Why FC Barcelona need to fix their centre-back issues before the season kicks off
Background photo: Arria Belli CC BY 2.5
The summer break presents football clubs the opportunity to reflect on the previous season, highlight their major weaknesses and work towards putting things right before the next campaign kicks off. Like other European elite outfits, La Liga giants, FC Barcelona have put ample efforts into exploring this opportunity during the off-season.
Barcelona ended the previous campaign on a sour note. Despite stretching their La Liga stranglehold a year further, the failure to make a statement in Europe once again proved to be their undoing. The Copa Del Rey final loss to Valencia rubbed more salt into the wounds. What initially looked to be heading towards a perfect end for Los Blaugrana finally concluded as one to forget.
The 4-0 defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals last term means that Barca's European despair remains. The Catalans' last European triumph was witnessed in 2015. The failure to claim the coveted trophy for three straight years has pushed the club out of the patience zone. They are now desperately eyeing a return to the summit of European football, putting all their efforts into action.
This gave birth to another massive splurge this summer. Once again, Barca has emerged as one of the highest spenders in the current transfer window. The Blaugrana have made a number of big-name signings and spent over €250million on a transfer project that is yet to be concluded.
Ex-Valencia goalkeeper, Neto was signed in a swap deal involving Jasper Cilissen as the back-up shot-stopper left the Nou Camp and went the other way in search of regular playing times. Frenkie De Jong and Antoine Griezmann represent Barca's biggest signings this summer. The two superstars cost the Catalans a combined fee of €195million and their arrivals will strengthen the midfield and attack respectively.
Japanese talent, Hiroki Abe also joined from Kashima Antlers while the expected arrival of Real Betis' Junior Firpo would give Jordi Alba some much-needed cover next term. However, despite the club's attempts to solidify every department of the squad, there is still a position that's lacking tremendously; centre-half.
Barca's back-to-back Champions League humiliations give an indication that so much work is needed to be done on the defence in order to stand a chance of returning to the top of the European ladder. But, looking at the situation at the heart of the backline, Ernesto Valverde and his players are not ready yet...
The team's leading defender, Gerard Pique, is now 32 and the ageing process is already taking its toll. This was evident last season when the Spaniard endured a difficult start to the campaign, it took far too long for the centre-back to get back on track... At this stage of his career, the club cannot afford to expect another elite level campaign from Pique.
Samuel Umtiti has been battling with fitness issues for quite some time and he simply cannot be relied upon just yet. A recurring knee injury kept the Frenchman out of action for a large chunk of the 2018/19 campaign. Jean-Claire Todibo has shown promising signs but lacks the experience to be a regular starter, while the sale of Thomas Vermaelen leaves Barcelona lacking in terms of numbers.
That leaves just Clement Lenglet as the only reliable option in the centre-back slot. Barcelona would surely need more than that if they're to turn their dreams into a reality next season? There's only so many times their attacking prowess can cover up for their defensive frailties and I'm surprised that despite missing out on Matthijs de Ligt's signature, there have been no concrete links with any other centre-halves.
With the Blaugrana set to compete on all fronts in 2019/20, the lack of adequate strength at a key position could come back to haunt them. Hence, the club needs to address the situation before the season kicks-off. Otherwise, it could end up hurting Barcelona in the long-term...