Is a return to midfield the right way forward for Sergi Roberto’s career? Or should he revert to the right-back spot? The Hard Tackle opines.
It is pre-season to the 2019-20 season. A long-awaited return to central midfield for good has been announced for Sergi Roberto – a player who had broken into the Barcelona first-team setup as a central midfielder before being remodelled as a right-back, and rather successfully so.
But, while Roberto had completed the transition to being a right-back quite well for the most part, there seemed to be a longing to return to the position that had been mapped out for him during his days in La Masia. When asked about the switch ahead of the season, the Spanish international appeared to be coy.
“I really like the idea [of going back to playing in midfield], but the problem is that there are a lot of people [in that position]. I’m ambitious and I’ll work to create a space wherever the coach decides. It [returning to midfield] will be good news if I play. If I don’t play, it won’t.”
On the basis of early evidence, it looks as if Ernesto Valverde is serious about bringing Roberto back to midfield. But, with a problem of plenty brewing, resuming his duties as a right-back would see Roberto serve Barcelona much better. We take a look why.
A problem of plenty: Better alternatives available
Back to his origins, Roberto does bring a lot to the table for Barcelona. The 27-year-old provides a forward thrust from the middle of the park that not many of his companions can, while also being able to stretch the midfield and provide width, paving the way for a lot of dynamism.
However, as was cruelly exposed against Athletic Bilbao and, most recently, Osasuna, he cannot be the player to break the lines with incisive passes. Nor can he help Barcelona control the midfield from an advanced position on the pitch. But, there are players, those who have not been used much so far this season, who present themselves as better alternatives.
Arthur is the kind of playmaker that completes the Barcelona midfield, as he showed against Osasuna. The Brazilian is in the mould of a Xavi, who can carve open the opposition defence with ease, while also controlling play with his calm presence in midfield.
Other alternatives such as Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal also provide something that Roberto cannot. Rakitic is a trusted lieutenant who dictates play unlike any other midfielder that Barcelona have at present, although he is being phased out of the squad. Vidal, on the other hand, can add steel and defensive nous, the kind that is missing from Roberto’s game.
Then there is the curious case of Carles Alena – a player who has been touted to be a future superstar and can brings the kind of qualities to the side that Roberto does as well. But, even as there seem to be better alternatives at Valverde’s disposal, it is the need to use him in the right-back slot once again that takes us to our other key point.
The Nelson Semedo Problem
Nelson Semedo is the player who is supposed to benefit from Roberto’s switch to midfield. While Moussa Wague has been promoted to be his deputy, the Senegalese full-back is likely to follow the path that Juan Miranda embarked on last season, biding his time patiently and waiting for those rare opportunities that come his way.
This is, therefore, Semedo’s chance to make the right-back spot his own at long last this season. But, the Portuguese seems to be his own worst enemy whenever he is presented with such opportunities to nail down his place in the Barcelona first-team setup.
So far this season, Semedo has looked bereft of confidence, particularly when he charges down the right flank. When bombarding forward, Semedo, more often than not, lacks ideas and looks awkward when sizing himself up to deliver the ball into the box.
The one area he does excel in most of the times is his contribution at the back. Semedo does seem to have more of a defensive acumen than his former rival for the right-back slot. But, a lack of confidence means he does falter on that front as well on the odd occasion.
With Semedo picking up an ankle injury while on international duty with Portugal, the time could be right for Valverde to revert Roberto to the right-back role. The Barcelona boss did do exactly that in the second half against Osasuna, a game in which Semedo had endured a stinker of a first half.
With the Portuguese set to spend some time on the sidelines, Roberto is just the kind of a trusted player he needs in a key position that has been a problem area at the start of the season.
While bringing Sergi Roberto back to central midfield might have been a popular decision, there are players who can serve Barcelona better in the no. 8 role. But, a player of the talents of Roberto is just too good to be serving time on the bench.
With Nelson Semedo finding ways to falter on the right side of the Barcelona defence, a return to the spot he has made his own in recent seasons would be the right way forward for Roberto, even though he’d rather play in the middle of the park.