17-18 was a smoke and mirrors season. While we’ll always be favorites to win La Liga as long as Messi is around (he literally was #1 in goals, assists, dribbles, chances created this season), our poor squad, especially in midfield, turned us into a joke in UCL.
We cannot compete for the biggest trophy in European club football with Busquets (who has no backup and never rests), Rakitic (who isn’t creative) and the likes of Paulinho having minutes while Denis watches from the bench. Coutinho is more of a forward and lacks the overall patience and tempo do “replace” Iniesta.
2017 was the summer we were supposed to wake up and invest in world class CMs to be the best team in Europe once again.
Since this criminal board since 2012 only signed Song, Rakitic, Arda, Denis, Gomes and Paulinho to replace the likes of Xavi, Thiago (whom they PUSHED OUT OF THE CLUB FOR MONEY) and now Iniesta… now it’s the (second) chance to spend on our midfield with players that are good enough for us to compete at the highest level again.
Sadly, this isn’t what the board has in mind (Griezmann, Lenglent and no one else), but that won’t stop me from thinking of the ideal summer planning.
So, let’s take a look at our current squad, and talk about who should leave and who we need to sign.
GK – No problems whatsoever here
Stegen was flawless this season. Him and Messi shone the brightest in our La Liga campaign, and he’ll be our starting GK for many years to come.
Jasper is a great backup who had a flawless Copa performance, but, for those same reasons, is being chased by teams like Bayern and Liverpool. Given his release clause is 60mi, I would be OK if we sold him and used a Masia GK.
If Bayern, for instance, wants Jasper, we could make a money + player deal for Thiago, and that would help us way more than having a world class player like the dutchman to play… the Cup.
DEFENSE – Remove the dead weight and sign younger CBs
RBs- Sergi Roberto, Semedo, Aleix Vidal
Sergi Roberto is now our starting RB, and even though most of the goals we conceded this season came from his area of defense, he isn’t going anywhere, nor will be used on midfield.
Aleix Vidal has got to go. Valverde doesn’t trust him and was barely seen even on the bench, especially in 2018. We should get 10-12mi for him.
Semedo has the potential to compete for Roberto for our RB spot, or in the very least keep a healthy competition/rotation going. His failure on Roma’s third goal will always be a horror image to me, but the whole team was a mess, so it wasn’t all his fault.
We’ll be fine with Roberto + Semedo at RB.
CBs: Pique,Umtiti, Vermaelen and Black Pennywise (Mina)
Pique-Umtiti will be our starting CB duo at least for the next 4-5 years, when Pique retires. Umtiti hasn’t been the same since his injury in February/March, but up until then his season was flawless. But we must have younger, hungry player to keep a healthy competition going and rotate as often as possible.
Vermalen has to leave. He’s tactically and technically gifted, and on the few matches he played for us this season he was great. But his age and frailty means we cannot trust him, at all. Has to leave, even if we get no money from him at all.
Black Pennywise is a Douglas-level signing. The man has zero tactical notion, always leaves the area to be the “protagonist” and cannot hold the proper formation at all. All of his flaws were evident against Levante, where he was at fault for at least 3 of their goals.
Given it was the first time since 2003 FC Barcelona conceded 5 goals in a match, it’s obvious he has to leave. Giving him “time” won’t change the fact he lacks the basic notions and will never be a world class player, Just like Douglas, Mathieu, Song, Arda and Gomes before him, “wishing” he’ll improve is demented.
Sell, loan or just cancel his contract altogether. He cannot wear our shirt again if we are to compete for Liga and UCL.
sell Vermalen and Black Pennywise
sign someone like LENGLET (which apparently we already will for 35mi) AND DE LIGT
Alternative: bring back Marlon and save money to invest on our midfield
LBs: Alba and Digne
Alba had a great season, giving loads of assists this season and being, at most times, reliable at the back. However, we need someone to compete/rotate with him, something that rarely happened this season.
Digne has to go. While he’s a good, humble guy that tries his best, he’s far from being FCB level, and that’s why Valverde rarely trusted on him. Since we won’t invest in fullbacks this season, someone from Masia has to come up and take his place.
MIDFIELD- WE NEED TO COMPLETELY REBUILD IT TO BE ABLE TO COMPETE IN THE NEAR FUTURE
Busquets has been our starting CDM for almost a decade now, and has rarely been rested or had someone to compete with him.
That has hurt us seriously last UCL season, when he got injured, Lucho put Mascherano as CDM and Mathieu at CB… 3-0.
