Jeison Murillo: Barcelona's Christmas gift
Background Photo: Markus Unger, CC BY 2.0
Ernesto Valverde received a Christmas gift under his tree in Barcelona in the shape and form of Jeison Murillo, the former Valencia centre-back. After yet another injury to Thomas Vermaelen and with Samuel Umtiti sidelined for a long period, the Catalans stepped into the market a bit earlier than they wished.
Murillo is the sixth signing from the Andalusian club in recent memory, following David Villa, Jordi Alba, Jeremy Mathieu, Paco Alcacer, and Andre Gomes. On paper, this is the best possible move for Barcelona.
FCB will pay his wages and a small fee to take the player to the Camp Nou. It’s difficult to judge the state in which the defender arrives. A personal dispute with Los Che manager Marcelino sidelined him for most of this campaign.
Four back-to-back clean sheets in the league do not mask the fact that Barcelona has been defensively vulnerable this season. The Blaugrana had only two fit centre-backs for most of the campaign's first half. Murillo comes on a loan deal until season's end, solely to patch up the wounded Catalan giants while they challenge on all fronts.
Experience in La Liga and the Champions League acted as a catalyst to seal the deal. Murillo, a right-footed centre-back, Plays mostly on the left. Eric Abidal claims, “He is a centre-back who can play as a full-back”. The Colombian's versatility should come in handy over the next few months.
Barcelona always looks for specific credentials in a player. Central defenders must be good on the ball, able to play quick and accurate passes, maintain a high defensive line and play a part in building the attack. Murillo is a slightly different breed but possesses at least some of the aforementioned characteristics. He is more of an aggressive and highly physical player who thrives on challenges and tackles. Murillo loves engaging in sliding tackles. He is fast, intelligent, has a good touch and is brave. The Valencia casualty seems like an adequate band-aid for Barcelona’s troubled backline.
The downside? Ernesto Valverde plays a high defensive line. Many question Murillo’s ability to function in such a demanding formation. It's an unfamiliar environment and the Cules can't afford a steep learning curve. Murillo’s ability to build play from the back is a positive, however. His transition from a more traditional, aggressive centre-back to a ball-playing one should not be too painful.
What matters most for Valverde is that Murillo performs when called upon. Judging the circumstances and games remaining, the Colombian will definitely get his chance to shine. Valverde prefers safer options to a high-risk, high-reward approach. Murillo will be expected to pick his spots to go in hard. Like Gerard Pique, he can also be a threat in the opponent's box.
Murillo normally wouldn't play much in a side like Barcelona but needs must. Murillo arrives at an opportune moment. He is a solid, reliable defender who has what it takes to adapt to the Barcelona system. There is no reason to think he can't do the job asked.