With the January transfer window looming large, Barcelona will be on the lookout to boost several positions on the pitch while on a shoestring budget.
Life under Ronald Koeman has been far from the fairytale that Barcelona are generally used to when their season starts. However, given the distant disasters they faced in the previous seasons — the AS Roma, Liverpool, remontada, the Bayern Munich hammering and the Lionel Messi transfer saga — it would be fair to say that Cules were not expecting a perfect start anyway.
Josep Maria Bartomeu had handed the reins of coaching the team to club legend Koeman in August following the departure of Quique Setien. Soon after that, he and his board of directors followed Setien right out the exit door courtesy of a Vote of No Confidence which caught fire after Messi announced his intentions to leave the club.
On top of this debacle, the club was going through a vital transitional phase in terms of a squad rebuild that was due for several years. Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Luis Suarez all left the club, while Fransisco Trincao, Pedri, Sergino Dest and Miralem Pjanic came over to fill their void. Clearly, criticism about the ageing squad was taken to heart and the focus of the rebuild was directed towards youngsters.
Despite that, though, the Blaugrana are left with several gaping holes in their team. They possess no more than three fit centre-backs at most times in the form of Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and the newly-promoted Ronald Araujo. The team also lacks a natural striker among their ranks after Suarez left the club, while the only natural no. 9 in the squad – Martin Braithwaite – has been used solely in Stan Lee-esque cameos.
Multiple names popped up for Barcelona in the summer transfer window to fill this void and more, including the likes of Memphis Depay, Matthijs de Ligt, Donyell Malen, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Memphis Depay, Lautaro Martinez and Eric Garcia. However, only two of them have stayed put among all the drama, with their signing looking inevitable in the January transfer window.
These are players whose contract expires in June next year and would arrive at a minimal transfer fee. The Hard Tackle takes a look at the two players to see if they fit the bill for Barcelona.
A former La Masia prodigy, Eric Garcia moved to Manchester City in search of more regular first-team game-time and the desire to play under Pep Guardiola. This was also bolstered by his agent – none other than Carles Puyol.
With a turn of tables, however, the Spaniard looks at a return to the Catalan capital despite making his debut and getting several chances to feature under Guardiola. Garcia knows that his former club lack a player in his position and he would slot in relatively easily. No place like home, to be fair.
At 19, Garcia is far from reaching his ceiling, but has already shown immense promise, with some remarkable performances against Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham United among others. He possesses the ability to play pinpoint passes under pressure, averaging 95 accurate passes per game with an average accuracy of 95% this season, albeit in a small sample size.
Passing and composure is an attribute all Barcelona defenders have possessed over the years, though, and they will not have to search a lot to find a centre-back who meets this criterion in the modern game. What Garcia does add to the team, however, is his recovery pace.
Barcelona have been the victim of their high-backline for far too long, with the opponent quickly carving them open on counter-attacks. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, for all their brilliance, simply cannot compete in a foot race with quick wingers and strikers. Garcia has shown he can, and easily slots in the defence based on this skill.
On the contrary, at 5’11”, he does have a challenging time winning aerial duels. Teams in La Liga often look to terrorize Barcelona through the wing due to the space left behind by their attacking full-backs, but most crosses are dealt with by a 6’4″ Pique, and a 6’2″ Lenglet.
Evidently, bringing in Eric Garcia has some clear pros and cons. That said, under the right coaching, there can be little stopping the 19-year-old, who looks to be among the next generation of world-beaters.
Approval Rating: 7.5/10
Pep Guardiola recently signed a contract extension with Manchester City, which keeps him at the club for two more years. This renewal may entice Garcia to stay at the club, especially after the treble-winning manager spoke very highly of him in his press conferences.
Pursuing Matthijs de Ligt right now is certainly not an option, but unless it is, Barcelona can always bring back Jean-Claire Todibo, on loan to SL Benfica. Other options include loaning in an alternative who can fill the void temporarily unless Eric Garcia, de Ligt, or someone else can be pursued.
William Saliba, Fikayo Tomori and Max Kilman are all names that should be considered given their ball-playing prowess, and the probability of arrival. The best choice, however, would be trusting Samuel Umtiti.
The World Cup winner has returned to training and is unwilling to leave the team as it stands. The world is not unbeknownst to his potential and Barcelona fans will be hoping his recovery goes as planned this time around.
Each passing day, it becomes clear that Ronald Koeman has his favourites. Be it, within the Barcelona squad (Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Sergio Busquets), or outside it. Among the latter are players he coached with the Netherlands national team – Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. Both these players have been, and to some extent still are, extensively linked with the Garnet and the Blue.
Depay is a player that Koeman has spoken about publicly, admitting that the club tried to bring him to Barcelona in the summer and that the pursuit will not stop in January, either.
The Manchester United flop, while a left-winger by trait, was used as a striker by Koeman with the Dutch national team, and that has been the case at Lyon as well. He boasts of a solid record in that position, scoring 21 goals and setting up 16 others in his 50 games as a centre-forward.
Unfortunately, he is not the forward the club requires. Barcelona need a player who is space-oriented and does not need the ball to mark his contribution; a player who can run the channels across the front-four, giving a passing option to players like Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Miralem Pjanic to pick him out. Ansu Fati can do that, but several problems surround an early transition to a central role for the youngster.
Depay creates for others, even while leading the line alone. He often drops deep to act as the anchor while the wingers rove upwards, waiting for a pass. For example, the Dutchman has created the most chances this season (27) across the top five leagues, 17 of them coming through open play situations.
Chance creation is far from the problem for Ronald Koeman, and he boasts of Messi, Griezmann, Pedri and Philippe Coutinho in his roster to create for others. Pursuing Depay, even on a minimal fee of over €10 million is a waste of resources which can be focused elsewhere. Depay will have to fight for a spot with some superstars, and it is far from a wise move from him, either.
Approval Rating: 5/10
The coming winter transfer window and the summer transfer window is an excellent time to invest in a striker, with the market blossoming with several centre-forwards.
Odsonne Edouard is a player Barcelona should look at if and when they go searching for a player in that position. The French international is a goal-machine who arrived at Celtic from Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 for no more than €10 million – an amount considered to be excessive at the time, but one that has paid off generously.
Last season, Edouard scored 21 goals in the Scottish Premiership in 27 appearances, setting up a further 12 goals for his teammates. In fact, the 22-year-old has always been a facilitator in the attack, dropping from his position a bit to collect the ball, and spraying it ahead before continuing the move. He is the closest thing Barcelona will find in terms of Luis Suarez replacements apart from Lautaro Martinez.
That said, Martinez still looks like a reliable first-choice option for the Catalan giants, but his pursuit might take a while given his €100 million-plus price tag. In the meantime, Edouard seems like a tailor-made fit, while Donyell Malen is someone whose name has come up time and again for this role.
Obviously, Barcelona can take a sharp right and look for a target-man striker in the form of Arkadiusz Milik, who is set to become a free agent next summer. But, for all intents and purposes, Edouard is the ideal signing for Barcelona.