This was the case again this season, where Busquets was clearly not fit on both Roma matches, and we simply got overrun… 3-0.
For us to win the UCL again, we need someone to compete/rotate with Busquets. It will allow him to play UCL matches actually rested and on his best physical condition, while his “competitor” sees more La Liga minutes.
SUMMER MOVE: Bring ARTHUR this summer, or sign WEIGL
CMs: Rakitic, Rafinha, Denis, Turan, Gomes, Paulinho
(Due to this board’s ineptitude, I will keep the same opening paragraphs I wrote on my 17-18 Season planning article, making only a few changes)
The backbone of our team, our style, and that is completely weakened nowadays. RM has never had an Academy so well run as ours, has never had a generation of homegrown players like Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Thiago, or a playing philosophy that has dominated Europe from 2008-2012.
But they still won 3 Champions League titles on the last 4 years, and will most likely win their 3rd in a row and 4 in 5 years in 6 days.
And how did they do it?
By having signed players like Modric, Kroos, Isco and Kovacic on the last few years. When you have great midfielders to balance out whatever weaknesses you may have in defense or in attack, you’ll always have the advantage.
If we want to be able to compete on the Champions League today, and especially to retain our La Liga title, we need to do a complete overhaul in our midfield.
Iniesta is gone. We will not be able to seriously compete at UCL if we do not sign a proper replacement for him. Iniesta is a football legend, one of the all-time greats, and I’m aware there’s not “replacement” for him.
But there’s a player profile that we can try to sign: someone who can retain and recycle possesion, play with his head always up, looking to combine with all players close to him, and keep things calm under pressure. Thiago, Pjanic and Eriksen can all play like that.
Rakitic isn’t creative and doesn’t give us an extra edge when we are in a dire situation, like we were in Rome. And even though selling him to go for a world class CM that would suit us more would be the most logical choice… it won’t happen.
Valverde trusts him and is too conservative and limited to NOT have someone like Rakitic besides Busquets to contain and press. So… he will be a starter next season, even though we clearly could have a different profile on his place, doing all he does and still using our possession to hurt our adversaries, something Ivan rarely ever does.
Rafinha won’t return, so we should get as much money as we can from him.
He is not a controlling CM, and his style would fit like a glove in most Premier League teams. Since we can no longer take chances in our midfield set up, especially after the last three seasons, I would also sell him, for 25-30mi euros.
Denis is a very intelligent young man, who’s able to combine in small spaces, can dribble easily, and has the patience and vision to thrive as the kind of CM we need right now. If he has way more minutes than he did in 17-18, he can help us both as a CM and a backup LW.
Arda Turan. The most nonsensical signing our club made in the last two decades. Not even worth trying to describe all of his flaws. We need to sell him to whoever pays more.
Gomes should have never been signed in the first place, and spent two seasons here just making us lose money and take minutes that should have gone to players like Denis and Aleñá. Even if we get only 20mi for him, has to be sold urgently.
Paulinho is Pep Segura’s (and the culer who wants “muscle) wet dream. Yet all he does is complete 3 meter passes, and only backwards and sideways. He isn’t press resistent, does not defend well (the muscle argument does not apply to him), rarely makes a vertical pass, let alone an assist and NEVER even tries a long ball. His signing is an aberration, and each second we keep him around we are betraying everything this club represents as a possession based, creative side.
I’m aware he will not be sold this season, but I’ll be happy to screenshot this paragraph in 12 months, when he’ll be leaving from the backdoor just like Gomes will be leaving this summer.
Sell Rafinha, Arda and Gomes
Sign 2 players from: Jorginho, Eriksen, Pjanic and Thiago
ATTACK: HOW TO MAKE COUTINHO, MESSI, GRIEZMANN, SUAREZ AND DEMBELE FIT TOGETHER?!
Our attacking set-up next season will depend on which formation Valverde will choose to use, especially on big matches. In 2017-18, we basically used 442, with the occasional 433 or even 4231.
Griezmann, apparently, has been a done deal since at least december/2017. Before talking about his traits and qualities, it’s clear he’s coming to be a Second Striker, not a winger.
Griezmann hasn’t played as winger since his Real Sociedad days (over 5 years ago), and has always had a 9 in front of him at Atleti (Mandzukic, Costa, Torres, Gameiro). He turned into a world class footballer by playing in “the pocket” between CDMs and CBs, just like Messi did on his False 9 years.
