The Hard Tackle takes a look at three potential loan destinations for Riqui Puig, who could be set for a temporary exit from Barcelona in 2021/22.
For quite some time now, Riqui Puig has been heralded as one of the brightest young prospects to have come through the youth ranks at Barcelona. But, the midfielder, having made his first-team debut for the Blaugrana back in 2018, hasn’t been able to kick on and establish himself as a regular in the starting lineup.
Indeed, till date, Puig has managed just 36 senior appearances for Barcelona in which he has scored one goal and set up three more. The fact that there have been two managerial changes since his debut haven’t helped matters for Puig, with Barcelona shifting from Ernesto Valverde to Quique Setien and then to Ronald Koeman at the onset of the current season.
While 21 of Puig’s 36 first-team appearances have come under Koeman this term, most of them have been from the bench, with the youngster accruing just 587 minutes of action on the field. In comparison, he had clocked up 578 minutes in his 12 games under Setien in the second half of the last season. (h/t Transfermarkt)
Puig, despite continuing to be rated highly within the Barcelona camp, finds himself behind this season’s breakout star Pedri in the pecking order while another Barcelona academy man, Ilaix Moriba, also has seen more game-time than the 21-year-old in the second half of the current campaign. With his progress stalling as a result, the door has now been left open for Puig to seal a loan move away from Camp Nou next summer.
Indeed, as per a report from Sport, Barcelona are prepared to sanction a season-long temporary move for the Spaniard, much like they were willing to during the January transfer window earlier this year, only for the player to turn down a move. But, with his situation not improving, there is a feeling that Puig, this time around, would be receptive to offers to go out on loan and restart his career progression.
To that end, The Hard Tackle now takes a look at three clubs where Puig could end up going out on a loan spell for the 2021/22 campaign.
Arsenal’s need for a new creative midfielder is something that needs no introduction at this point. The Gunners struggled for the first half of the 2020/21 campaign with the lack of chance-creation which hurt their season badly. That has been addressed to a certain extent with the loan signing of Martin Odegaard in January and the inclusion of Emile Smith Rowe in a more prominent first-team role.
However, it must be remembered that Odegaard is at the club only till the end of the season and Arsenal will require to shell out a significant sum to sign him permanently which isn’t likely to happen as they look destined to miss out on European football. So, signing someone like Puig on loan would provide them an ideal alternative.
While he is best used as a left-sided central midfielder in a three-man unit, Puig has the characteristics to excel in an advanced role as a No. 10. Blessed with vision and technical ability, the Spaniard has what it takes to carve out defences with through balls, while he can be an effective ball-carrier as well.
Furthermore, with Dani Ceballos’s loan deal also coming to an end, Puig can be used as a partner for Thomas Partey in a deeper role, too, where once again his capability to make line-breaking runs with the ball could come in extremely handy for the Gunners. The player himself will develop playing under a manager like Mikel Arteta, who likes to employ a possession-based style of play, although the potential lack of European football could be a downer.
Much like Arsenal, AC Milan could also be in desperate need of a creative midfielder heading into the next season as Hakan Calhanoglu’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season and the Turkish playmaker has had offers from the likes of Chelsea, as well as Arsenal. Throw in the fact that Brahim Diaz’s loan stint comes to an end in a month as well, and the need for someone like Puig becomes apparent.
As iterated earlier, the 21-year-old has the necessary qualities to excel as a No. 10, which could make him a good fit for a Milan side that has transitioned into a progressive style of play under Stefano Pioli over the past couple of years. Moreover, the Spaniard could also prove to be an effective option for the Rossoneri in a deeper role.
Ismael Bennacer hasn’t been at his best since returning from injury whereas Sandro Tonali hasn’t kicked on as expected either. In addition, Soualiho Meite’s loan deal is unlikely to be made permanent either, leaving a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Franck Kessie. Puig, with his all-round abilities, can be a good foil for the Ivorian in the centre or even be used as an alternative to him.
As things stand, Milan look poised for a top four finish and a return to the Champions League next season (provided they are allowed entry after the whole European Super League fiasco). So, a move to San Siro can be a huge value-adding switch for Puig, who would certainly benefit from playing along with the likes of Kessie and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
A club that has previously been offered the services of Puig, Leeds United can most certainly do with someone of the 21-year-old’s qualities. The Whites have enjoyed an eventful return to top-flight football after 16 years of wait. But at the same time, it has been quite evident that Marcelo Bielsa’s side are lacking quality depth in several areas of the pitch.
The attacking midfield department is one where they will need to strengthen this summer as Pablo Hernandez has been slowly phased out of the team while summer signing Rodrigo Moreno hasn’t had the impact that was expected of him. With Tyler Roberts and Mateusz Klich also blowing hot and cold, someone like Puig can be an effective addition at Elland Road.
The 21-year-old’s high press and tireless running would make him a good fit into the way Bielsa likes to set his teams up while his ability on the ball would add another dimension to Leeds’ attacking play, further enhancing their threat going forward.
While he may not play European football if he opts to join the Whites, he would have a much better chance of being a regular at Elland Road. Furthermore, playing under someone as knowledgeable as Bielsa can be a career-transforming move for the Spanish midfielder.