Where we are, what we need

Okay, this is going to sound crazy, but the man in that picture at left, want-away whiner Alexander Hleb, could be one of the keys to this season. So the news that he is going with the squad on the Asian tour warms my heart, even though I know that it is to put him in the shop window, in the hopes that somebody, anybody, will pay around 7m for our 15m midfielder.

There is, effectively, a month left in the transfer window. We have bought a little (David Villa, Adriano Correia), sold a galaxy and a Ukranian (The Yaya, Txigrinski), dumped a kid (Gai Assulin) and released some veterans (Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez). Which demands the question** Where are we now?

Where we are is in a position to explain why Hleb could be one of the keys to season, before the natives come running after me with pitchforks and torches, demanding that I explain an assertion that is, prima facie, absurd. But, one of the things that we need, desperately, is midfield cover. We saw it last season, as Xavi ran down for stretches at a time, and Iniesta spent much of the season recovering from varied and sundry injuries, usually to the exact same spot on his right thigh.

Various tricks and tidbits were tried, including running out the World’s Largest Attacking Midfielder who is, alas, now a Citeh player. But what if we’d had a quality midfielder, one who could pass and dribble with accuracy, who could retain possession while taking contact and who came from a first-class European side, so he understood how the game is played at the highest level? The value of such a player would have been immense.

We owned such a player but alas, he was in Stuttgart being a prick and a piss-poor winger. But Hleb is back with the squad. I won’t begin to argue, even for an instant, that he deserves to start, blah, blah, blah. But as a squad player, provided he can sit the hell on the bench, shut his hole and play well when called upon, would mean a great many things, most notably that Xavi wouldn’t have to play those 5-1 matches until the bitter end, thus keeping him daisy-fresh.

Admittely, Hleb being one of the keys to the season assumes that we are going to sit pat during the remainder of the transfer window. Let’s assume that we do, and look at the squad.

Last year, we were thin, and it showed at crucial times. Henry being injured and/or ineffective robbed us of that legitimate left wing threat that made our offense roll so well during the treble season. More importantly, we lost tactical flexibility, the wonderful emergence of Pedro! notwithstanding. This season, ZubiZa (that could be more fun to say than Txiki B.) has intimated on more than one occasion that we will look inward before looking outward, seeing what is on offer from the B ranks before splashing for some player who might be a) expensive, b) vexing and c) not up to standards. Now let’s go spot by spot:

The back line

The starting back line is etched in stone: Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal. Rafa Marquez, the most recent defensive departure is for me, in the “good riddance” category. Yes, I respect and admire what he did for the club, but his days of having the physical capabilities to perform at the level required by us were over. We saw that last season. Yes, we lost a defender, but if it’s a defender who can’t be counted on, what have we lost? But, with the sale of Txigrinski, we are suddenly down two back line players, even if they are back line players that got ripped every time they came on to the pitch.

So right now we have in addition to the Fantastic Four, Milito, Andrade and Correia for the back line. Adriano can roam around, filling in where need be, and Milito is a world-class center back. But one more quality center back is a decided need. Yes, we could play Abidal there, some who didn’t watch him as center back for Les Bleus might say. Lord, no. But we do have a farmer or two ready to step up into the role of a squad player: Fontas and Muniesa. The former has already been spoken to by Pep Guardiola, so expect to see more and more of him as a role player.

I think we can save our pennies here, and go with what we have. Our starting quartet have been exceptionally durable, and the addition of Adriano means that we can fill two of the four back line positions with a player who doesn’t bring down the quality all that much. I’m fine with that.

The midfield

Again, the starting midfield is rock-solid: Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets. The most glaring departure from our midfield is The Yaya, who moved to Citeh for a not-so-cool 24m (would have been 30, but some jackass allowed a “give the Pond Scum some” clause). This robs us of a number of things, including depth, since he could play midfield and back line, intimidation factor (even though he went down a little too easily for me) and just overall Man-ness. Most importantly, we go from 2 1/2 (Keita is the half) defensive mids to 1 1/2, which ain’t a good number. We’re a wrong foot plant away from being screwed, and you need a different kind of player than Busquets. Keita can do that, but this is where I think that we need a signing, a solid squad player who can slide right in without much loss in quality.

Busquets has been very durable, but isn’t always at his best. He also needs pressure to give of his best all the time. Rare is the player who doesn’t. A Marcos Senna would be perfect. He’s ready to end his career somewhere, but still is an excellent player. He’s also cheap which, to hear Sandro Rosell talk, is a pretty big, giant ol’ important thing right now. And what of Oriol Romeu, the 18-year-old, “he’s ready really he is” farmer? He might be ready for Osasunas or Copa matches, but if Busquets is injured and Keita suspended, would you trust our Champions League future to him? No. Sorry, but no. So look for a DM to be purchased before the window closes.

