It’s too early to jump to conclusions but after Real Madrid comprehensively defeated Barcelona there seemed to be a gulf in squad depth and ability between the two that hasn’t been seen before.
This isn’t to say Barcelona will have a season akin to Chelsea’s 2015/16, their squad is still good enough to challenge for the title but possibly not to win both the title and compete in the latter stages of the Champions League – which can be seen as they’ve crashed out the Champions League in the Quarter-Finals for the past two seasons.
It feels as though new manager Ernesto Valverde and the board have a lot of sorting out to do with regards to the squad. A lot of their players are aging and the signings they’ve made in recent years don’t look good enough to replace their stars.
This plus the loss of Neymar has the club scrambling in the last two weeks of the transfer window. With clubs knowing they’re sitting on the Neymar money and need a replacement the Catalan club are going to be quoted prices a lot higher than had they gone in for them a month ago.
In this piece I’ll try to show how their mistakes over the years have accumulated to the squad being how it is now, seeing how avoidable these mistakes were and seeing what the solutions are for Barcelona.
An Aging Squad and Poor Signings
The bulk of Barcelona’s starting side hasn’t really changed too much since Pep Guardiola was at the club, though this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given the talent of the players, it does mean many of these players are past their peak.
Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are all 30 or over while Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic will be joining them at the end of this season. This means that for 7 players out of their starting 11 their peak years are most likely behind them.
This isn’t to say Barca should shove them all out but it does mean they should be planning for life after these players and have some talented youngsters who are being brought into the first team ready to take over from these players.
At the moment this doesn’t seem to exist, the signings they’ve made over recent years are significantly worse than the players they’re replacing. While not every signing will be a success it feels as though Barcelona are making a lot more misses than hits in recent years which has accumulated to having a squad where the drop-off from starter to rotation option is huge.
If Barcelona are chasing a game who off the bench would be a good option to bring on?
The task of replacing players like the ones listed above plus the likes of Xavi, Dani Alves, Pedro and David Villa isn’t easy, but Barcelona are also making it a lot harder than it has to be.
It’s time to dive into some of their past windows to see where they’ve made their mistakes, if they were avoidable and how it’s accumulated over the years. We’ll start looking in 2012/13, the first year without Pep.
The 2012/13 Window
Barcelona’s two signings this window were Jordi Alba from Valencia and Alex Song from Arsenal. Two players who’ve had massively contrasting success at the club.
Alba was a good signing, only 23-years-old at the time and costing ~£12.6m he was a good long-term replacement for Eric Abidal who was getting older and experiencing health problems.
Alex Song however was not such a good signing.
It’s worth noting that this was 5 years ago and inflation has had a huge effect on prices in that time with £17m being a lot more then than it is now.
Despite being the holding midfielder Song’s defensive performance at Arsenal wasn’t that of a defensive midfielder. He tended to operate more as a box-to-box type player and excelled at through-balls – particularly to Robin van Persie.
This isn’t a terrible thing, a box-to-box player good at through-balls may be a useful addition to the Barcelona midfield plus he’s still only 24-years-old, so who knows?
But it just felt like a transfer that wouldn’t work out from the beginning.
Song was nowhere near good enough to displace Busquets, Xavi or Iniesta from their starting position, while Barca still had the likes of Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara as cover for those three.
As shown in the radar below from @MixedKnuts for Song’s last season at Arsenal it’s pretty good for a box-to-box midfielder, but, is it good enough for Barcelona? If you saw this radar and you were in charge of transfers would you want to spend £17m on him (in 2012)?
Alex Song, Arsenal 2011-12. Drove fans insane that year, but this is a pretty good box-to-box season. pic.twitter.com/4S9lsJXZIO
— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) June 25, 2014
It’s easy to criticise these kinds of things in hindsight but this is just the start of these kinds of moves for Barca.
It’s not say the players are terrible it’s just asking 1) Are they an improvement on what you already have? (or at least same quality but different style) and 2) Will they improve in the future? In the case of Song he wasn’t an improvement on what they had and he was the same age as Busquets so it’s not a buy for the potential to take the spot long-term.
The 2013/14 Window
The 13/14 window wasn’t as bad for Barca with only really one big mistake.
The window saw the arrival of Neymar for a fee that no one is really sure about (TransferMarkt has it at £80m). Despite the mystery surrounding the details of the transfer – which doesn’t matter so much now that they’ve made a huge profit on him – Neymar was a great transfer.
David Villa was 31-years-old and shipped off the Atletico Madrid so Barcelona were after a new left-winger.
While in the short-term this move may didn’t get off the the best of starts with Villa helping guide Atletico the league title and Champions League final, Neymar still managed a Goal + Assist p90 of 0.985 in his first European season.
He even went on to produce close to Messi numbers in 15/16 with an xG + xA of 0.910 p90, Messi had 1.096 p90, and a non-penalty G + A of 1.090 p90 while Messi had 1.352 p90.
Last season he didn’t quite manage to get as close to Messi numbers but an xG + xA of 0.753 p90 still put him 10th in Europe for players with over 900 mins and 1st for players 25 and under.
The only other signing was that of Bojan Krkic who was bought back from Roma only to be loaned out to Ajax and eventually sold to Stoke a year later.
The big mistake though was in the outgoings as they let a 22-year-old Thiago leave for £22m to Bayern Munich. Given how Thiago had been highly thought of at Barcelona and how he only had to make a couple more appearances the previous season to have a bump in his release clause this was a really strange move.
Had they kept hold of Thiago this would have been a great window for them but to lose him and see him become one of the best and most complete midfield players in Europe must be awful. He could have been the long-term solution to either of the Xavi or Iniesta roles but instead they lost him, for what is now a minimal fee for a player of his quality, to Pep’s Bayern.
The 2014/15 Window
This is where things heat up a bit. Barca spent a massive £150m, shipped out two Pep signings for £70m, saw Carles Puyol retire and Victor Valdes leave.
The big signing of the summer was Luis Suarez signing for ~£73.55m from Liverpool. After a great season with Liverpool in which they just missed out on the title Suarez was the standout player and it was a good signing for Barcelona.
Signing him for that much at 27-years-old feels as though they’re accepting he won’t have a high resale value but the famous MSN front-line was hugely successful for Barcelona leading them to a treble in their first season together.
Sticking with the good transfers the two ‘keeper signing’s for £10m each were good. Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen were signed in the same summer and after the young German ‘keeper had an injury in pre-season Bravo became the number 1.
