronald Araujo, who was playing out of position as a right full-back, even showed he was human against Elche making a few bad mistakes.

Put him back in the center and let him be the leader we know he can be, and build around him as a pillar going forward.

There are already a few short-term solutions.

FC Barcelona v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dani Alves looked confident and dangerous midweek against Boca and Jordi Alba is the man who just won’t quit.

The question will be who rounds out the four on the backline. And that question is perhaps the most consequential of all facing the club.

Let’s see if Barcelona can end the year on a high note against Sevilla.

I’m betting there will be danger in the attack from the new-found solutions.

But the defenders will continue to be the wildcard until something significant changes.

Hopefully reinforcements are on the way.