So, from Griezmann’s signing alone, it all points to us focusing more on 442 or 4231 in 2018-19. And since the board does not plan to sign any world class CMs this season, these are our realistic formations:
442, with Griezmann and Suarez upfront, would mean, a midfield with Busquets, Rakitic, Coutinho… and Messi.
While in theory this would work on most matches, we would be using a formation where Rakitic wouldn’t create much, and Coutinho would be used a CM when he’s clearly way more effective for us as a forward.
And having Messi behind both Griezmann and Suarez is a waste in itself, since Leo is the most prolific goalscorer between the three of them. Besides, it would place Messi in a role he hasn’t really played much in his career, and placing on him marking/defensive obligations that will leave them whole team unbalanced, and put extra strain on Busquets-Rakitic and the whole of our defense, especially our right defensive side.
4231, with Suarez upfront, and Busquets-Rakitic, Coutinho (LM), Griezmann behind Suarez and Messi (RM).
We would basically become 2011-2013 RM under Mourinho. A murderous team upfront, that would rip most teams to shreads with Coutinho, Messi, Griezmann and Suarez upfront, but seriously lacking balance to compete against a properly put together team.
The best way to defend isn’t having a “CDM duo” like Busquets-Rakitic, backed by a “strong” defense. The best way to defend is to keep the ball, regardless of how high or hard our opposing teams press, and keep that possession with creative players that will put us on advantage as soon as we complete our defensive transitions.
And the best way to achieve that… is with 433.
If we sign a world class CM this season, this would be our ideal formation: Busquets, Rakitic, Thiago/Eriksen/Pjanic; Messi, Dembele and Coutinho.
Busquets having Rakitic’s solidity and Thiago’s creativity and versatility alongside him. That’s that best midfield we could dream of this season, under Valverde/this board.
This would allow Messi to return to his False 9 role, and make use of Coutinho as a LLW (Lazy Left Winger): a player coming from the left not to stretch the opposition and remain stuck to the line, but to create and combine with Messi from the pocket.
This would also give the RW for Dembele to shine, allowing him to both stretch plays when he cuts outside, and combine and finish when he cuts inside.
But… where would Suarez and Griezmann fit?! That’s where I wanted to get.
All the formations I just listed above could world, even if we do not sign a world class midfielder (which, apparently, will be the case).
But having Coutinho, Dembele, Messi, Griezmann and Suarez, as most likely will be the case in 2018-19 does not give us ONE clear formation to fit them all.
Griezmann isn’t a 9, and has never been. He’s a second striker, who became world class playing behind a classic 9, like Suarez.
So Antoine obviously isn’t coming to replace/rotate with Suarez. And they cannot play together in a 433, for instance, but could play in 4231 or 442.
Messi and Coutinho would fit on all cenarios (442, 4231 and 433). But when we think about the team’s stability, it’s clear one or both of them would be used in midfield positions that would make life way harder for our defense, and easier for our opponents.
And there’s Dembele.
One of the most talented young players in Europe, who can play, pass, dribble and shoot with both feet, and can also play as a classic winger, stuck to the sideline; or cut inside to combine, create and score.
But he does not fit a 442 (reason why Valverde rarely trusted him in 2017-18).
4231 would fit him, but, as I already said, leave us just too unbalanced.
433 would be perfect for him… but Suarez and Griezmann would both be let out.
That is why our board is shopping Dembele around Europe: they do not trust him enough to give him more minutes, and decided to go with what is easier to Valverde: sign Griezmann, who fits perfectly in a 442/4231, formations that would “exempt” them from signing a world class CM.
This just shows this board has no clear plans as to how we should be playing whatsoever, and they would gladly hurt Dembele’s career just to fit Griezmann, make Valverde happy and not have to sign the CM we’ve been needing for years.
So what will happen? I HAVE NO IDEA!
I don’t see a formation where Coutinho, Messi, Griezmann, Dembele and Suarez would fit together while remaining competitive/balanced, and I also don’t see a set up where these 5 players would rotate constantly and remain happy/feel important.
Besides all that, we do not have a coach with such tactical fluidity to make it all work. Valverde is clearly limited, only feeling confident and being able to deploy “central approaches”, like we have seen with a 442 and will see with a 4231 once Griezmann arrives.
But not using the wings to stretch our opposition’s defense and give more passing options and lanes to both our midfield and Messi is demented, while also making it way easier to stop us.