Both signings worked out well though, Ter Stegen has become the number 1 while Bravo was moved on for a profit to Man City.
Ivan Rakitic was also brought in from Sevilla, presumably due to Xavi aging and Cesc Fabregas being sold for £30m the club were looking for reinforcements in the middle of the park.
Fabregas never really fit in at Barca so moving him on made sense and then while Rakitic has been a decent signing over the years the problem is that he’s a downgrade on Xavi. Had he been a short-term solution while Barca seek a youngster who can grow into the role it’d have been okay, but because they haven’t it starts to become a slippery slope.
Replacing one player with one who’s still good but not quite as good should be okay – particularly with how strong the front three are – but if this starts to happen in a few positions, which it is starting to, it becomes a problem.
While Rakitic may have worked out okay the signing of him and the two defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu seem to be when the mistakes really started to kick in.
The Vermaelen signing didn’t make much sense at the time.
By the time Barca bought him he was 28-years-old, wasn’t really a first choice at Arsenal with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertersacker being preferred and already had a reputation of being injury prone – missing 15 games in 13/14.
It’s a situation where he wasn’t an improvement on what they had and also not a good age to buy and definitely not a good age to give them a 5 year contract (his contract is up in 2019 and I wouldn’t imagine he’d signed a renewal in that time).
Mathieu also makes just as little sense, he was slightly older than Vermaelen at 30-years-old and not only did Barca spend ~£18m on him they also slapped a 4 year contract on him.
These are two players who before they were bought you knew weren’t good enough for Barca and are pretty old to be spending £35m on and giving long-term contracts.
Considering Barca already had Pique, Mascherano and Marc Bartra at centre-back it feels as though the money would have been better spend on a centre-back either side of Bartra’s age who would have been 23 at the start of the season.
The only other outgoing was that of Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal for ~£38m. While he would have been a useful player to keep around it seems unlikely he wouldn’t have accepted being second choice to the MSN.
Barca made a healthy profit on him and most likely needed to raise some funds after spending so much so this is a decent deal.
In summary this seems to be where the mistakes started to happen for Barca. Suarez has been an expensive success, the ‘keepers proved to be good value and Rakitic has been okay but overall Barca spent £150m and Suarez was the only player you could say really strengthened them.
The 2015/16 Window
A fairly quiet window due to their transfer ban only two players were brought in – Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal.
Arda Turan is a talented player but, again, given that he’s not an improvement on the first eleven, he cost £30m and he’s 28 it just seems a strange signing.
If Barcelona want depth surely they could get it cheaper than £30m or younger than 28.
To make things worse they even slapped a 5-year-contract on Turan, most of which will be after his peak years.
Aleix Vidal for £15m is also not the best piece of business.
Vidal had only had 2 seasons in La Liga – one with Almeria the other with Sevilla – and turned out not to be good enough for Barca.
While the thinking was probably for him to be a replacement for Dani Alves who was entering his final year of contract it didn’t work out. It’s not as bad as the Turan, Mathieu and Vermaelen deals given he was 25-years-old and it was an area they needed to recruit in, but it didn’t work out.
The loss of Pedro to Chelsea was also a big blow as he too didn’t want to play second fiddle to the MSN. Pedro had been a great player for Barca over the years popping up with important goals, losing him is a big dent in the depth of the squad.
The only good thing is that at around £24m for a 28-year-old they got a nice fee for the wide player.
This window was another bad one, £45m spent and no improvement to the team while losing a player who had been important over the years.
This and the last window also feel completely avoidable. It’s not a case of ‘hey I wonder why that didn’t work out’ it’s more ‘I can’t see that working out’.
The 2016/17 Window
After the disappointment of a Quarter-Final knockout Barca wanted to set things right in 16/17 so they went out and spent £110m to improve the squad. Instead, though, it feels more like they said ‘you thought those last two windows were bad?’.
One positive of this window was the ages of the signings were much better. The oldest outfielder signed was 23 which is a huge improvement on the old days of signing players leaving their peak on long contracts.
The negatives are the choices of young players they opted to sign.
Midfielder Andre Gomes is the player who seems to get the most criticism from fans after being signed for around £30m last summer. He was only 22-years-old when signed and as a regular in the Valencia side but doesn’t seem to be good enough for Barca.
With it looking as though it’s a move unlikely to work out you have to ask was this transfer bad luck and the player not adjusting or was this a bad signing from the start?
In this case it seems more like the latter.
Again consulting @MixedKnuts’ radars the tweet below shows how nothing jumps off the page from Gomes’ last season at Valencia, while the low passing ability seems like the complete opposite of what will be expected of him at Barcelona.
As in HEY, we have someone who wants to sell us Andre Gomes for €35M. Does this seem like a good idea?
Data guy: No, no it does not. pic.twitter.com/xi3MBRFpAL
— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) June 14, 2017
It’s another bad transfer that Barcelona should have seen coming a mile away.
Also signing from Valencia was Paco Alcacer for £27m, his stats we more impressive than Gomes’ with 0.4 xG p90 and also 0.4 NPG p90.
Barca were probably looking for a back-up option to Suarez and while I don’t think this transfer is great it’s more understandable than the Gomes one and Alcacer did have an impressive xG of 0.491 p90 and a reasonable xA p90 of 0.197.
The sample size may be small given just 849 minutes played, but they are impressive numbers and given more time it makes you think Alcacer could be a minimum of a decent squad player for Barca. He can definitely score goals it’s just a matter of whether or not he fits Barca stylistically.
Following on from the pair from Valencia was a pair from France with Samuel Umtiti joining from Lyon and Lucas Digne joining from PSG.
Umtiti has been a great signing, still only 23-years-old he’s pretty much become the first-choice centre-back next to Gerard Pique now starting 24 La Liga games last season – and there’s good reason for this. Last season Umtiti had the highest xP Rating of all centre-backs with >1000 passes in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
You’d imagine he’ll be in the Barca defence for years to come and £22m for a promising young centre-back – in the same summer when John Stones went for £50m, Shkodran Mustafi for ~£35m and Eric Bailly for around the same – is pretty good value from Barca.
Digne on the other hand has done okay and been a decent back-up for Alba but doesn’t look as though he’s the long-term replacement for Alba.
The final two players were Denis Suarez for £3m from Villareal (presumably a buy-back clause) and Jasper Cillessen for £12m from Ajax.
