Barcelona Re-Stock the Bench with An Eye on the Future
Although Barcelona successfully defended their Spanish La Liga title last season, it was a mighty close thing in the end after some uncharacteristic lapses late on in the campaign saw the Madrid duo come worryingly close to overhauling them for the trophy.
Vast sums will be wagered via sports betting apps on Barcelona retaining their La Liga crown again over the coming season and there is little doubt that they will be there or thereabouts, with Barca looking to have added greater depth to their ranks over the summer offseason.
The regular Barcelona starting XI is as formidable as they come, but there have been doubts as to whether there was sufficient depth in quality among the supporting cast to step-up when called upon.
They look to have addressed that issue with the addition of four players that will enable Luis Enrique to rotate on a more regular basis without compromising the level of performance or results. Given their obligatory heavy schedule, that could be crucial when it comes to challenging for trophies at the business end of the season.
None of the new signings could be considered marquee names, but they all have one thing in common – their relative youth. Denis Suarez, Samuel Umtiti and Andre Gomes are all 22-years-old, whilst Lucas Digne has only just turned 23. Between them they provide the cover and competition that was somewhat lacking last season.
All four players may well be consigned to cameo roles from the bench for much of the coming campaign, but all have the potential to rapidly establish themselves as first-team regulars. Indeed, there would be few doubts as to any of them being up to the task of starting if immediately called upon.
Suarez, for whom Barca exercised a buy-back clause with Villarreal of just €3.25 million, will be midfield back-up and could be used in a more advanced role should Neymar be unavailable. Digne provides cover for left-back Jordi Alba and Umtiti is likely to be seen as the long-term successor to Javier Mascherano in central defence.
Perhaps the most interesting addition is Gomes, whose signing from Valencia for an initial €35 million from under the noses of Real Madrid would suggest he might be a fixture in the starting XI sooner rather than later.
There was some speculation that Ivan Rakitic’s place could be under threat from Gomes, but the Croatian has been a pivotal figure in Barca’s quicker and more direct play under Luis Enrique as a link between defence and the much-vaunted front three. In any case, Gomes’s former Valencia boss, Gary Neville, believes he’s best suited to a left midfield berth, which suggests that he could be seen as an eventual replacement for Andres Iniesta.
Gomes is a very different player to Iniesta of course, but with Lionel Messi now largely deployed in a deeper creative role on the right-hand side, there is no desperate need for a like-for-like successor to Iniesta. In terms of their Blaugrana future, Arda Turan is arguably under the most pressure following the arrival of the Portuguese international.
It’s well documented that Barca also want a fourth striker to take some of the work-load off the MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) goal machine. Achieve that and they are going to be very hard to stop in La Liga and the Champions League this season.
Of course the true test for Barcelona every year is whether or not they beat Real Madrid in El Clasico and this year is no different. While it's always looked on as a Messi versus Ronaldo battle, players like Suarez and Neymar and Gareth Bale will be more in focus this year.