Even though there have been no new signings, this has been quite a hectic summer for Barcelona. Following the humiliation at the hands of Bayern in the Champions League, Quique Setien was immediately sacked and replaced by Blaugrana legend Ronald Koeman.
The Dutchman has tried to stamp his brand on this team, making some notable changes to the side. As soon as he arrived, he called Luis Suarez and told him that he’s not in his plans, although he may be reintroduced as a rotation player if he fails to secure a move away.
The most notable change has been the 4-2-3-1 formation Koeman has implemented. It will be fascinating to see how the players adjust to having that double-pivot in the midfield. New signings Trincao and Pedri have caught the eye in preseason, while Carles Alena and Philippe Coutinho have returned from loan moves to play a part in the new team.
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s future is also under-fire, with a petition among club members calling for a vote of no confidence very close to reaching its target. His departure would be a very welcome sight, although even if the vote succeeds it’s a very complicated process in order to get a new president/board in charge early.
Of course, nothing this summer compares to the Lionel Messi transfer saga, but it has all been sorted now and he’s staying for at least one more year. Koeman’s new-look team is beginning to take shape, and there are some promising signs ahead of the new season.
However, there is one massive hole in the team, and it’s very clear: the full-backs.
As of now, there are four first-team full-backs at the club; Jordi Alba and Junior Firpo on the left, Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto on the right. At the moment, none of them deserve a starting spot.
Alba’s decline has been evident in the past few years, as he has never really recovered from that night in Anfield. Out of the four, he may be the only one who could change my mind, because his quality is well-known, it’s his form that’s way off. But right now, he’s not playing well enough to warrant a starting spot, and having a 31-year-old as the clear No. 1 isn’t smart either.
Firpo, on the other hand, isn’t out of form; he’s just not that good. The 24-year-old is an adequate backup, but he’s not good enough to start for a club like Barcelona, and he may never will be.
There were rumors of signing Jose Luis Gaya, but those have quietened, primarily because the club simply have no money. The awful financial decisions Bartomeu has made, combined with the COVID-induced revenue loss, means Barca need to sell before they can buy, and they’re struggling to get rid of their fringe players.
Now, on the right, Semedo is a different story. He was our best full-back last year without a doubt, but that’s more down to the poor play of Alba, Roberto and Co. He’s not a bad player, nor is he out of form. He’s just not good enough for Barcelona.
At the standards we hold our players to, at least at the standards we held our players to pre-Bartomeu, Semedo would never have been signed. Just like Arturo Vidal, Paulinho, Andre Gomes, Arda Turan, and Kevin-Prince Boateng would never have been signed.
It’s these types of signings, these exactly, that have typified Bartomeu’s reign over Barca. We have gotten accustomed to mediocrity. Quick-fixes, average players signed to plug certain gaps for one or two years. Sure, they might do their job initially. But every single minute they play are minutes wasted on players who have no future.
If the minutes Vidal and Ivan Rakitic played last season had been given to Riqui Puig and Alena, they’d both be better, more experienced players right now. But what happened? Alena was loaned out, and Puig played very sparingly. Rakitic was then sold for almost nothing, and Vidal will be too. Meanwhile, Puig and Alena are the future of Barca in the midfield, along with Frenkie de Jong, and they barely got a look in.
Back to Semedo, he is typical Bartomeu in the transfer market. After Dani Alves, likely the club’s greatest right-back ever, departed in 2015, Semedo, an unknown youngster from Benfica, was signed to replace him. Not Joshua Kimmich, who at the time was worth very little. Not Hector Bellerin, one of our own who was a top right-back at the time. Not even a La Masia prospect to develop (besides Roberto, who was just Mr. Versatility at the time).
When Messi said in his interview that Bartomeu has no project, signing Semedo is part of what he was referring to. His signing reminds me of Yerry Mina’s, a man who was popular and impressed in a less competitive league, but ultimately it became clear that he wasn’t good enough to play at the Camp Nou. The difference is it didn’t take much time with Mina, but it will with Semedo. Why? Because Semedo is obviously better than Mina. But one day, the club will realize the same thing they did with Mina, the same thing they did with Paulinho, and the same thing they eventually did with Vidal. He’s just not good enough for Barca.
Semedo is a decent right-back, and would be a great player in the Premier League, but at Barca, he is once again the symbol of settling for mediocrity. His passing is average at best, and his positioning is worse. He has a decent cross, great pace and at times good dribbling, but he is not a Barcelona player, plain and simple.
Roberto is a Barcelona player, but he’s simply too slow and weak to be a right-back. His positioning is excellent, and often bails out his lack of pace, but the lack of pace is a liability at any sign of an opposition counter-attack.
That’s why Alba could still have a future; on his day he has pace and excellent passing/positioning. On his day, Semedo always lacks one, while Roberto lacks the other.
With Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barca always look good in goal. At the heart of the defence, Ronald Araujo looks an absolute gem, and should get significant minutes this year. Clement Lenglet had an excellent and very underrated first season, and there’s always Gerard Pique. Jean-Clair Todibo may leave this summer, but if he stays he can also be a valuable option. We always harbor some hope that Samuel Umtiti can recover his form, but it’s been made pretty clear that if an offer is made, he’s gone.
The midfield looks set as well, with De Jong, Sergio Busquets, Puig and Alena to go along with new signing Miralem Pjanic at the double-pivot, and Coutinho, Pedri, Trincao and Messi all capable of playing the attacking midfield role.
On the wings, there is wonderkid Ansu Fati, fresh off his Spain debut, eternal wildcard Ousmane Dembele, Messi, Trincao and Pedri to work with, and up top we have Antoine Griezmann and possibly Suarez, with Martin Braithwaite as a backup. Maybe we’ll see Memphis Depay in Blaugrana colors, though it remains unlikely.
The problem is, there is no one to play full-back. It seems that Semedo will be given another go this season, and Koeman wanted a new left-back but that now seems almost impossible. There is simply not enough money, I get that, but it’s a pretty big hole to put the club in.
We are now left to hope that Alba can somehow recover his previous form and that Semedo’s passing and positional play improves substantially. Either that or Roberto suddenly got stronger and faster.
At Barca, the full-backs have always been of paramount importance. The connections Messi has had with Alves and then Alba were critical to the club’s success, and he hasn’t developed such a connection with Semedo, who is apparently the long-term starting right-back.
Koeman has assembled a younger, more exciting team than last year’s, but the full-back position continues to have a lack of cover, and quite frankly a lack of quality. This has to change sooner rather than later, and for now it leaves a gaping hole in the team.