Suarez is a skillful player and given they sold him to Villareal for the same price the previous year the transfer was basically free. He’s a useful squad player but last year he didn’t have a huge impact in terms of production. He created 1 chance p90 and had an xA of 0.120 p90.
If Suarez is seen in the Iniesta role then while does need to improve his numbers aren’t miles away.
Last season despite not being one of Iniesta’s best the World Cup winner managed an xA of 0.214 p90, 2.23 successful take-ons p90, 2.095 passes in the box p90, and 1.621 chances created p90. Suarez in comparison had 0.120 xA p90, 0.99 successful take-ons (despite attempting around the same as Iniesta only had 43.3% completion compared to Iniesta’s 80.5%), 1.371 passes in the box p90 and again only 1 chance created p90.
So he’s not far away from a declining Iniesta which makes him a useful player to keep around, but it also doesn’t feel like he’s going to force his way into the starting eleven. Given he was practically free it’s not a bad transfer, he’s useful to have – but it’s not really the answer to any of their problems either.
Lastly after selling Bravo Barca were short in goal and Cillessen is a decent buy. He’s not going to dislodge Ter Stegen but he’ll be a good back-up.
Similar to the summer they bought Suarez Barca spent big – £110m this time – yet didn’t seem to improve their team with Umtiti being the only player to look a good signing, while the jury is still out on whether Alcacer and Suarez can come into the team.
It means over the last 3 windows they’d spent around £305m with only 2 players improving their side, taking away the costs of thse 2 players they’ve basically spent £200m on average players (for Barcelona standards) and tried to use them to replace some of the best players of the last 10-15 years.
The Current Window – Is It Still Salvageable?
Losing Neymar is a massive blow for Barca, while they may have been heavily compensated, it’s going to be incredibly hard (and expensive) to replace the output of the Brazilian.
Clubs know Barcelona need a Neymar replacement and that they’re sitting on £200m so whoever they opt to go for will cost them a huge amount of money, but before getting onto who can replace Neymar we’ll look at the other players they’ve bought in this summer.
The big one has been Paulinho, after not having the impact he would have liked at Spurs he was shipped off the China. He has good stats in China but this isn’t a good move and is reminiscent to the signings of Mathieu, Vermaelen and Turan. Paulinho is 29, so will most likely be leaving his peak, yet they spend a big £35m on him and slap a 4 year contract on him.
Considering they’ve spent all summer flirting with Nice’s Jean Michael Seri this transfer doesn’t really make any sense. Seri just turned 26, had a great year in France last season and is available for pretty much the same price. While Paulinho could have a good season and prove doubters wrong it’s unlikely he’ll warrant both the fee and the length of the contract in the long run.
Bringing back Gerard Deulofeu wasn’t a terrible idea, Deulofeu had looked a bit brighter at Milan and would be a decent rotation option in the front three while still only being 23-years-old. He could play a similar role for Barcelona as Lucas Vasquez does at Real Madrid, Deulofeu is around 3 years younger than Vasquez but his output at Milan wasn’t too far behind the Real Madrid man.
Deulofeu managed 0.476 xG + xA p90 while Vasquez had 0.589 p90. Given Barcelona are stronger in La Liga than Milan were last season in Serie A you’d imagine he can improve on this number too.
The problem is as a rotation option he’s a decent signing, but after selling Neymar he’s been thrust into the starting eleven and doesn’t look up to it – he’s still got a lot of adapting to do to be part of the front three.
The last two signings were Nelson Semedo and Marlon. I don’t have detailed stats on Semedo and don’t know much about Marlon but I’d say these are decent signings. Semedo is a good attacking full-back and after Vidal didn’t work out and Sergi Roberto was only makeshift, Semedo should be a great signing for Barca. Still only 23-years-old they’ve signed him at a good age and while he can continue to improve himself he’s also an improvement on their starting eleven already.
Marlon meanwhile is only 21-years-old and only cost £4.5m so it seems low risk and potentially high reward. Should he develop into a good first team player it’s a bargain, if not they should be able to recoup the fee in a few years time.
Now onto the hard part. Can Barca replace Neymar?
First of all let’s break down what they’re replacing by listing some stats for Neymar from last season.
His expected and actual output:
|Player||Team||xG p90||xA p90||G p90||A p90|
Some key stats of his:
|Player||Team||Shots p90||Successful Take-Ons p90||Chances Created p90||Passes in the box p90||Crosses in the box p90|
Filtering for his key stats no players come up, which shows how Barcelona are unlikely to find a Neymar v2 but instead should focus on replacing his output.
Though focusing on his output doesn’t make things much easier. Filtering for players with over 0.35 xG p90 and 0.35 xA p90 and only 2 pop up -Neymar and Lionel Messi.
The two players Barca have been linked with over recent weeks are Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele and there’s good reason for both of them.
Coutinho spent last season playing on the left-wing and had stats at a similar level (0r higher) to that of Neymar’s when it comes to goal-scoring and shot taking but falls short when it comes to take-ons and creativity.
Interestingly Coutinho created only marginally less (0.2 p90) chances p90 than Neymar last season but had a lower xA p90 with 0.264 compared to Neymar’s 0.385 p90. While he only managed around half the number of take-ons as Neymar did with 2.846 successful p90 – which is still a good number and shouldn’t be that big of deal.
Dembele meanwhile was the opposite to Coutinho. His creativity numbers are great and better than Neymar but his goal-scoring lacks.
Dembele created 2.732 chances p90 and had a ridiculously impressive xA of 0.406 p90 but his xG p90 of 0.219 is just over half of the 2 Brazilian’s.
This makes both potential signings interesting.
While Coutinho may be more likely to replace Neymar’s goals it feels as though the Liverpool man may want to drop off and create more which may not suit Messi who thrives with players such as Suarez, Pedro and Villa making runs in behind.
But then Dembele is more creator than goalscorer too. With that being said though, given how young he is and how much progress he’s made in the past 2 seasons then you wouldn’t bet against him being able to add goals to his game.
Long-term Dembele is a fantastic signing and his output at a high level at just 19-years-old is already among the elite. Barca should definitely be signing him, it’s just that there may be some adapting to do in the short-term to make a good fit with Messi and Suarez.
Are there any alternatives though?
Memphis Depay has done brilliantly since moving to Lyon and while it may have only been half a season his numbers are great.
