Barcelona: How can Ernesto Valverde restore their status as world beaters


There is no doubt that Barcelona’s team under Pep Guardiola was one of the best that football has ever seen. They won virtually every trophy possible in a three-year spell, but there then came a period in which they were less dominant in Europe. They now haven’t won the Champions League for two years, but Ernesto Valverde could be the man to change that.

Valverde will be expected to continue a recent ‘tradition’ of playing 4-3-3 and very good passing, or tiki-taka football. There have been rumours floating about that Lionel Messi is set to move into an attacking midfield role this season (behind Luis Suarez), which would pave the way for some new signings.

So far, the Catalan giants have sold Christian Tello, Jordi Masip and Jeremy Mathieu, all of whom were never and never looked like being successful at the club. Tello has moved to Betis, Masip to Real Valladolid and Mathieu to Sporting Lisbon.
Who should Barcelona sell?

RealSport takes a look at who else Valverde should look to sell.
Two players to Crystal Palace

Former Ajax ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen has been linked with a move away from the Camp Nou to Crystal Palace this summer, which could work out well with the Dutchman playing with compatriot Frank de Boer. Palace are aiming high with their signings and if de Boer can get the best out of his squad, he could potentially push for a Europa League spot. Cillessen would definitely be the number one at Selhurst Park, which could help to re-ignite his stalling career.

Another player linked with a move from the Nou Camp to Selhurst Park is Belgian centre back Thomas Vermaelen. Generally speaking, the former Arsenal man has found first team opportunities difficult to come by since leaving the Emirates, and made only nine Serie A appearances on loan last season.
Rebuilding the defence

For me, Argentine defender Javier Mascherano has not shown his quality that much in the last two seasons. He was not a centre-back to begin with and has made plenty of errors over his time in Spain’s second city. At 33 too, he is hardly irreplaceable, and young players will still be able to learn from the experienced Gerard Pique.

During their transfer embargo period, the Blaugrana failed to attract top quality players, and ended up signing the likes of Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan, neither of whom have proved to be inspired buys. Vidal’s versatility is at times useful, but even Sergi Roberto (a central midfielder) was preferred to him at right back throughout 2016/17. Vidal can be a useful player for a top half team in La Liga, but Barcelona was not the right move to him and will not prove to be.

Fellow right back Douglas spent last season out on loan again. At 26 now, he doesn’t look like fulfilling his once high potential. The Brazilian was once touted as a long term replacement for Dani Alves, but that never materialised, and he can’t continue to go out on loan almost every year for the remainder of his career (he will probably play for at least eight more seasons).
Upgrading the midfield

Moving into midfield, as mentioned above, Arda Turan needs to be sold. He seemed to be a panic buy when brought in from Atletico, and has not proved his worth to Catalonia in his time there. A move back to Atletico could be on the cards, with Valverde reportedly keen to sell the Turk.

Whilst he is a top class player, Ivan Rakitic is allegedly unhappy at the Camp Nou. This could be a new dawn for him under the former Bilbao manager, but he still played a lot of football last season, leaving many questioning why he wants to leave. Perhaps the Croat feels it is time to move for a new challenge, with both Manchester clubs reportedly maintaining an interest. It could also be because of the potential arrival of Marco Verratti, who would probably push Rakitic down the pecking order in central midfield.

Andre Gomes failed to impress last season, and Barca chiefs are said to be unhappy with the Portuguese midfielder’s contributions to the side. Selling him now would probably lose them some money, but only five or ten million. He could be a good signing for another club, but has not performed consistently enough since joining the Blaugrana.

You can’t realistically let Andres Iniesta leave because of his loyalty and invaluable experience and technical ability, but at 33 he can’t play week in, week out and support is likely to arrive. It means Rafinha will have to make way. Rafinha is at a stage in his career where he needs to be playing regularly and that may not happen for the Brazilian at Barcelona.
Wrong career choices

Paco Alcacer made the wrong choice leaving Valencia for the Camp Nou. He was never going to win Luis Suarez’s starting sport realistically, and was scoring plenty of goals in the white at the Mestalla. At 23, he has time to develop, but needs to be playing more regularly. The Spaniard only managed to score eight goals in 28 appearances, although many of them were from the bench, making it harder to integrate and adapt to the pace of the game.
Is Neymar really leaving?

Just yesterday, a Brazilian media outlet reported that one of Barcelona’s star men, Neymar, was going to be subject of a huge bid from PSG. This bid would have more than doubled the world transfer record, and met Neymar’s release clause.

Other outlets then covered a story telling how Neymar had apparently accepted an offer, and that the move would be completed in the next few days. In a few years, Neymar will be the star man in Barcelona’s colours, so why would he leave for a team who generally challenge a lot less in European competition.

It is also a less competitive league than La Liga with regards to the lower sides, and Neymar would be doing himself a disservice by moving to France. Barca’s club president said this morning that no offer had been received and that they have no intention of selling, and I realistically can’t see the move going through.

Barcelona should also look to loan out three players to further their development. These are Sergi Samper, Denis Suarez and winger Munir.
Who else should Barcelona sign?