Be certain of something: if Valverde/the board get rid of Dembele, just to focus on 442/4231, we will not be a competitive team, maybe not even in La Liga. With all of our attacks focused on the center, most teams would just pile CDMs, and we would not have a clear “escape” route from the wings.
So, everything points to use getting rid of Dembele, or at least having him on the bench most of the times, to use formations that wouldn’t work against big teams…. because we won’t have a winger like Dembele to stretch them. See how fucked up this whole thing is?
But, anyway, let’s focus on the players we’ll have next season, and “wish for the best”. It is our board’s mantra, anyway.
I will not even write about Messi. It will be curious to see him alongside Griezmann, since he hasn’t had TWO players in front of him during his career. And, as it has always been the case since Rosell/Bartomeu took over, our success in 2018-19 will depend on him and how well we place players around him.
The same goes to Suarez. Even though he’s had a very irregular season, still scored 33 goals, gave 14 assists and has kept his insane work rate and commitment to this team, and to opening spaces for Messi. He’s the best 9 in the world and we won’t find a better fit.
However, if he doesn’t have a great 2018-19 season, I would be willing to sell him next summer. The fact he’s Messi’s best friend won’t keep him at FCB forever, and we need a player that can deliver both in La Liga (he always has) and UCL (him, and every player not named Messi, have failed us there).
Alcacer should have never been signed on the first place. He’s a very humble guy who’s given his best whenever trusted upon, but selling him and investing the money on the players we do need would be the best choice.
Coutinho is a forward. The fact the played a midfielder/CM for Liverpool does not mean anything. FCB is unique, and the obligations our CMs have to deliver are way different than those needed at the EPL.
Just look at Coutinho performances this season: while it is true he didn’t have a preseason with us and arrived in the winter, he never really had one big match as CM, be it at the Iniesta role, or on the right.
He always keeps the ball well and is press resistent, but his combination with our players have always been scarce… it’s like he just vanishes for long periods of time during our matches.
But whenever he plays as an actual forward… he FLIES. Coutinho in a attacking LM or LW role next season will be an actual monster, and I sincerely expect him to score 25+ goals and be directly involved in many others.
All we need to do is let go of this idea he’s the “new Iniesta”. He’s the professional version of Ronaldinho.
Griezmann is talent. The man can press nonstop, combines perfectly with his team mates, hardly loses the ball, and given he rarely gets clear cut chances in Atleti, is an absolute KILLER, rarely missing the target. 29 goals and 13 assists this season just prove it.
He will be a gift to Messi, and they will be able to create beatiful moments and combine superbly well through the center of the pitch, feeding each other constantly.
The man has shone in big matches in the last few seasons, scoring 3 goals against Zidane’s RM (only Messi has scored more), and being Atleti’s leader and hero on their Europe League title.
Culers have to let go of this idea Antoine is coming to “replace” Suarez. He is not a 9, and has always had someone like Mandzukic, Torres and Costa in front of him. So we’ll have Griezmann combining with both Messi AND Suarez, not relegating anyone to the bench, as most culers are predicting.
However, having Griezmann and just focusing on “center based” attacks, like we would on a 442/4231 is very risky, and even with all the talent in the world (Coutinho, Messi, Antoine, Suarez), opposing teams would find it easier, and manageable to just pile 3 CDMs in front of a back 5 or 4 and just get in the way of them combining through the middle.
That’s why we should keep someone like Dembele around, to stretch our oppositions and give creative players like Griezmann a better passing option.
Sell Alcacer, bring back Munir
Griezmann has already been signed (apparently)
To sum it all up: we need at least one world class CM, and preferably also a CDM/CM hybrid to able to compete in 2018-19 UCL (we’ll always be favorites to win La Liga with a healthy Messi).
Sadly, as has been the case with this board since 2012, we are most likely only getting 1 CB (Lenglet), 1 young CM (Alena) and Griezmann. Will that be enough to compete in UCL again? Hardly so, especially under a coach like Valverde.
So my dream 2018-19 summer would be to get Quique Setien as coach and sign two world class CMs, like Thiago and Pjanic. Cucurella, Munir, De Ligt, De Jong and Arthur should all come as well, while we would get rid of Vermaelen, Mina, Digne, Rakitic, Gomes, Paulinho and Alcacer.
But, if the board keep their misguided plan (Griezmann, Lenglet and Alena), we’ll be sailing in dangerous waters, trying to regain our relevance in Europe with little to none midfield support.
It’s far from ideal, but at least Messi will be our Captain.