His take-ons are behind Neymar but still fairly impressive, he manages 2.129 chances created per game but doesn’t get the ball into the box anywhere near as much as Neymar, doing it 2.375 times per 90 rather than Neymar’s 5.498.
His goal-scoring at Lyon has been brilliant with 0.418 xG p90 while an xA p90 of 0.256 is around the same level as Coutinho.
Depay seems to fit the Neymar mould more so than that of Coutinho and Dembele while he’s also the youngest player in Europe’s top 5 leagues (>900 mins) with over 0.25 xG and 0.25 xA p90.
Lyon may be reluctant to let him go having lost both Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolliso this summer but if they were to sell it feels like Barca could get him cheaper than their two targets.
It’ll be fascinating to see if there’s more interest in Depay if he manages to repeat these numbers across a full season with Lyon.
Mohamed Salah is another name on the list with over 0.25 for both xG and xA p90, though it’s obviously too late now he could have been a decent option considering the relatively small fee he went for.
While not a Neymar replacement if Barcelona are going to sign both Coutinho and Dembele you get the impression Coutinho could be playing centrally and possibly be an Iniesta replacement.
If this is the case then it’s surprising Christian Eriksen hasn’t been properly pursued by the Catalan club.
The Danish international is one of only 5 players who managed over 0.3 xG and o.3 xA p90 last season. The other 4 were Salah, Neymar, Messi and James Rodriguez.
For the deeper midfield role Coutinho edges Eriksen in goal-scoring while Eriksen edges Coutinho in creativity, but, with the wage structure at Tottenham and rumours that players aren’t happy with it Eriksen could be available cheaper than Coutinho – even with Daniel Levy’s negotiations.
Another name on the list that’s older but could be interesting short term fix is Alexis Sanchez. Whether he’d return to Barcelona is another matter but given he’s in the last year of contract if Barca put in a speculative bid it’d be interesting to see how it’d play out.
If Barca save some money by signing Eriksen rather than Coutinho they could put that in a bid for Sanchez.
While I don’t think I’d go for Sanchez given his age, fee and wage demands it could be an interesting last resort if Barca are really stuck in the next two weeks.
Another interesting option is Keita from Lazio. He’s in the final year of his contract and is the youngest player to feature in the top 10% (for players in Europe’s top 5 leagues with >450 mins) for Shots p90, chances created p90 and successful take-ons p90.
Still only 22-years-old and having an output that while impressive isn’t Neymar’s level he couldn’t be expected to be an overnight replacement but would be a good value buy with high potential. He managed an xG + xA of 0.516 p90. Surrounded with better players and developing with age this could be improved on and potentially reach the level of Neymar.
This is the kind of player it’d be nice to see Barca take a risk on given he’ll probably be available for a good value for money fee. Having Coutinho, Keita and Dembele would be great attacking options at great ages.
Overall if Barca sign Dembele and Coutinho it’d be a good way to replace Neymar and they’d both improve the current starting eleven, if it’s just one it’d still be good but a lot of pressure. If they were to look elsewhere Depay and Eriksen are interesting (and possibly cheaper) options despite representing the same kind of output.
How Should They Go Forward In The Long-Term?
So how do Barca fix their squad problems and move forward long-term?
While it’s annoying to be like ‘hey Real Madrid won, we should do what they do’ in this case it does feel like Barca should be taking a page out of their rivals book.
Differences Between Real Madrid and Barca Since 2012/13
Over the years Real Madrid have stockpiled talented young players giving them an impressive squad with lots of players still under 25.
Barca meanwhile have neglected signing talented young players and find themselves in a position where they need to find long-term replacements for 7/8 of their first eleven.
So, what have Real Madrid done exactly?
To look at this I’ve got all the players 23 and under both clubs have bought since 12/13 as well as those that were classed as promoted from their B sides to see the differences in the clubs dealings.
First the under 23’s Barca signed:
|Player||Age (when signed)||Fee||Result|
|Jordi Alba||23||£12.6m||Key Player|
|Neymar||21||£80m||Key player, big profit|
|Bojan||22||£11.7m||Sold to Stoke the following year|
|Marc-Andre Ter Stegen||22||£11m||Now #1 ‘keeper, good signing|
|Andre Gomes||22||£31m||Doesn’t seem to be enough for Barca and this could be seen before he moved|
|Paco Alcacer||23||£27m||Good goalscorer but can he fit the Barca system?|
|Samuel Umtiti||22||£22m||Good signing, already really a starting centre-back|
|Lucas Digne||22||£15m||Decent back-up but doesn’t look like a long-term replacement for Alba|
|Denis Suarez||22||£3m||Decent squad player|
|Nelson Semedo||23||£28m||Too early to say but looks as though he can fix their right-back problem|
|Gerard Deulofeu||23||£10m||Decent squad player but doesn’t look as though he’ll become more than that|
|Marlon||21||£4.5m||Low risk signing, will be interesting to see what happens|
While for pretty much the same average price per player Real Madrid managed to get:
|Player||Age (when signed)||Fee||Result|
|Asier Illaramendi||23||£29m||Didn’t work, £15m loss|
|Isco||21||£27m||Now a key player|
|Dani Carvajal||21||£6m||Now a key player|
|Casemiro||21||£5.4m||Now an important player|
|James Rodriguez||23||£67m||Looks to be an expensive mistake unless he does great at Bayern|
|Lucas Silva||21||£12m||Doesn’t seem to be working – out on loan|
|Danilo||23||£28m||Okay back-up but sold for only £1m loss|
|Mateo Kovacic||21||£28m||Hugely talented, could still break into first 11|
|Jesus Vallejo||18||£4.5m||Still only 20, was out on loan last year|
|Marco Asensio||19||£3m||Could be one of the best signings ever|
|Alvaro Morata||23||£27m||Had a good goal-scoring year before being moved on for £30m profit|
|Theo Hernandez||19||£27m||Too early to say but could be the long-term replacement for Marcelo|
|Dani Ceballos||20||£15m||Too early to say but hugely talented and reasonable fee|
For the same price Real Madrid managed to get a lot more quality than Barcelona but what should make it more frustrating is Barca could have signed most players on this list too.
There’s no reason Barca couldn’t have triggered the release clauses of Isco (who would have been a perfect Iniesta replacement), Ceballos or coughed up the £3m for Asensio.
When you look at the over 23’s it gets even worse for Barca. The catalan club have spent around £245m on 10 players over 23 since 2012/13 and in the list of players only Suarez, Rakitic and Bravo could be deemed a success.