There have also been two players brought into the squad at the Nou Camp so far this summer. Benfica right back Nelson Semedo was signed for a fee in the region of £30 million whilst Gerard Deulofeu returned to the Camp Nou after the club activated his €12 million buy-back clause in his Everton contract.
A number one goalkeeper


Marc ter Stegen simply isn’t as good as some of the European powerhouses’ goalkeepers. He is a more than capable back-up, but would he be willing to play that role at Barcelona? To become number one, the ideal signing is obviously Manchester United’s David de Gea. De Gea has been brilliant for the past three seasons, earning United countless points and saving numerous matches. He would command a very high fee, and Barca are said to be slightly less powerful than their competitors financially, so he may not be the right signing.

A more realistic target could be Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno or Stoke City’s Jack Butland. Leno is the better all-round goalkeeper of those two, and it would not be surprising to see him in a Barcelona shirt. In 200 Bundesliga games, he has kept 64 clean sheets in a team that hasn’t exactly challenged for the title in the last few years. They have been liable defensively at times, but Leno has still been an excellent ‘keeper.

RealSport verdict: Berndt Leno
A first choice centre-back

The ideal signing for Barca would be someone not too old (around 25) but with experience to help tutor the youngsters Samuel Umtiti and Marlon. This also removes some burden from the long-serving Pique, who could arguably play better without that weight.

The first option is Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta. He has played most of his career as a full-back, but last season Antonio Conte converted him into a central defender. It was a stroke of genius by the Italian, and ‘Azpi’ has never looked back. He was one of the best ball-playing defenders in the league last season, contributing well to Barcelona’s style of play, but also defended very well against every opposition.

Another centre-back option could be Stefan Savic from Atletico Madrid. He was unsuccessful at Manchester City a few seasons ago, but Savic has found his feet under Diego Simeone, clearly more suited to La Liga than the Premier League.

RealSport verdict: Cesar Azplicueta
A back-up right-back

Having gone a whole season without a right back, Barcelona needed to sign two this summer. A first choice option has already been brought in, in the shape of Nelson Semedo, but who replaces him if he is injured for a long period of time or suspended? Keeping Vidal negates this issue, but Barcelona can do better.

Semedo’s international teammate Cedric Soares was excellent last season and throughout Euro 2016, but it’s a case of whether he would be happy playing second fiddle. Yes, he could compete with Semedo, but it remains to be seen for how long.

Elseid Hysaj, a young Napoli right back, could be tempted to jump ship from Naples. He has done well in recent seasons and strengthened his reputation hugely. The best thing for his career would be to stay at Napoli rather than play back-up to Semedo.

RealSport verdict: Cedric Soares
A winger and number ten

I doubt that Messi will be playing in the number ten role this year, so Barcelona would need to sign someone to cover. An ideal candidate would be his international teammate Paulo Dybala, who currently plays for Juventus. Dybala was superb for the Turin side during 2016/17 season, and is seen as a longer term replacement for one of the greatest players of all time.

He may not quite reach the same levels as Messi, but he will certainly be one of the world’s best attacking players for years to come. Dybala could also play on either wing as an inside forward realistically, or cover for Luis Suarez if there are any selection issues for the Uruguayan.

Another option for behind the striker is Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. Eriksen is a very good technical player, but lacks any real physical prowess. The Danish international is good at what he does, but is yet to be tested in La Liga. Could he really turn down a move to possibly the biggest club in world football?

RealSport verdict: Paulo Dybala

In terms of a left winger, they need to sign a back-up to Neymar. The player coming in will know they won’t replace Neymar, but must be good enough to perform in the Champions League and on the big stages. Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi can play on either side, making him a great option, and has turned down a new contract in Italy to try to force a move to a bigger club.

Obviously, bringing in someone like Kylian Mbappe would be brilliant, but he wouldn’t be happy having to ride the bench. It would also harm his development, but that doesn’t seem to bother players in football anymore. It also boils down to whether Barca have the spending power to bring him to Spain.

RealSport recommends: Federico Bernardeschi
Two central midfielders

With only Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Sergi Roberto left after our ‘clear out’, signing two central midfielders is a must. They should be first choice midfielders too. Both signings need to be good in and around both boxes, so we have compiled three targets.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti has been consistently linked with the Blaugrana throughout this window. He could be a more effective midfielder going forward, but is at times held back by the way that PSG play. He seems to be Barcelona’s and Valverde’s favoured target, but the French side are rather unsurprisingly, not especially willing to sell.

Another target who has been linked with a move back to Spain is Manchester United’s Ander Herrera. Herrera was one of United’s best players last season, and would fit into Barca’s side very comfortably. Their style of play would allow him to further his role in an attacking sense, without acting as the holding midfielder.

One final target is Roma’s Radja Naingolaan; the Belgian led his team superbly last season, being a huge creative influence and doing a job defensively too. He scores goals and makes assists, as well as crucial tackles and interceptions, making him an ideal central midfielder.

RealSport verdict: Radja Naingolaan and Marco Verratti