The summer transfer window is now officially closed. I won’t talk about how badly the FCB board handled it, be it at signing the players we needed, be it at selling our outgoing players for a respectable price. I’ve done that every single day via twitter. I’ve had enough about this subject.
So, let’s look at our squad for the 17-18 season.
GKs: Stegen and Cillessen: We are fine here.
Barring injuries, we shouldn’t have any problems regarding our GKs. I just hope fans are smart enough to know the difference between a badly set up team that has a weak defensive system due to a lack of control from the midfield… and actually having a bad GK. We have a superb GK and a great backup one.
FBs: Semedo, Aleix, Roberto, Alba and Digne:
While, for some reason, I see lots of people attacking Semedo before he’s yet to play 90 minutes for us, I’m confident we’ve signed a very tactically capable player, who can both defend and attack well.
Aleix, as I said in my 17-18 Season Planning article should have been sold, and his performances so far have been DIRE. Hope he’s our backup RB and only used sparingly.
Alba should have a better season this time around, due to the fact our midfield will be, in theory, better in defense, be it due to Valverde’s focus on pressing, be it due to the presence of someone like Paulinho to allow our FBs to attack freely.
Digne, who’s decent in defense and mediocre in attack should remain with his current role: a backup LB who won’t ever see the final third when we are attacking.
CBs: Pique, Umtiti, Mascherano and Vermaelen:
Somehow, the board managed to leave our central backline WORSE than it was when the summer window opened!
Marlon has had great performances in 16-17, having been one of the very few surprises to come from La Masia in the next few years. Having him as backup would rejuvenate the group and create an action competition between our backup CBs. With him on the squad, we would be OK, at least regarding the qualities of each player available.
But, as they’ve done with 98% of our Masia talent since they took over, this board decided to loan him to Nice, and trust Mascherano and Vermaelen to be our backup CBs…
No team that aims to win the Champions League again would trust in Mascherano, and especially in Vermaelen, as backup CBs. It’s that simple.
Mascherano should have left our club this summer, because he’s become a liability, especially during the last 2 seasons.
And Vermaelen hasn’t even played 40 matches on the last 4 seasons due to injuries… but they decided to trust him when we rotate our CBS, which is something we’ll DEFINITELY due constantly during the season.
So, we need to root that Pique and Umtiti have both a superb season and remain perfectly healthy and free from suspensions. Relying on Mascherano and Vermaelen, even for emergencies, is just too risky and ill conceived.
CDMs: Busquets, Gomes, Roberto, Paulinho:
Busquets, once again, is left all alone as our CDM option.
Samper should not have been loaned out, because he’d not only help rest Busquets, but also learn from him. That would have been the best bet for our future, but, once again, the board showed they could not care less about Masia players and set Samper packing. For the second straight season.
I sincerely hope Gomes is used as our backup CDM, because he’s been dire in every other position we’ve used him. He’s far from being able to replace Busquets (no player in Europe is), but at least he’s had decent performances on this position.
After Gomes, I’d use Sergi Roberto as our backup CDM, when needed. Few people will remember it, but Roberto started carving his place as a 1st team starter after Lucho used him a few times as CDM, and he impressed. It was only after that he gained the confidence from the coach and became our RB. To make it clear: I want Roberto as our CM, but given the other CDM backup option is Paulinho… better a Masia player, any day of the week.
Paulinho… First time I ever write about his signing. A few players in the world would be SO different from our style and what we (are supposed to) represent. A thug box-to-box player who is a mediocre passer, worse assist giver and has only thrived for Corinthians and Brazil NT for “having stamina” and scoring a few goals. It should be clear, however, that Paulinho is a “threat in attack” because he simply vacates his defensive/organizational duties behind and tries to attack. Whenever we are caught in counters, the massive hole left behind each time Paulinho decides to attack will cause us serious problems.
I sincerely hope Valverde is not thinking of using a 4231 with Paulinho besides Busquets. Our matches would be dull, slow and predictable, only relying on fast transitions and counters to actually be a threat to our opponents. The “muscles and speed” Paulinho brings means nothing. The danger/safety has to come from keeping the ball and moving it intelligently, not by having someone running 14km each match.
CMs: Iniesta, Rakitic, Denis, Rafinha, Roberto, Paulinho, André Gomes, Alenya:
Sigh… After 16-17, we it was CRYSTAL CLEAR we needed to invest in intelligent, organizing CMs so we’d have a chance to set up a proper midfield and compete for the Champions League again, the ONLY SIGNING WE MADE WAS PAULINHO!