Real Madrid in that same time period have only bought 6 over 23 players, spending around £162m.
Half of these 6 were goalkeepers too. The 3 outfielders?
Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale. All players who have been an improvement for Real Madrid and made a big impact at the club.
Not to mention these outfielders were either in their peaks or still had them coming. Modric was 26 while Kroos and Bale were both 24.
Not only are Real Madrid investing their money into better younger players for the same price as Barcelona, they’re spending less on better and slightly younger players over 23 too.
For the same price Madrid got their midfield of Casemiro, Kroos, Modric and Isco (£86.4m) which has been pivotal in their success, Barca spent more on the quartet of Alex Song, Andre Gomes, Rakitic and Turan (around £93m).
Of course over the years transfer prices have changed and this isn’t to say ‘with that money Barca could have bought x, y and z!’ but when you look at how Barca have spent their money in comparison to Real Madrid it’s crazy.
Real Madrid have even been using their academy a lot better than Barcelona’s famed ‘La Masia’.
Again from 2012/13 I looked at everyone who TransferMarkt classed as being promoted from one of the two clubs B teams and what happened to them.
Real Madrid have mostly sold their youth products with the exception of Nacho who’s a good squad player for them and a couple who are still young and still at the club.
In the process of selling these players Madrid have raised £91.2m in funds. Given this is over 5 windows it’s an average of around £18m in a window just from youth products.
It has to be said a big chunk of this is Morata (given they bought him back for £9m more than they sold him to Juve I classed the Chelsea sale as £49m rather than the full £58m) and Jese but it’s still impressive.
Barca in the same time period have raised £16.5m. A lot of their players were either released or are still at the club now – Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu, Rafinha, Denis Suarez, Munir and Sergi Samper.
Some money may be made here, if Coutinho and Dembele are signed it feels as though one of Rafinha, Denis Suarez or Munir could be moved on as it’s hard to imagine them getting much first team football but they also let a lot of players contracts run down who feel as though they could have got around £5m for them.
Real Madrid are outperforming Barca in all aspects of the transfer market and it’s not even the Galatico era anymore, Real Madrid don’t look better than Barcelona because they’ve gone crazy and spent way more money than them, they look better because they’ve spent their money better than them.
For this section I’ll highlight a few players for each role where they need a new signing and end with a kind of ‘shadow team’ – only with 2 players per position – of players that Barca should be tracking and thinking about making a move over the next few seasons.
So what do Barca do?
Personally I think, like Real Madrid, Barca should be identifying talented young players who look as though they have the potential to step up to the level of Barcelona.
Barca’s neglect of the squad over the past 5 seasons has left them no real alternative – unless they want to spend ~£100m a player to replace players with those who can make an immediate impact.
It may have a negative effect in the short-term as the younger players will take some time to develop and can’t be expected to immediately fill the boots of those they’re replacing, but it feels like the only course of action left for the Catalan giants.
If Barcelona continually sign talented players between 18 and 23 each year they should find themselves with a conveyor belt of talent.
This is Barca’s current squad situation:
The problem they face is – with the exception of Ter Stegen, Semedo and Umtiti – if they’re good enough they’re aging.
What should the priorities be for Barca in terms of recruitment? With the most urgent being first I’d say it’s roughly this:
- Neymar replacement
- Iniesta replacement
- Midfield Partner for the Iniesta role – both short term and long-term
- Long-term Pique/Mascherano replacement
- Long-term Suarez and Messi replacements
- Long-term Busquets replacement
- Long-term Alba replacements
We’ve already been through replacing Neymar and touched on Iniesta above so I’ll skip past those two.
New Central-Midfield Player
Given Rakitic will be 30 by the end of the season, Gomes doesn’t seem to be good enough and Paulinho will both be 30 and most likely not good enough this is an area where Barcelona need investment.
What do Barca want in this role though?
Well while the Iniesta role seems to be more the dribbling playmaker type who’ll use the ball in tight spaces and combine with wide players in half spaces – a job Eriksen or Coutinho would be well suited to – the other role is different.
Once the Xavi role it was about controlling the play and keeping them ticking but in recent years Rakitic, Gomes and Paulinho all seem more direct than that, so I’ll be looking for 2 types of players here.
Those who can control the game and/or those who can add some dynamism to the Barca midfield, the players needed here are in the 21-26 range with it being a position that needs immediate improvement.
Naby Keita – 22 – RB Leipzig – Naby Keita had an unbelievable first season in the Bundesliga with it seeming as though there isn’t he anything he can’t do. He had a good xP Rating of 1.058, completed 2.906 successful take-ons p90, racked up 5.586 PAdj I + T p90 and had an xG + xA of 0.378 p90.
This plus his age makes it seem impossible to pass up on. There may be some questions about whether he’d be suitable for Barcelona stylistically coming from a counter-pressing side rather than a possession one, but he’s so talented and well-rounded you’d want to take the gamble that he’d adapt.
There’s been rumours that he has a £48m release clause that becomes active next seaason, should this be the case Barca should definitely be in for him. Keita and one of Coutinho/Eriksen would really rejuvenate the Barca midfield – although given his dribbling skill Keita could also be an interesting option in the ‘Iniesta role’ with a playmaker along side him.
Jean Michael Seri – 26 – Nice – As previously mentioned it’s unbelievable that Barcelona didn’t put the money they spent on Paulinho into Seri. Seri had a great year at Nice and is great at controlling the play in the middle of the park he completed around 73.4 passes p90, had an xP Rating of 1.051 and created 2.047 chances p90 despite playing deeper in midfield.
His defensive output wasn’t near Keita’s with 2.011 PAdj I + T p90 but that shouldn’t detract from his great playmaking skills. For ~£36m it seems crazy that a club hasn’t signed him by now and unfortunately given the Paulinho signing and pursuits of Dembele and Coutinho it seems unlikely Barca will be back in for him this summer as he could have been a great heir to the ‘Xavi role’.
Marco Veratti – 24 – PSG – Possibly the best pure playmaker of these 5 Verratti has come on greatly since moving to the French capital. Attempting a mammoth 100.4 passes p90 with an xP Rating of of 1.078 makes him an elite passer of the ball. Not to mention he also manages 2.878 passes into the box p90, in comparison Keita has 1.341 while Seri has 0.993 p90.
His dribbling and defensive numbers are even up there with Keita as he has 2.419 successful take-ons p90 and 5.702 PAdj I + T p90. He doesn’t have the same goal threat but he’s so good at everything else it doesn’t really matter.
