It’s January, which means that the winter window is open, that lovely time of the year when rumors abound and potential player migration is all the rage.
The names that have been most consistently associated with Barça in the winter window are Denis Suarez and Nolito, and both can be dealt with pretty quickly:
Not because they aren’t quality, but because you struggle to see where they are going to get playing time. Barça has an exceptional lineup right now. Nolito would be in the same pot as Neymar, Messi, Munir and Suarez. He’s better than Munir, but minutes are crucial for his proper development, and he should get more of them if the Sandro to Spurs business becomes reality. But in effect, Nolito would become the new Pedro, and he’s too good for that, which brings us to another complexity with his transfer.
It’s a greedy, unnecessary move that takes Celta’s best player and reduces him to a card partner for Adriano. If Enrique was truly committed to rotation, and keeping his attacking front three daisy fresh, the buy might be worth considering, because Nolito would become a regular player, working into the attacking rotation as a sub for any of the front three.
But how can you commit to rotation when, like pretty much every team out there, your attack is built around your best attackers, who also happen to be the three best attackers in world football? Ain’t gonna happen. So Nolito would come, and he would sit.
Denis Suarez is even more complex, because he is arriving as a player capable of playing midfield or left wing, positions occupied in both cases by a pile of players, none of whom he would be able to displace. Even had the Villarreal president not ruled out Suarez moving in the winter window, it would be another one of those “Because we can, and you never know” transfers. It’s one thing to have depth and talent but yes, teams can be greedy. This often leads to exceptional players who are rarely used, and find themselves trolling back to their original clubs, like Illaramendi.
All that said, it’s hard not to like Denis Suarez’s game. But even if something bonkers happens and he transfers in, what happens in March, when Rafinha returns?
Any transfer speculation also has to be considered in the face of what will happen on Monday, when Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal become eligible to play for the team. It’s worth a look at what their inclusion might represent for Barça.
Likes: stars and crescents, smiles, puppies, Messi
Dislikes: razors, fourth officials, boots that aren’t balanced like a boomerang
Turan can play pretty much anywhere along the front line, even at false 9 if a coach requires, but his principal stomping grounds are left wing and midfield. What Enrique gains is a high-quality replacement for both Neymar and Iniesta, a player who can come in and not drop the level of play even as he changes its style. He’s aggressive with a work rate developed at Atleti, under Diego Simeone. He can dribble, has excellent control and will score goals. He’s a fighter and a hard worker who is also starter quality, for Barça or any other team in the world. Turan’s play for his national team is closer to what Barça can probably expect, as he has more freedom to roam and be creative, even as his play for Atleti should excite culers who think the team needs another steely-eyed player to stiffen even more the team’s backbone.
Suddenly, Enrique can do things such as get Suarez some rest, float Neymar into the middle and Turan on the left wing. Turan can also sub or start in place of Neymar, Rakitic and Iniesta, which will keep those players fresh and highly functional. The Turan slot is where a player such as Denis Suarez would fit, but there isn’t a real universe in which Suarez would be able to sit Turan, barring injury or a trip to the Boot Olympics.
Jordi Alba can also get rest, as Enrique can use a more defensive-minded LB sub, with Turan in an Adriano type midfield/LW role.
Sergi Roberto will also benefit from the arrival of Turan, as will Sergi Busquets. Moving Mascherano into midfield as the DM, of necessity changes the way that Barça plays. He is more destroyer than creator. But the times that Sergi Roberto has played deep in the hole, a la Busquets, have been very interesting. Busquets needs rest, as he is integral to Barça in big matches. But the danger has always been if you use him there, and Rakitic or Iniesta need rest, what do you do, with Rafinha still recovering from the assault of a savage? Turan changes all of that.
For the unfamiliar, think of Turan as Mean Iniesta, without the ability to dematerialize. He can also set the beat of the band, like Iniesta, and lace in sterling passes for the likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. He could even be used in tandem with Iniesta, for those times Enrique decides Messi is best closer to the opponent box and wants to use Turan as the shuttle between Iniesta/Busquets and the front line.