I won’t even talk about all that happened regarding Verratti, Ceballos and Coutinho, it’s pretty clear we have now WORSE CM options that we did for the start of the 16-17 season, and older players to perform the same roles.
Andres Iniesta is reaching the twilight of his career, and the years under Lucho did him no good. If Valverde sets the team up in a manner where Iniesta will be able to get the ball closer to the area and be able to combine with players such as Dembele and Messi, we should see a great season from him. However, if Valverde thinks like Lucho and places Iniesta behind the halfway line, so he has 30-40m in front of him… Awful news.
Rakitic’s best season was 14-15, due to the fact Lucho set up a system where he basically had to cover for Messi and Alves. He had zero creative obligations then, and was basically just a work horse. Since then, not only has he not been able to perform the same way, but any time he was given more responsabilities, especially creative… we suffered.
Paulinho is a liability. While I’m sure he’ll press the exact way Valverde desires, and will even score a few goals, be it from headers or chaotic counters, he’ll leave us vulnerable each time he decides to attack. If Paulinho is as disciplined as Rakitic was in 14-15, which I highly doubt, then, maybe, he’d be a decent option to current Rakitic. But get this: signing a 29 year old player from the Chinese League to basically replace a 31 year old player that has had vestigial creative importance in our squad is just demented.
Denis has been impressing so far this season, even though he’s not had many minutes to play. I’m aware he’s performed better as a LW than a CM, but he’s the type of player that can help us keep/recycle/circulate possession. He has pausa, can dribble and can be given a creative role. Trusting Denis over Paulinho is the way to go, but I doubt that will happen.
Rafinha should have been sold this summer. But since he can run/press and Valverde likes that, let’s hope he’s given enough minutes and we give the minutes Paulinho would have to him. If we are to have a box to box player, at least let it be from Masia, not the Chinese League.
Sergi Roberto. I sincerely think this will be THE SEASON he becomes a midfield starter. He offers more than Rakitic and Paulinho would, due to the fact that he not only can run/press, but can also also help us keep and recycle possession when needed. Roberto is versatile and will also be to both take part in creating chances during a slow, horizontal build up, but also help us during counters, as he’s shown last season, even at the Bernabeu. Yet again: if we are to trust on players like Rakitic/Paulinho… at least let’s put Roberto ahead of both. Especially after last season, he’s earned it.
André Gomes should also have left this summer. He will never suit us, be it under our actual style, be it under a vertical one. He’s too slow to move, can’t even turn to look for better passing options, and always needs two touches on the ball and time to think before making a simple pass. He cannot run, his pressing is limited, he can’t dribble and lacks vision to create chances. Every single time he’s used as a CM, I’ll prefer Rakitic/Paulinho instead, and that is saying A LOT. Should be used as CDM, and very rarely.
Alenya is a great Masia talent, with several attributes that we should be looking for in a midfielder. I doubt Valverde will give him many minutes, after sending Marlon and Samper away, however. Let’s hope that isn’t the case and Carles gets the minutes and the trust from the coach to shine.
Wingers: Deulofeu and Dembele
The one position in our squad where we’ll see young, hungry, skilled players.
Deulofeu has too many critics. Even when he’s having a good match, like the one against Betis, people always find a way to attack him. What people seem to forget, however, is that Deulofeu had to finish his development in clubs such as Everton, Sevilla and Milan because our club did not trust/believe in him. Judging a winger that had to develop under systems COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM OURS IS WRONG. Once Deulofeu gets a full season as a 1st team player, we’ll be able to actually see if he’s good enough. The potential is there and clear to anyone who is willing to give the kid a chance. I believe in him and his potential, and sincerely hope he has a superb season. We’ll need his brilliance.
Ousmane Dembele. My favorite young player in Europe is finally ours. Dembouz offers so much: pace, ruthless dribbling, vision and creativity. He does not waste possession easily, and besides being really acute and vertical, is also able to both combine well with the other attackers/midfielders, and to slow down and think of the best option during a counter attack, instead of simply looking down and charging forward. With Dembele, we have a world class talent that will surely provide us with many fun moments and matches throughout the season.
If Valverde keeps his plan so have Messi as false 9/closer to the area, and Dembele is used as RW, we’ll see many moments where they will link up, and, given time, a Dembele – Messi relationship will develop, where Dembele will provide even more assists than he did Aubameyang (but findind Messi to finish them).
I’m aware we paid lots of money for him, and that he’ll only have his 3rd professional season in 17-18. But Dembele is simply too talented and unique for us to doubt that he can give us so much during the next few years. Sky is the limit, and given he’ll be close to Messi and Suarez every day, he’ll become an even better player, given time and patience.