The main problem with this move is that there’s no way PSG will want to sell while Verratti may think PSG are building for the future while Barca look in decline. Though the release clauses and abilities of Keita and Seri represent better value for money Verratti probably would be the best player out of these 5.
Jorginho – 25 – Napoli – Like Verratti Jorginho is an elite playmaker managing to complete 98.506 passes p90 with an xP Rating of 1.091. He even manages more defensive output than the previous 3 with 5.898 PAdj I + T p90.
Jorginho even manages to coincidentally have 1.466 passes in the box p90 and chances created p90. Despite this he does have the lowest xG + xA p90 of the 4 with 0.197 but it is an interesting option.
Napoli have a ready made replacement for Jorginho in Amadou Diawara (more on him later) so might be willing to listen to some offers while it seems as though Jorginho could play slightly further up in a similar role to the one Xavi played.
His passing numbers aren’t far from Xavi level while his defensive numbers are better it’s just the creativity (key passes and throughballs) that lack, but, with Busquets behind him he’d have more freedom to move forward and given his passing ability he could add more creativity to his game.
Bournemouth apparently bid £18m for him and saw it turned down but this does give the impression if Barca went in with either around or even less than the money they bought Paulinho for they could have got him.
Renato Sanches – 20 – Bayern – After showing big talent at Benfica and in Portugal’s Euro 2016 victory Sanches’ big move to Bayern got off to a fairly slow start.
He’s still only 20 and has plenty of time to break into the side but given he said he wants more playing time it might be worth a bid. He didn’t play much last season with only 618 minutes but he still has some impressive numbers. An xP Rating of 1.062, 1.019 passes in the box p90 and 2.621 successful take-ons p90.
His defensive game was pretty good but not up with Verratti, Jorginho or Keita with 3.540 PAdj I + T p90 while his attacking output was almost non-existent 0.087 xG + xA p90.
It does feel as though he can give them the dynamism in midfield that they were hoping Gomes and Paulinho would but Sanches seems to have a much higher ceiling than these two.
A new centre-back
Gerard Pique is now 30 while Javier Mascherano is 33, a long-term centre-back signing is needed at Barca. Given they have Umtiti who should step-up to take Mascherano’s place and Pique should have a few more years left in him the ideal signing should be around 20-23 so they’re entering their peak as Pique is around Mascherano’s current age.
While I struggle to look at centre-backs statistically, in replacing Pique Barca will need a young defender who is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and picking a pass and preferably has some experience playing a high-line.
Pique managed an xP Rating of 1.111 last season and 4.172 possession adjusted interceptions + tackles p90.
To try and find youngsters who can grow into this role I’ve filtered for an xP Rating over 1.05 and over 3.5 possession adjusted I + T p90.
Five highlights here are:
Malang Sarr – 18 – Nice – Though still very young Sarr managed 2209 minutes for a good Nice side last year. This plus an xP Rating of 1.074 and 4.355 possession adjusted (PAdj) I + T p90 is very impressive.
He is someone who should definitely be on Barca’s radar – though for this season his development may be better if he continues first-team football at Nice – if he has a season as good as last it seems as though there should be a lot of interest in him next summer.
Jonathan Tah – 21 – Leverkusen – Tah is a bit older than Sarr and is a good buying age – but he most likely won’t come cheap. Last season however Tah managed an xP Rating of 1.06 while collecting 4.822 PAdj I + T p90. Tah should also have no problems in a high line playing under former Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt.
There are other options out there but Tah does seem like one of the strongest, already having a few Bundesliga seasons under his belt and 3 senior caps he can come make an impact immediately while still only being 21.
Mauricio Lemos – 21 – Las Palmas – Another 21-year-old this time it’s Uruguayan Mauricio Lemos. Again Lemos is more than comfortable on the ball – he can even take set-pieces. An xP Rating of 1.064, 4.202 PAdj I + T p90, the fact he’s apparently available for £18m and has spent a year in La Liga all mean this could be good value buy for Barca.
He was linked with a move to Barca earlier in the summer and should he have another good year in La Liga you’d imagine the interest will be bigger next year.
Clement Lenglet – 22 – Sevilla – Signing from AS Nancy Lenglet impressed in his first La Liga season with the 6th highest xP Rating of under 24 centre-backs in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season.
Given he only played 1359 minutes for Sevilla last season it might not be time for the jump quite yet but again Barca should be watching him this season and should he have a good year be straight in for him next season.
Aymertic Laporte – 23 – Athletic Bilbao – Another young French centre-back and another one that won’t come cheap. Despite still only being 23-years-old Laporte has had 4 years of experience in the Spanish top flight. He doesn’t rack up as many PAdj I + T p90 than the above players with 3.428 but his xP Rating of 1.085 is exceptional.
Like Tah, Laporte can be dropped straight into the back four and make an impression but is still slightly younger than his peak years.
Replacing Suarez and Messi
This section is a lot more difficult, Suarez is a great player while trying to replace one the greatest players of all time is never going to be straightforward.
We’ll start with Suarez.
In Suarez Barca have a great goalscorer and also a good creator, although his creative numbers aren’t huge (1.853 per game) what’s interesting is that his xA is pretty high which means he’s creating high quality chances for his team-mates regularly.
Of all players who created more than 50 chances last season Suarez has the 6th highest xA per Chance Created with 0.14 – 1st place meanwhile was team-mate Lionel Messi.
One set of filtering was to find players with an xA per Chance Created and xG Per Shot above 0.1, an xA above 0.15 p90 (Suarez’s was 0.271) and xG p90 above 0.3 (which is only half of Suarez’s but 0.602 p90 is huge and we want to try and find young players who can grow into the role). This throws up the following options:
Kylian Mbappe-Lottin – 18 – Monaco – I don’t think anything really has to be said about Mbappe any more, he had a great breakout season and his numbers for his age are ridiculous.
He had an xG p90 of 0.350 and an xA of 0.212 p90. This plus an xG per shot of 0.110 and an xA per chance created of 0.114 make it even more impressive, add in 1.859 chances created p90, 1.679 passes in the box p90 and 1.619 successful take-ons p90 and you see what the hype was about.
While the player may be great and given his age you’d imagine he’ll be hitting Suarez numbers by the time he starts to enter his peak, the problem comes with the fee Monaco will want and the competition Barca will face.
