One area Barcelona need to bolster for next season is right-back. We take a look at youth prospect Konrad de la Fuente and how utilising him can solve their problems.
In an interesting turn of events, Barcelona right-back Nelson Semedo has gone from being termed as ‘indispensable’ by President Josep Bartomeu to nearing a €40 million move to Wolverhampton Wanderers. A few months ago, this transfer would have received a lot of adverse reactions from the Barcelona fanbase, who were rather fond of the player.
However, after the showing against Bayern Munich, where Semedo was arguably the worst player on the pitch – and that’s saying something – the Cules have turned their backs on both him and Sergi Roberto. To put it lightly, if it were up to the fans, both of them would be sold in a jiffy.
In a market like this season’s, looking for a replacement is not going to be particularly easy. The club, does, however, have a few names on its radar with Sergino Dest of Ajax and Max Aarons of Norwich City leading the queue. It is entirely plausible, though, that they will end up signing neither.
Dest is also a target for Bayern Munich, who are in deep waters with some of their defensive issues. While being a Barcelona fan, as he admitted last year, Bayern boast of a more stable project and are unarguably the better destination for the American. As for Aarons, Daniel Farke has declared that the Englishman the cornerstone of his team and that he would not let him go even for €100 million.
The club could always bring back Emerson, the Brazilian on loan at Real Betis, but will have to pay €12 million to do so. And even that is going to be incredibly challenging, given that the Spanish season has already started, and getting a new right-back within two weeks is going to be a burdensome task, one that Betis might not be willing to take.
There is one thing that Ronald Koeman can try if he is willing to take that risk. Bayern Munich did, and it paid off for them. The said solution lies within the club, in the youth ranks, in the form of Konrad de la Fuente.
Florida-born Konrad de la Fuente moved to Barcelona at the age of ten and caught the attention of the Barcelona scouts while playing for CF Damm. At just 12, a move to La Masia might have been too good to turn down, especially when the club was going through some of its best years.
While his progress till about the age of 17 was meteoric, de la Fuenta faced injury issues that set him back a few years. He was eventually promoted to Juvenil A at the start of the 2018/19 season and carried on there for two years while making his debut for Barcelona B in December 2017.
He was also part of the Under-20 World Cup squad last year, with USA where they were knocked out by Ecuador in the quarter-finals. According to de la Fuente, though, the USA should have won the ‘whole tournament’, and their only off-day in the competition cost them. Konrad’s progress since that tournament has been incredible, but what can he add to the first-team?
The Alphonso Davies Treatment
Konrad de la Fuente, or simply Rad, made his unofficial debut for the club against Girona during the pre-season as Barcelona recorded a 3-1 victory. Despite playing just 30 odd minutes, he was singled out by Ronald Koeman, saying that if he had to highlight one of the performances from the game, it would be his.
He operated on the right-wing, despite being right-footed, best resembling a traditional winger, but barely playing like one. This is because Konrad is at home on the left, but his explosiveness allows him to slot either side.
He loves to make inroads with the ball at his feet while hugging the touchline before making a sharp right and turning the ball goalside onto his stronger foot. While playing on the right, though, Konrad likes to stay close to the byline at all times and makes sudden runs from deep across the flank, with or without the ball before hitting it across the goal to tap home.
The 19-year-old cannot be used on the left flank for Barcelona, simply because of the level of competition that already exists within the squad for that role in the form of Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and possibly, Memphis Depay. On the right, Lionel Messi is a certainty and Francisco Trincao will act as his deputy. Our solution for Konrad is at right-back.
Jamie Carragher once said, “If you’re a full-back, you’re either a failed winger or a failed centre back.” And while it was a jab at Gary Neville and barely anything else, this might be the case for Konrad de la Fuente if he wants to make a name for himself at Barcelona.
We have seen this happen to near perfection by Hansi Flick after he decided to deploy Alphonso Davies, primarily a winger, as a left-back to cut his losses in defence. Davies was never defensively prolific, but his blistering pace allowed him to recover the ball in his defensive third while tracking back. This, of course, will require loads of stamina, something missing from Konrad’s game right now.
However, his ability to make sudden runs can benefit the team to a great extent. Semedo posed this threat on the opposition, but his poor passing and decision making often let him down in the final third. On the contrary, Roberto possessed these skills but was not able to match Alba’s pace on the opposite side, and was more often than not, too inconsistent.
Additionally, as an extremely attacking player, he is expected to strike up a partnership with the forwards in the team, and especially Lionel Messi. That is because the Argentine likes to rove inwards and into the centre to control the game but often finds himself lacking for options, especially on the right. He can use de la Fuenta to build the game from the wing – as he used to, with Dani Alves – and then attempt to attack the box.
There are two outstanding problems with this, though. The first and the more obvious one, is the lack of defensive prowess. While most full-backs in the modern era trump in the attacking department, there is a certain balance clubs look for when reinforcing full-backs. Konrad hasn’t proven himself to be a good tackler of the ball, nor does he have the defensive positioning to make up for it.
On the contrary, a solid argument for this is simply the many players who have taken the step from attack to defence and have enjoyed an illustrious career in the process. This includes the likes of Gary Neville, Patrice Evra, David Alaba and of course, Jordi Alba. This transition is made more accessible due to the demand of an attacking full-back, and more so at Barcelona.
Koeman likes what he sees in Konrad de la Fuente 😤 pic.twitter.com/ACTjk5k8Xg
— B/R Football (@brfootball) September 16, 2020
Additionally, Konrad looks quite enthusiastic whenever he plays. He likes to take the incentive, both on and off the ball, in the form of off the ball runs or tracking back to contribute to defence. You can almost see the joy on his face when he completes a dribble, or recovers his misplaced pass.
Secondly, at 5’6″, Konrad is not the tallest or strongest player out there and fails to pose a threat to a lot of attackers in the league including Eden Hazard, Samuel Chukwueze or Goncalo Guedes among others. What he has is an incredible centre of gravity that allows him excellent balance on the ball and makes him even harder to dispossess. It also means that de la Fuente will be harder to bully off the ball when going in a physical brawl with the player.
While just a theory at this stage, and far from what may happen at the club, this could be Konrad de la Fuente’s way of seeking a path into the team that is overloaded with players in attack at the moment.
The right-back slot is the only one that could see an availability now that Fabrizio Romano has already Here we Go’d Nelson Semedo’s transfer to Wolves. All things considered, it could also be de la Fuente’s chance to join the forward-line as he wishes to if Barcelona wrap up a transfer in that role by next year, if not this.