Turan is another of the Swiss Army kind of players that Enrique likes — physical with a high work rate, capable of playing in any number of spots, with great feet and a high football IQ.
Likes: tattoo parlors, running, anything stealth, Senyeras
Dislikes: standing still
The best way to think of Vidal is The Future. He is a right-sided Jordi Alba who is a bit taller. As Dani Alves prepares to ride off into the sunset, the long view is that Vidal becomes the perfect player to slot in and retain Barça’s way of playing. He isn’t a pure RB, again like Alves, more a right winger who can defend well enough. His energy level is high so like Alves, he can bomb the wing all match long.
But the biggest thing that Vidal brings to the right side of the pitch is pace. Despite the rage that he causes, the reason the club took a punt on Douglas is because the player has pace. The left side has gobs of it, in Neymar, Alba, Mathieu. The right has none. This isn’t only a problem in play, but a problem in solving counters. How often has Alba or Mathieu come steaming in on the wake of the play, able to run down the attack with pure speed. Vidal brings that same quality.
His pace also works for overlaps and 1-2s. If you’re looking for peak Vidal, Sevilla’s match against Fiorentina is an excellent place to start.
Defensively he is less of a known quantity, as RB is still pretty new to him. But those with long memories (in transfer rumor lifetimes) will recall the Cuadrado business. Vidal is finally the player to fill that tactical role. Like Cuadrado he has pace. But Vidal also adds ball skills. He can also score goals, as Alves used to, with a knack for popping up in the box via movement away from his marker.
Vidal can also play on the left, so both Alba and Alves get a potential R&R replacement, in another versatile player added to the Barça squad. Like Alves, Vidal has the ball skills to also do some midfield duty, something those familiar with Sevilla are used to, as he pops up there from time to time. And he’s both lateral and vertical, even more so than Alves, a pitch stretcher, in other words, who can create space via movement and positioning. And he isn’t fond of the ball in the sense that you don’t see him dribbling or messing about. Control/pass/move/receive. He’s another player with great feet and a very good shot.
You can’t replace Alves, just like the club couldn’t replace Abidal. They are legit Barça legends. But you can get top-quality players who facilitate the way that the team plays, adding versatility and depth.
This current team might be the closest that Luis Enrique has ever come to his ideal roster:
GK: Bravo, Ter Stegen
CB: Pique, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Mathieu, Bartra
DM: Busquets, Mascherano
MF: Iniesta, Rakitic, Turan, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha
F: Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Munir, Sandro
LB: Alba, Adriano
RB: Alves, Vidal
People often talk about Total Football, but rare is the roster that is equipped to play it. Yet in this group, everybody can pretty much play everywhere. Messi will break up an attack in his own box, make an assist from midfield, score a goal or help Alves on defense. Suarez works a ball loose in midfield, laces in an assist. Everyone is everywhere at once. It’s no coincidence that no B players are training with the first team these days. Not only does B have its own dilemmas to resolve, but this is the business part of the season. The first team is set.
Some weird injury plague (or the actual Plague) could come along, and mess up all of these carefully laid plans. But this roster is one of the best Barça squads, on paper, that this team has had in some time. In terms of depth and talent, I still rate the first-year Guardiola squad as the tops (note that this is only talent and potential, as opposed to execution). If Rafinha was fit this group would be perfect, and that might be the one reason that the Denis Suarez rumor popped up.
Another advantage to Vidal and Turan is that the club was transfer banned but the players weren’t, so they have been able to train with the team, absorb their roles and step onto the pitch as fully formed members of the squad. What will happen is impossible to say, but this season, everyone was saying “just hang on until January.” But the team finds itself at the top of the Liga table, advanced in the Copa and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. The squad is fit, deep and versatile. The rest is up to reality.