It looks as though PSG may be close to signing him while City and Madrid are said to be circling too, if he is still at Monaco next summer you’d think Barca might try to make a move but it that in itself seems unlikely while Barca spending another huge (£100m +) fee on a player also doesn’t seem likely.
Angel Correa – 22 – Atletico Madrid – This is a really interesting player to come back, despite not being able to properly break into the Atletico starting eleven his numbers are pretty impressive.
An xG p90 of 0.307 and xA of 0.217 p90 while his xA per Chance Created is right behind Suarez at 0.134. He also manages 2.438 passes in the box p90 and 3.473 successful take-ons p90.
Given how he’s yet to claim a place in the Atletico line-up it might be a gamble for Barca to buy him but entering the final 2 years on his contract he is worth keeping an eye on.
Paulo Dybala – 23 – Argentina – The young Argentinian has quickly established himself as a key player at Juventus over the past two seasons and is still only 23-years-old. Dybala had the highest xA per Chance Created of all u24 forwards last season and with 0.155 had a value even higher than Suarez.
Where Dybala seriously lacks behind Suarez however is his goalscoring, his xG p90 of 0.282 isn’t even half that of the Uruguayan’s despite playing in a strong Juve side. His xA p90 of 0.331 is impressive however. Dybala represents an interesting option for Barca but it’s not clear whether he’d fit more in the central striking role or the Messi role at the moment.
Mauro Icardi – 24 – Inter Milan – Icardi had a great goalscoring season for Inter last season and is probably one of the only young strikers around who can already rival Suarez’s goalscoring with his 0.532 xG p90 only slightly behind the Uruguayan’s 0.602.
His xA p90 was only half of Suarez’s though with 0.135 p90, though the encouraging aspect is his xA per Chance Created was 0.134, only slightly behind Suarez.
Similar to what I said about Alcacer, Icardi is a great goalscorer but it’s just a case of whether he’ll fit Barca stylistically and whether it’s a risk worth taking or not.
You’d imagine he’d get better service at Barca than Inter and having better players around him may bring out more creativity in him but given Barca’s record of big target man-esque forwards it may be a gamble not worth taking.
Gabriel Jesus – 20 – Manchester City – Gabriel Jesus made an immediate impact at Manchester City last season and while it’s only a small sample size with 651 minutes he has some great numbers.
His xG p90 of 0.614 is higher than Suarez’s but his xA p90 of 0.127 lags behind. If he can continue these goalscoring numbers for a full season in Manchester, plus add in a bit more creativity, he could be a perfect replacement for Suarez with his style complimenting that of Barca.
The problem is that City have absolutely no reason to sell and the only way you can see him being sold is if he forces a move and Barca pay a huge fee.
Another shout could be Antoine Griezmann, his xG and xA numbers aren’t great but he’s delivered for several seasons with Atletico.
The problem is that he’ll be 27-years-old by the time Barca would be able to buy him but he could be a good stop gap for 3/4 years while signing someone 18-21 who then wouldn’t have to be rushed into the team.
It would be an expensive signing and despite Griezmann’s quality I don’t think it’s one Barca should take up – but it is an interesting option.
It just doesn’t fix them long-term, it’d be the same as the Suarez transfer, they’d spend big money have 3 or 4 good years then find themselves having to find someone else again.
The money could be better spend on players aged 18-24 who can grow and enjoy the majority of their peak at the club, rather than having the last of it there.
I’m not going to go into detail about how to replace Messi as not only does it seem like an impossible job it could also be it’s own piece. My personal opinion is that Ousmane Dembele is the best long-term Messi replacement currently around. Below are their actual and expected outputs from 2016/17:
|Player||Team||xG p90||G p90||xG per Shot||xA p90||A p90|
Then some other key stats:
|Player||Team||Shots p90||Successful Take-Ons p90||Chances Created p90||Passes in the box p90||Successful Through Balls p90|
You can see Dembele is putting up close or even better than Messi numbers in a lot of fields, the only place where there’s a big gap between the two of them is goalscoring.
If Dembele can add goals to his game he’s the best choice there is for a long-term Messi replacement. His output at Dortmund for a teenager is already the same level as world beaters, if he continues this through to Barca I think he could possibly replace Messi.
While I hate these kinds of comparisons, in the season Messi turned 20 (2006/07) he managed 0.720 G + A p90 (including penalty goals), as you can see if you add up the numbers above Dembele had 0.793 p90 (not including penalty goals) last year.
The season after that is when Messi started to hit superhuman form with 1.078 G + A p90 (again including penalty goals) and if Dembele does move to Barca I see no reason why he can’t hit similar numbers.
Overall, while I love the Dembele signing all the possible Suarez replacements seem pretty underwhelming. Signing Dybala and surrounding him with 2 goalscoring wide forwards could work but if they’re after a centre-forward in the same vein as Suarez they may struggle.
Sergio Busquets turns 30 at the end of this season and while he doesn’t currently look like he’s declining – making this signing less high priority than those above – it is something that should be in the back of the mind of the Barca management.
It also means they want a player more 18-21 rather than around 23. Should Busquets have 3/4 more years left before seriously declining it means the new signing would be 21-24 when they’re called into the first team.
Some players who fit the bill here are:
Julian Weigl – 21 – Borussia Dortmund – Probably the most obvious choice to replace Busquets is Weigl. The young German midfielder has a great passing range and line-breaking ability like Busquets while also racking up a slightly higher number of PAdj I + T p90.
His xP Rating of 1.045 is lower than that of Busquets’ 1.081 with him attempting slightly easier passes on average, but it’s still impressive given his age. It feels as though Barcelona should be throwing all their money at Weigl if they wanted to replace Busquets, but with that said there a few more options around.
Amadou Diawara – 20 – Napoli – With Napoli already having one of the best defensive midfielders in the world in Jorginho it’s going to be hard for a young player to get minutes in the first team – which tells you just how talented Diawara is managing 1040 minutes in Serie A last season.
He had an xP Rating of 1.066 and managed 5.538 PAdj I + T p90. Watch the video below to see lots of his highlights and great vertical passes from last season.
With Jorginho in the previous section it’s not feasible for Barca to sign both of the Napoli players as a move for one doesn’t really work without the other. Napoli may be willing to let Jorginho go because Diawara can step up, while Diawara may want the step up to Barca and Jorginho is still only 25 so Napoli don’t have to rush out and find a replacement for Diawara.