Forwards: Suarez and Alcacer
The average culer and Suarez. What a weird relationship.
When we first signed him, even though it was something Messi had been asking for over 2 seasons (a 9 in front of him), most people reacted like we had just brought on Pepe. The focus was all on his history of violence, his ban, his diving. Only the negatives.
But the fact is: Suarez is the best 9 in Europe.
Was vital in getting us the Treble, and even more so when we won the League in 15-16. People apparently forgot he was absolutely ruthless back then, and, without him, we would not have retained our Liga title.
Yes, he also had a very irregular season in 16-17. But still scored 40+ goals. Whenever Suarez isn’t absolutely brilliant, culers attack him heavily. No other player from our squad is treated that way. It’s harsh and it’s ungrateful.
I’m sure Suarez will score 40+ goals again this season, and his constant pressing and runs will make life easier for both Messi and Dembele (and our midfielders, in case the plan is to have them also create chances this season, since that was not the case under Lucho…).
Alcacer is a good boy, who is light-years behind Suarez in terms of pressing and making runs to allow passing options when we need to create chances. He’s slower and even less able to handle the ball and create chances when not inside the area.
But he’s a hard working, humble player, that will help us when needed. He’s not capable of ever competing with Suarez for the starting spot,and don’t even get me started on how he fares as a “winger”.
I expect nothing from Valverde. Nothing.
He’s just a “normal” coach that will obey whatever this obscene board tells him. Samper literally left and said “Valverde wanted me around, but explained to me he could only have a certain number of midfield options, and since he didn’t know who would leave and who would be signed, he had to let me go”.
Stop. Read that again. Analyze it.
Ernesto Valverde told one of the most promising Masia midfielders from the last few years, and Busquets’ natural heir, that he had to send him away because he didn’t know what kind of squad the board would give him. IN AUGUST.
Valverde, unlike Pep and even Lucho, will not bother having his voice heard. He came as a simple employee, and will use the players the board decides to give him, and even the formation they want him to use. (yes. Pep Segura is a “fan of English football” and adores 2 CDMs/one route football”.
The pressing is back, and it’s working, so far. However, the midfield still severely lacks creativity, and the ONE signing we made, Paulinho, will certainly NOT help us create more chances, and the notion he’ll make us “more defensive stable” is utter nonsense.
If Valverde keeps the pressing up, the professionalism (will send Arda packing soon), and provides Messi with the basics of a decently set up team, we’ll compete for the League.
WHAT I EXPECT OF OUR 17-18 SEASON:
As long as we have Messi, we’ll be the favorites the win La Liga. It’s as simple as that.
RM may have their best squad in history, full to the brim of the midfielders we should have signed instead of the Songs, Ardas, Gomeses and Paulinhos, but not even that was able to comfortably take the title away from Messi in 16-17 (that only happened due to Lucho’s stupidity and Neymar’s lack of professionalism).
Look: even under Tata Martino, such an excuse for a coach we never pressed and he “wanted Messi to touch the ball the least possible”, we competed for the 13-14 League title until the very last second.
Valverde may be just a simple puppet of this board, but he has vast La Liga experience, will demand professionalism from our players, and we’ll compete for the title, with actual chances of winning it.
Besides that, and I talk the season as whole… WE’LL HAVE FUN!… ON SOME MATCHES, AT LEAST.
Look: with players like Dembele, Deulofeu and Suarez around Messi and the MINIMAL SUPPORT from our midfield, we’ll certainly witness lots and lots of matches where we’ll crush our adversaries and score lots of times. We’ll have crazy fun when Dembele-Messi click.
But without a properly set up midfield, every single time we face a big or well put together team, we’ll suffer. We’ll suffer just like we’ve been suffering since 15-16. And not even Dembele and Messi will be able to save us, because the ball simply won’t get to them.
If we don’t win La Liga, it won’t be due to Suarez, Dembele or Messi. It will be due to the people behind them that are supposed to support them. It’s very simple.
Champions League? We’ll go as long as Messi, Dembele and co are able to take us. I’ll never doubt Messi can give us any title, but the last 2 seasons have showed us that without support from the midfield, Leo can only do so much.
In summary: our transfer window was a complete disaster, but we’ll have lots of fun with Dembele around. We’ll compete for La Liga and may even win it, but for us to compete for the UCL title, Messi will have to perform superbly once again, and the people around him have the decency to AT LEAST not waste all the chances he’ll inevitably create.