A new era beckons Barcelona after the appointment of Ronald Koeman as their new manager. We take a look at the players they will chase this summer.
Chaos. It can either be organised, having a method to all the madness; or it could leave one all over the place. In one scenario, all the chaos tends to lead the ones involved towards something positive and meaningful; the other has one diving deep without an end in sight, the chaos never-ending.
As far as Barcelona are concerned, they have plunged into a crisis situation. A club that has a habit of winning a trophy every season, 2019/20 turned out to be a rare campaign in which they failed to win a single trophy, and for the first time in over half-a-decade. Before the start of 2020/21, they would have parted ways with two managers.
First, it was the incumbent at the onset of the current season Ernesto Valverde, who was shown the door back in January despite the fact that Barcelona were perched atop the La Liga table. Successor Quique Setien, lasted less than a year in the managerial hotseat at Camp Nou.
Under his charge, the Blaugrana surrendered the league title, went out of the Copa del Rey in the quarter-finals before ending their season in the UEFA Champions League at the Last Eight stage, courtesy a staggering 8-2 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.
All in all, it has been a spectacular fall from grace for Barcelona, a club that is accustomed to seeing things go their way more often than not in at least one competition, seeing things fall into place in said competition at the right time. For many, their struggles have come as a huge shock. Several, though, have seen it coming for quite some time now.
The gross mismanagement of the club by Josep Maria Bartomeu & co. has left the first-team in shambles while the club’s finances have plummeted as well, exacerbated further by the COVID-19 crisis. However, a new phase is upon the Catalans, following the appointment of Ronald Koeman as the new first-team boss.
A former Champions League winner, among other honours with Barcelona, the Dutchman has returned to Camp Nou, raring to start work at the club of his dreams and hoping to turn things around quickly. However, he finds at his disposal a squad that needs some major fixing. While a number of players are past their use by date, Barcelona will also need to focus on signings.
Oftentimes we see that managers go after players they are familiar with, either after having had them in their previous squads or having monitored them extensively. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle takes a look at five players that the new Barcelona manager, Koeman is likely to pursue this summer.
Donny van de Beek
The first pick is quite obvious and one player whose links have already emerged with Barcelona. The player in question is a hot property in the transfer market and has been so since Ajax’s stunning 2018/19 campaign, wherein the Dutch giants won the Eredivisie title and shocked Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
The likes of Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech were under the spotlight more often than not. However, one player who was just as crucial for Ajax’s fortunes last season was Donny van de Beek. In fact, the 23-year-old has been a key figure for de Godenzonen in every single season following his breakout campaign in 2016/17.
A player who can reprise just about any role in midfield, the Dutchman is the quintessential box-to-box midfielder, whose consistent goalscoring exploits is a trait that is desperately missing from the Barcelona midfield. This potentially enables Koeman to use him as a no. 6, a no. 8 or a no. 10 depending on whether he employs a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Stylistically, van de Beek would fit in the Barcelona mould quite seamlessly. The player, who is also a target for Manchester United, is also privy to the system that Koeman might make use of at Camp Nou, having been used extensively be the new Barcelona manager during his time as the Netherlands head coach.
The 23-year-old is proficient at spotting vertical passing lanes, possessing top class vision to play the ball in behind the opposition defence, although he can also keep it simple and keep play ticking, if need be. At the same time, van de Beek does not shy away from committing to his defensive responsibilities, a quality that would ensure Barcelona are not overrun in the middle of the park.
Most importantly, it is his exploits on the ball that would help Barcelona make quick transitions instead of slowly meandering their way down the pitch, something which was prevalent in several games this past season. Koeman’s familiarity with the player should also pave the way for a pursuit of van de Beek and subsequently, a seamless acclimatisation at Camp Nou.
An option that might be a bit left of centre. However, Donyell Malen is just the kind of player that Barcelona need to sign in order to galvanize their attack. As things stand, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi are the first-choice attacking trio for Barcelona, with the likes of Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite being the backups.
Dembele’s frustrating tryst with injuries means that the Blaugrana are constantly bereft of runners in the final third. That is an issue that the possible signing of Malen could fix.
With Griezmann crying out to be used centrally and Suarez likely to be on the way out of Camp Nou this summer, Malen could just as easily be used out wide, seeing as he is just as adept at playing as a winger as he is in his natural centre-forward role.