Another option could be Leandro Paredes who’s recently moved to Zenit. I won’t go into detail as I wrote about his move to Zenit here but the young midfielder also has an exceptional passing ability (xP Rating 1.07) and great defensive numbers (5.42 PAdj I + T p90).
Zenit paid £20m so won’t let him go cheap but at the same time going to less reputable league could mean when he’s entering his peak at around 24 he may be available cheaper than the likes of Weigl and Diawara.
With Jordi Alba a year younger than Busquets finding a replacement is less of a priority, but given he’s 28 and a lot of his game relies on pace Barca should definitely be looking for a long-term option.
Alba is a great attacking full-back and is a lot more likely to pass into the box rather than cross – 1.602 passes in the box p90 but only 0.137 crosses – which is something that could be important when trying to find a replacement.
Some options are:
Alex Grimaldo – 21 – Benfica – Given how Grimaldo was highly thought of when he came through the ranks at Barca you’d hope they included a buy-back clause in their sale of him to Benfica given the Portuguese club signed him for only £1.9m. While I don’t personally have detailed stats on Grimaldo we can (again) consult a radar from @MixedKnuts from October 2016. He looks really impressive and looks perfect to replace Alba.
Alex Grimaldo, Benfica 16-17. Used to be a kid in the Barcelona system. Now regarded as a top young fullback at Benfica pic.twitter.com/3Ng2Bl8aNB
— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) November 7, 2016
Toni Lato – 19 – Valencia – He may not be ready yet and we are dealing with an incredibly small sample size but Lato looks an impressive young talent. He only played 481 minutes last season but had an xP Rating of 1.034, created 0.936 chances p90, 1.123 passes in the box p90 and 3.95 PAdj I + T p90. It’s too early for him to move to Barca and even at Valencia he has Jose Gaya ahead of him but it could definitely be worth looking into.
Jose Gaya – 22 – Valencia – Speaking of Gaya he could be a decent option for Barcelona. Despite feeling as though he’s been around for a while he’s still only 22-years-old. He creates an impressive 1.077 chances p90 and has 3.803 PAdj I + T p90, however, he tends to cross into the box more than pass. He only had 0.388 passes in the box p90 but 0.732 crosses. Given how he’s still young, can learn and this may not be a big deal, it could still be a good transfer.
Out of these three Grimaldo would be my pick, while Lato could be an interesting option. If he doesn’t see himself getting ahead of Gaya he could have more time grow into the Alba role at Barca, whereas at Valencia he’s only 3 years younger than Gaya. Then at the same time Valencia might listen to offers for Gaya knowing they have Lato to step up.
Bringing this altogether
Putting all these options into one line-up gives the following:
I feel like these players identified – who are all well known players that have done well with mostly big clubs – would have all been better signings and are better aged than a lot of Barca signings over the years. If they can bring in Coutinho and Dembele this summer that’d be a big step in the right direction but there’s still a lot of work for them to do.
Given how these are high profile players they’re not going to come cheap, so this isn’t to say they should go out and sign all these players just players of this profile.
For the short term (players who can be pushed straight into the side) they should be looking at those 23-26 (Eriksen, Seri for example) rather than 27-30+ as they have in recent years.
Simultaneously they should be scouring the world for talented 18-23-year-old performing above what’s expected (for a somewhat extended period of time) at that age that look to have the potential to make the step up after a few more years of development.
Real Madrid’s midfield four and the recent signing of Ceballos are good examples of these two strategies paying dividends.
Isco and Casemiro were both signed at 21-years-old in the summer window of 2013/14.
Isco had two hugely impressive seasons playing regular football at Malaga – including some good Champions League performances – while Casemiro impressed enough at Sao Paulo to warrant Real Madrid buying him,it was on loan at Porto where his tackling and interception numbers were through the roof.
While neither of them were thrown into the starting eleven as important players straight away, both of them are now 25-years-old and they’ve become important parts of the Real Madrid midfield.
Ceballos looks as though he could be the next player in this line. After 2 seasons with Betis playing 2000+ minutes in La Liga it was last season where he really caught the eye proving himself to be a central midfielder with great dribbling ability.
It’s likely that he’ll be in and around the first team for the next couple of seasons, gaining match experience where possible, then should Modric (for example) – who’s now 31-years-old – start to decline he’s ready waiting for a chance to claim his place in the first team.
Modric and Kroos represent the ‘short-term’ buying options, as previously mentioned when they were bought Modric was 26 and Kroos was 24, this is a great age to buy first-team players. They come experienced and ready to be put into the first team while still having some if not most of their peak years ahead of them.
If Barcelona were to have their windows contain 1 or 2 first team players aged 23-26 and a few talented youngsters they should be seeing better results than signing players leaving their peak on long-term deals.
Years of neglect in the transfer market has slowly accumulated over the last 5 seasons and this coupled with an aging core of players has left Barca in a situation where they have lots of stars to replace and lots of players on their books not good enough. It feels as though whoever is in charge of the recruitment aspect has no real long-term plan with the signings seeming to lack direction.
This problem is amplified when their rivals Real Madrid are doing the opposite. Madrid have been incredibly smart in the market over the last 5 seasons snapping up lots of young talent and not spending big on any players over 26. Now Madrid have a squad full of talent with the majority under 25 while Barca’s squad looks as though it’s setting into a decline.
To fix this it feels as though they need an overhaul of the squad, it may hurt their short-term performance but they need to rip off the plaster and accept their squad is in a bad position for one of Europe’s elite. They need a long-term solution.
Going out and signing established 27/28-year-olds feels as though it will just paper over the cracks, they should be going out to sign younger players and have a clear plan bringing these players through for the future.
Given how many of the signings that haven’t worked out have been completely avoidable Barca really need to smarten up in the market.
Signing Coutinho and Dembele is a huge step in the right direction but given the mammoth fees involved and the proposed stadium works to go ahead they can’t be expected to make these big signings every year.
They need to cut back the big fees and long contracts to players aged 27 and over and look for more signings in the vein of Samuel Umtiti, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Nelson Semedo who all represent good fees and good ages.
They also have to make sure the young players they sign show enough promise to justify the move to Barca and are capable of fitting the style – Andre Gomes was a good age but given he had unimpressive numbers at Valencia – especially in passing ability which seems essential for Barca midfielder – he’s a transfer that should have been avoided.
If Barcelona don’t act on this – and act fairly quickly – it feels like they could face a sharp decline over the coming seasons and the situation will only get worse.