As we approach a new season in La Liga the big-3 have been very active in the market in preparation for round 1. So far there have been no mega money signings, but a greater focus on squad depth in key areas. Whether these are good or unwise moves remains to be seen, but this editor is going to give you his take on the winners and losers of the Spanish transfer market and what we expect each of their key signings to bring, good or bad.
Barcelona’s dominance in the league has been nothing short of groundbreaking since Guardiola's arrival as head coach in 2008, claiming Spain's greatest honour six times. The strength that revolves around an exceptionally solid core of players that continue to impress today just as they did 8 years ago. Despite the odd transfer blunder here and there (does anyone remember Dmytro Chygrynskiy? You are forgiven if you do not), Barcelona have made a healthy habit of replacing their aging stars with fresher and equally talented signings. 2 years ago, the acquisitions of the brutally prolific Luis Suarez, the energetic Rakitic, and the ever-reliable Claudio Bravo has proved to more than astute signings in enhancing Barcelona's reputation as the game's most dangerous team. Yes, they also have Neymar. So what's there to improve?
Well, last season Champions League Quarter Final exit to Atletico will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of all Catalans considering the financial contrast between the two. Combined with their severe dump in form in the final two months of the season, allowing Real Madrid back into the title race despite being 10 points ahead earlier in the year. Iniesta is still a giant amongst midfielders, but he isn't getting any younger. The exit of long time servant Dani Alves has left a susceptible backline with a large gap and their lack of physicality in midfield highlighted in games against Real at home and Atletico away. So what have they done about it?
One of the hottest names this transfer window, the Portuguese starlet has built himself an excellent reputation during his time in Valencia, drawing great praise for his close control, dribbling and final pass. Much was expected of him in his nation's Euro charge, which despite ending in victory for Portugal (don't ask, we can’t contemplate either), he played a largely anonymous roll, spending most of the time on the bench as Fernando Santos opted for the pairing of Joao Mario and the electric Renato Sanches. His last season wasn't anything to rave out as Valencia struggled partly due to managerial errors. I do believe he is a player with great talent with a style reminiscent to that of Xavi and Arda Turan (the latter was meant to be the new former) and if he can showcase his best form at 22, he could be a player for the ages at Barcelona. However, his drop in form last season combined with his inability to break into Portugal’s starting 11, he does represent a risk at €42 million. Arda Turan initially struggled to ease into the side but has shown promise in preseason; meaning Gomes has another formidable adversary in competition for a starting place.
Prediction: Gomes will struggle for game time this season and will be questioned heavily before the New Year. With injuries naturally occurring throughout the squad and 6 months under his belt, expect his second half of the season to be promising.
Samuel Umitis rise this summer came with a hint of fortune. Injuries to Rafa Varane and Kourt Zuma earned him a call up to France national squad, with his direct competition for a place next to Laurent Koscielny being...Adil Rami ( I giggled as well). Umiti performed astutely for his tender years next to Koscielny in his side's final three games, showing off his physical attributes and cool head. With Pique, Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu all close to over 30, fresh blood was essential for barcelona at the back. Prediction: He may not start many games, probably will see most minutes in the copa, but his signing was a necessity.
Digne is an interesting one, as barcelona already have Jordi Alba, who, despite not being my first pick in terms of defensive solidity, is a weapon going forward in an attacking Barcelona team. Digne is young, and can prove to be a useful back up as the season goes on, but, much like Umiti, I don't see starting many games. Prediction: Squad rotation player who will fill the gaps for lower level games and cup competitions (not the Champions League).
Denis Suarez showed promise in his final season at Villarreal, claiming four goals and seven assists in a side that have made a reputation of challenging for a top four berth. At 22, he could present a signing for the future, but I expect him to be played slightly higher up the pitch to cover for anyone of the MSN, due to their lack of depth up front (i'll get into that later). Prediction: His signing seems more of a desperation ploy to bring in someone who can potentially play up front, but not good enough to demand heaps of game time. I don't feel he will be given the chance to showcase his ability playing out wide when messi or neymar are rested.
Player they need to sign:
Barcelona's strongest aspect is their forward line. The MSN have earned their reputation as one of the game's greatest ever attacks, but, every positive has a negative, and the issue with having such undroppable stars is that no one wants to join to rival them. Barcelona's forwards can't all play 65 games a season, and no one for the current time being on the market can rival their place in the team. Kevin Gameiro who recently signed for rival Atletico sighted probable lack of playing time as being his reason for heading to Madrid over Catalonia. So who to sign? Verdict: Ousmane Dembele and hatem ben arfa were my original choices, but they've both be signed elsewhere. A young player who can expect a bench/rotation roll is ideal, Gabigol Barbosa from Santos would be a good piece of business, especially after Gabriel Jesus has signed for Man city.
Also, they are in need a new Right Back to rival Aleix Vidal, this author would love to say Hector Bellerin, but Arsenal have zero intention to sell, so a more likely option would be Lukasz Piszczek.
Players they need to sell:
With Barcelona's depth slightly under par, any sales would be unwise.
Final Grade: B+
Barcelona's signings may not prove to be a huge influence this season but they will gradually grow in importance, and it is representitive in terms of forward thinking and is very in-sync of where this club stands.