In fact, two of his four appearances for the Dutch national side have come as a winger, a role he has frequently essayed for PSV Eindhoven as well. This past season, Malen was hampered by injuries, but his fantastic tally of 17 goals and 9 assists in 25 outings points towards him being a clinical forward. That coupled with the express pace he possesses makes him an ideal foil for Lionel Messi & co.
Malen might not have the star power of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or a Lautaro Martinez. But, he is a player who fits the Ronald Koeman style of play like a glove and is unlikely to cost Barcelona a bomb either, making him a player worth making a beeline for this summer.
The only non-Dutchman on our list. As far as Tagliafico is concerned, the Ajax link makes him a natural target for Barcelona. And, the former La Liga champions do seem to be in need of a top class left-back.
There have been suggestions that Barcelona are looking to filter out several players from their squad in order to begin what the board has described as the restructuring of the first-team squad. Current first-choice left-back Jordi Alba is reportedly one such player, among a bevy of stars who could be shown the exit door this summer.
With Junior Firpo struggling to make his mark in his maiden campaign at Camp Nou, it is clear that Barcelona would enter the market for a left-back this summer. And, who better than a player who fits the mould better than most options, in a style similar to the one that Koeman likes to employ.
A player who is comfortable in possession while also being a decent enough defender, Tagliafico would be a natural successor to Alba. However, unlike Alba, Tagliafico, who has been linked with Chelsea this summer, is still at the peak of his powers and has hardly been prone to errors.
Ajax are unlikely to stand in Tagliafico’s way if he so desires a switch to Barcelona, with Edwin van der Sar admitting to the same this year. Tagliafico has also confessed that it is perhaps time for a new challenge. His price tag is unlikely to be hefty either, and all the signs point towards a possible Barcelona pursuit of the Argentine, with the Lionel Messi connect also working in his favour.
As iterated already, Barcelona are looking to move on several players in order to remodel an ageing and underperforming squad. Midfield appears to be one department that is likely to be transformed completely as part of this project, with Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal expected to be offloaded.
Sergio Busquets also finds himself in an uncertain position, with his advancing age also meaning that he is reaching the twilight of his career. So, we have picked another midfielder who Barcelona are likely to chase, so that Koeman hits the ground running at the onset of the 2020/21 season next month.
Georginio Wijnaldum is a player who fit the bill perfectly on all accounts. Firstly, the Liverpool star is familiar with Koeman’s system and might not take long to settle in at Camp Nou. He would also be an experienced head that Barcelona would be in need of if they choose to offload the players they wish to.
Having been a key part of Liverpool’s successful team in the last couple of years, Wijnaldum is also a player who knows how to perform at the big stage and crucial moments, having ironically delivered the goods against Barcelona themselves during the Reds’ triumphant Champions League campaign in 2018/19.
As far as what he brings to the pitch, Wijnaldum would be quite an upgrade over Vidal as he not only has a tenacious side that would add dynamism to the Barcelona midfield, he is also an able ball carrier and someone who has an eye for goal. Under Koeman, he is likely to be used in a different role to the one he essays at Liverpool, albeit one he has enjoyed so much success in already. A player Barcelona need in their squad right now.
The final pick in our list was quite a tricky one. A player like Sergino Dest would upgrade the right-back slot despite still being a teenager but with Josep Maria Bartomeu claiming that Nelson Semedo as being one of the “untouchables”, the Ajax man might not be signed, at least not this summer.
Matthijs de Ligt is, in an ideal world, the rightful heir to Gerard Pique. However, he is likely to command a hefty price tag, and Juventus might shut the door completely on a transfer as well. In addition, Eric Garcia seems to be the priority for Barcelona as far as the centre-back targets are concerned. Therefore, we have zeroed in on a certain Memphis Depay.
A player who has turned his career around after ending an unfruitful spell at Manchester United, the 26-year-old might not come across as someone who fits the Barcelona way. However, Depay is a player who would break the mould and make the Catalans’ attack more well-rounded.
The former Manchester United forward’s physicality is nowhere to be seen in the Barcelona frontline, while his pacy outlet and the constantly improving finishing ability can potentially help him complement Lionel Messi well. And, like Malen, he can play across the attacking line, and this versatility would offer Koeman multitude of options depending on the opposition.
Why Barcelona should go after Depay and Malen both? Luis Suarez is also touted to be one of those who are now surplus to requirements, while Martin Braithwaite could also depart this summer after a short Barcelona stint. And so, signing the Dutch duo would bolster Barcelona’s attack immensely while also protecting against injury to key players.