Guest Post by Karl Matchett.
Barcelona’s treble success of last season was as spectacular as it was deserved, but the way the current season began it seemed as though getting anywhere near to repeating the trick would be a near-impossible juggling act.
Injuries, suspensions and the registration ban on new players meant a severely depleted squad for Luis Enrique to deal with in the first three months of the campaign and it is only now that he is beginning to have players return, with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic all coming back in the past two or three matches.
A 4-0 win in El Clasico was commanding, comprehensive and complete as they swept away their most bitter rivals with utter contempt, dominating in Real Madrid’s own back yard and going six points clear at the top of La Liga as a result. Tuesday night in the Champions League then showed why, along with Bayern Munich, they are the big favourites for European success once more, too, as they toyed with and terrorised the AS Roma back line, eventually putting six past the Italians.
It could have been far more and Roma defender Maicon was well aware his team got off lightly, saying they were “lucky to only lose 6-1,” while manager Rudi Garcia called Barcelona “unstoppable” at present.
But, that’s at present, with still six more months of the season to play. Last season, from this date onwards until they lifted the Champions League in June, Barcelona only played out another six matches which they didn’t win. From 44 fixtures. Such incredible consistency owed much to the fitness and regular availability of the squad, as well as their quality and Luis Enrique’s management.
Can the same patter of success be applied for another 50 games? For there will be an increase this season, with Barcelona set to feature in the Club World Cup next month. It has been widely assumed that they will sign another player in January to boost squad numbers, particularly in attack where neither Munir nor Sandro have capably stood in for Messi during his absence. Nolito has been mentioned as a potential signing if Barça can offload a squad member to raise funds, while the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie have been highlighted as “Henrik Larsson model” signings—low cost, big impact, short stay.
If they are going to add anyone to that area of the squad, it is the latter option Barcelona should take.
Both Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will be registered for league and Continental play in January and both can operate on the right side of the front three when required, with Turan doubtless coping fine on the opposite flank, too. While the younger La Masia graduates haven’t excelled, Sergi Roberto has been tremendous this season—from right-back and central midfield, but also on more than one occasion on the right in attack, too.
With all three of the MSN troika perfectly capable of playing centrally, Luis Enrique has almost certainly got enough cover in the attacking third, and only a super-sub striker, someone to bring a direct manner and a handful of goals, should be a necessary addition if at all.
The key to Barcelona’s recent tremendous form has been Neymar’s increased responsibility, consistency and output, along with his link-up with Suarez.
Of course there have been excellent displays from further back down the field too—Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and both goalkeepers have done well in the past few weeks alone—but it is the South American contingent which has really gone up another level to drag Barcelona past opponents on a regular basis, inspiring confidence in team mates and bringing back the fear factor of facing the Catalan club.
Signing Nolito wouldn’t exactly upset the established order of things, but it would present potential problems. The left-sided Celta Vigo forward has had a superb 20 months or so and performs somewhat similar to Neymar in basic function: a playmaker and goalscorer, cutting infield from the left channel and looking to craft out a chance for himself or others as he dribbles.
A former Barcelona player, Nolito is unlikely to come in demanding playing time ahead of one of the current three—but by the same token, his spot in the Spain squad for Euro 2016 would be on the line. Right now, he could be considered a starter. Go to Barcelona and feature only sporadically, and he might not even make the plane. In fairness, that doesn’t apply to Marc Bartra, Barça’s back-up centre-back who still makes Vicente del Bosque’s squad, and the Spain boss is heavily loyal to those who have broken into the team.
Financial juggling acts, the balance for playing time in the squad and a need to keep MSN in place as often as possible dictate that there is simply no point adding another first-team option to this Barcelona squad. It’s already the best out there and for consistency, style and quality only Bayern Munich look remotely close to touching them. Lots could still change by the end of January, but right now Barcelona look far better off simply trusting in the consistency of three players who rarely suffer dips in fitness or form.