Other than the experienced stars, Ernesto Valverde also has plenty of youngsters in his ranks for a spot in middle of the park.
It is pretty common knowledge by now that Barcelona’s otherworldly domination under Pep Guardiola’s care at the Camp Nou was carried out on the basis of their midfield supremacy. Inspired by Cryuffian principles, Guardiola elaborated on those systems and numbers to form a system in midfield that became the envy of world football.
They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and numerous efforts have been made to emulate that greatness in midfield inspired by tactics of ‘Juego de Posicion’ more commonly known as positional play.
It also helped that two of the greatest midfielders the sport has ever known were at the peak of their powers when Guardiola took charge and behind them was the man who introduced a new meaning to the role of a defensive midfielder. The triumvirate were also supported by a wonderful cast that included Seydou Keita, Yaya Toure, Thiago, and Fabregas.
Since Pep left in 2013, the squad hit its peak once again under Luis Enrique, who in his first season, stuck to the same template that has brought success to the club and with the help of new signing Ivan Rakitic adding to the aid of Iniesta, Xavi, and Sergio Busquets, Barcelona won its second treble in 2015.
However, since then, things took a turn for the worse, especially after Xavi left and the club’s policy of recruiting midfielders in order to vacate Xavi’s departed spot showed a clear disparity from what had made the midfield so special. Instead of signing technically gifted midfielders that have always donned the Blaugrana jersey with pride at the Camp Nou, workhorses and incompatible midfielders like Andre Gomes, Arda Turan, Denis Suarez, Alex Song and the likes were signed. Players who had no business being Barcelona midfielders.
In the wake of recent disappointments and a public outcry demanding President Josep Maria Bartomeu’s resignation, the Barcelona board has recovered from its state of slumber and the signing of Arthur and Arturo Vidal in the summer has gone a long way to make repairs in the Blaugrana midfield that cried for help.
So impressive has the technically skilled Arthur been in his first European season, that he has been reminding everyone of Xavi Hernandez and has become a mainstay in the starting XI. And despite carrying the profile of a workhorse, Vidal has slotted in like a glove thanks to his wonderful abilities on the ball paired with his tenacity, aggression, and explosiveness, attributes unknown to the Barcelona midfield for a long time. The newest Masia product, Carles Alenya has also impressed many with his calm head and skilled feet.
So, as things stand right now following the departure of Denis Suarez to Arsenal on loan, Barcelona have seven players in midfield, eight including Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Arthur, Arturo Vidal, Philippe Coutinho, Carles Alenya and Rafinha.
Busquets and Rakitic have already cemented their place, the remaining one spot has been left to compete
Of course, having eight midfielders in a team is a surplus and Valverde must constantly have headaches about this. So, in this piece, I will try to chalk out the ideal Barcelona midfield for the final stages of this season and the following one.
Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic are constant mainstays in the midfield as it is. The third spot is usually filled up by Arthur with Arturo Vidal coming on as a substitute to inject energy, to close opponents down and provide a lethal threat on the counters in the final twenty-odd minutes of games.
Despite featuring in the midfield last season, Valverde has ruled out using last year’s big-budget signing Coutinho in midfield this season and from we’ve seen of him this season, it is pretty clear he does not belong on the wings either, or in the Barcelona system to be brutally honest.
Going into the final stretch of the season, it is key that Arthur starts most games because he has burst onto the scene since arriving from Brazil last summer and his abilities and his level of comfort on the ball are tailor-made for Barcelona. However, against sides that play a deep block, Arturo Vidal should be started to provide more incision and off-the-ball runs in order to stretch and tease defences.
Alenya should also be given a good sum of minutes in lesser important league games considering the fact that Barca have opened up a titanic lead at the top and his development will be crucial for the club over the next few seasons as the lad has immense potential. Alenya getting minutes will also mean rest for Rakitic and Busquets who have been playing non-stop throughout the season.
De Jong’s arrival next season will add a different dimension to the midfield
Going into next season, we already know that the excellent Frenkie de Jong has been picked up from Ajax. There are reports that Barcelona are looking at offers for Ivan Rakitic and given his age and the fact that De Jong and Arthur are better alternatives, Rakitic should be let go to make a good profit. Rafinha’s misfortune with injuries has deprived him from a sustainable career at the club and at this point, he is a liability. Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez and Arda Turan who are out on loan must be sold permanently since they did not exactly fit in the club at any point of their stay.
Riqui Puig has been attracting a lot of interest from all over the world for his terrific performances with the Blaugrana in the pre-season and with the B team. He has been reminding everyone of a young Andres Iniesta and the 20-year-old should inevitably be promoted in the summer and given ample space and time to develop which shouldn’t be a thorn given how Puig already trains with the first team on a regular basis.
Talented crop of players like Oriol Busquets, Monchu and Collado should also be loaned out with the intent of fitting them into the system within the next 2-3 seasons.
The future is bright for Barcelona’s midfield and the future is led by young, fresh faces who are capable of accomplishing great things.