The goal this summer is for Barcelona to build a team that can compete for trophies.
The Catalans are back in the Champions League and will be eager to test themselves against the best in Europe.
But La Liga is where Xavi and his team will be judged the most.
Real Madrid are the reigning champions, and they’ll have a target on their back.
Now is the time for Barcelona to reflect on how they compare to their rivals, and what positions they need to strengthen, in order to knock them off the throne.
In this series we will look at every position, and also compare the coaches and management. As summer transfers are made, we’ll also consider the impact of the new signings on the teams overall.
We start with the forwards by looking at the projected starters based on who’s currently signed for next season. We will look at the bench in another article.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang vs Karim Benzema
Right off the bat you have to give this one to Real Madrid.
It should be noted, however, that at the rate Auba has been scoring goals for Barcelona, he would be giving the Frenchman a run for his money in the Pichichi race, had he played a full season with the club.
Karim Benzema may be the best player in the world at the moment, and will be a top candidate for the Ballon d’Or.
He has 27 goals and 12 assists domestically. The stats alone are outstanding, but he should also be appreciated for his ability to come through in clutch moments.
Benzema dropped a bomb on PSG in the second leg of the Round of 16 of the Champions League by scoring three late goals in less than 20 minutes, sending the Parisians into an existential crisis.
That’s where Aubameyang falls short in the comparison. He is a natural goalscorer who can be counted on to get a goal when you put him in good situations. Having chemistry with his teammates, like Ousmane Dembele, will be essential to his success.
That’s why Robert Lewandowski becomes so intriguing as an upgrade. Lewandowski is accustomed to being the number one man at an elite club. He will take on that pressure single handedly and not shy away from it.
Aubameyang was a fantastic signing and will be a strong center forward next season. He was the biggest player at Dortmund and Arsenal, so isn’t a stranger to taking on pressure either. His 13 goals in all competitions in just three months is evidence of that, especially when you consider the uncertainties surrounding Barcelona in January.
But Barcelona wants to be the best again. Is an upgrade needed here? Or should they prioritize other positions?
Ansu Fati vs Vinicius Junior
This one is a true debate.
You have to start by acknowledging that Vini Junior had a breakout season with Real Madrid.
Carlo Ancelotti believed in him when others, the Brazilian national team included, sidelined him for not being a better finisher.
He has become the Robin to Benzema’s Batman, getting 17 goals and 10 assists in La Liga. The scariest part of all is their chemistry, and how they were able to create so many goal scoring opportunities together.
This is something that has been lacking up front for Barcelona for years. The unanswered question of why so many new forwards couldn’t find a way to play well with Messi after Neymar left. Under Xavi, there were encouraging signs of improvement in the combination play.
Ansu Fati only played 9 matches domestically in 2021-2022. But like in years past, he has been efficient with every minute given to him, and has proven he has an eye for goal, and can score in a variety of ways.
He also make the players around him better. His combinations with Memphis Depay were impressive to start the campaign, and later on with Aubameyang and Dembele too.
Fati will head into next season as one of the best young footballing prospects in the world. The question will be whether he can stay healthy.
If so, the Vini Junior vs Ansu Fati matchup is a wash as both clubs will have world class talent on the left wing.
Ferran Torres vs Rodrygo
I’d love to insert Ousmane Dembele here, as it would undoubtedly give Barcelona the advantage over the Merengues, but with his contract renewal in doubt, the next man up is Ferran Torres.
The third option, which is a real possibility, is Raphinha. So let’s all say our prayers that Leeds United are relegated over the weekend so that he becomes available for cheap (€25 million), and hence the steal of the summer.
Ferran Torres will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders next season. He was an expensive signing, and will cost €10 million per year in five installments to Manchester City.
In spite of contributing 6 goals and 6 assists since joining the team, he has divided the fan base, but continues to have the support of the manager who has been patient with him, perhaps to a fault. Torres has received more minutes than any other Barcelona forward in 2022.
Ferran’s biggest strength is his off the ball movement. He is a hard worker who gives defenders headaches trying to track where he’s going.
He is also a versatile player who can play all three positions up front. In my opinion, he is best suited as a utility player that you can use situationally as needed, at various points in games, and throughout the long course of a season.
As your out-and-out starter as a forward, however, this is where Barcelona fans will question whether they have the talent to compete with their rivals for the title.
Ferran really needs a good summer to improve his finishing, and his skill on the ball as well.
We want to see him have the courage to take defenders on directly, and to make his chances count when he finds himself in front of goal, which is often thanks to his intelligence and runs off the ball.
Rodrygo exploded onto the scene this year, although he featured as a substitute as often as he was a starter.
Gradually, he surpassed the likes of Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard in the depth chart, and with Valverde featuring often as a midfielder, the right wing position could be Rodrygo’s, until the day Kylian Mbappe sings.
Benzema was the hero against Paris, and Rodrygo was the man of the hour against Manchester City with late game heroics.
The Brazilian has a high ceiling, and could follow in Vinicius Junior’s footsteps with a breakout season.
This positional matchup between Barca and Real Madrid is also a wash as it stands. But watch this space.
If Real Madrid gets Mbappe’s signature soon, it will put pressure on Barcelona to re-sign Dembele, or at least find a way to bring in Raphinha.
My conclusion on forwards collectively is that Real Madrid has a significant advantage, especially when you consider the speculation over the summer signings.
Barcelona will have a challenge catching up, so it will be exciting to see what they do.
What do you think? Do Barcelona or Real Madrid have the better forwards?
Stay tuned. In the next post, we will be looking at the midfielders. It’s the youth of Barcelona vs the veterans of Real Madrid.