In the attacking midfield phase, in addition to the big two, we have Hleb. But Correia and Andrade can also move up, to perform valuable command and control work in the midfield. Neither is a Xaviniesta, but neither is anybody else on the planet. This is also the season for either Thiago Alcantara or Jonathan Dos Santos to step up, and begin getting more first-team minutes. Voila, hey, whoa, we’re suddenly looking pretty darned deep in the midfield, particularly when you consider that Messi can also slide back, feeding a front line of Villa/Ibrahimovic/Pedro!. No purchases required here, provided Hleb demonstrates that he can be a good boy, and a productive one. And hit those Berlitz Spanish books, eh. Crikey.

The attack

This part features three irreplacable players but again, backing them up is quality. The starting trio is, without a doubt, Villa/Ibrahimovic/Messi. Expect the three to swap positions, run around and generally wreak havoc on the opposition. The addition of David Villa brings back the scoring threat from the left, and the presence of Ibrahimovic means that Villa has a grownup around (he was much more effective in the World Cup with Torres on the pitch) to distract, while he does damage.

Villa will also shift defenses because like Henry, he requires the attention of two defenders, as do Ibrahimovic and Messi. This warms my heart. But after them, we have Pedro! and Bojan Krkic, players who would probably be playing regularly for most clubs in the world. I expect P! to be a stalwart, wonderful first sub. He might even start in some situations. I predict that this is going to be a difficult year for Krkic, because all three front-liners are durable as well as brilliant, making it difficult for him to get the reps that he needs to develop. This is also going to be a tough one for the oft-injured Jeffren, because one sub role is now filled by P!, and the other by Krkic. Where does he sit on the depth chart? On paper, it’s on the outside, looking in. I would add Jonathan Soriano to that mix, a farmer who is 24, and into prime “Will he or won’t he” territory.


We have Pinto, and Valdes, who is exceptionally durable. Pinto is an excellent keeper for Copa matches and other situations that don’t require Valdes. A high-quality third keeper would be a luxury, but given the quality and durability of both our current keepers,

So, as we begin the Asian tour, I like our squad, and don’t think that we need to spend another penny, except for an inexpensive but manly DM. This one’s easy, and there are a number of choices, none of which will unduly tax the remaining 40m of our transfer budget.

But enough from me. What say ye?

**Nerdy editor’s note: To beg the question isn’t equivalent to demanding a question. Yes, it is one of those lovable misuses that has come to be considered truth. Instead, it’s a way of, in effect, calling B.S. on a point that defies logic. It’s part of an intellectual or logical argument. So, “Pique could be a great midfielder because midfielders pass a lot, and Pique passes a lot.” The logic is flawed, thus begging the question, as you may well wonder what the mere act of passing has to do with being a great midfielder? Gotcha.

And that’s what I know.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


    • Kxevin
      July 31, 2010

      It was determined that Assulin couldn’t cut it, and he was cut loose. His landing place is undetermined. He blew off a Premiership side, claiming some sort of injury, and just didn’t show up. So much promise, so little realization.

  1. likesitmessi
    July 31, 2010

    No Maxwell? He was my vote for Super Sub #2, right behind P!

    • likesitmessi
      July 31, 2010

      ah, just re-read it. Maxwell/Adriano = Andrade/Correia. my bad.

  2. Rohanv
    July 31, 2010

    The whole Andrade and Correia vs Maxwell and Adriano confused me for a second, but I’ve got it now.

    Also, I have to say, Senna would be invaluable in terms of leadership for Busi and Romeu, if he can be bought for cheap, and we really can’t expect everyone to be like Busquets and break out between 19 – 21. DM’s can take time to develop, and I think having someone in front of Romeu, someone with a lot of experience but not necessarily the demand for playing time, would be perfect.

    Also, I think I’m with you on the Hleb thing, just in terms of what we’ve heard from him and his agent over the past month, insisting he wants to play with Barcelona, which he has to know comes with no playing time guarantees. If we get rid of him and buy someone else it would have to be someone again who doesn’t command frequent starts.

    • Eduard
      August 1, 2010

      didn’t Zubiza say “Barca isn’t interested in Senna, we will look in the quarry”?

  3. BA
    July 31, 2010

    if Hleb is a key then our door is broke.

    • BA
      July 31, 2010

      good write-up though. Senna’s acquisition would be make me feel so much better about our DM depth, as Villa’s did about our attack. let’s hope ZubiZa (awesome name) is looking to ease our minds instead of hoping on the youngsters in a vital (our most vital?) position.

    • Jim
      July 31, 2010

      Agreed. And any of our younger players who can’t already do as well as him in terms of passing or keeping a ball should be shipped out forthwith.

  4. July 31, 2010

    Completely agree Kevin that we need Hleb and he could provide an invaluable service to the club. And I also agree Senna should be our last remaining priority this summer, as we are set everywhere else.

  5. Blow-Grenade
    July 31, 2010

    Excellent write up Kxevin. Pique can also play Striker, he can score goals!!!!

  6. Whatever
    July 31, 2010

    I am 100% sure that Hleb will not be a part of the squad in the coming season. Pep doesn’t like him, evidently, and he will be loaned out or sold.

    A quality, but cheap DM would be great, and that’s it.

  7. romario
    July 31, 2010

    i don’t think that hleb is still needet.
    i honestly doubt that he could ever play an important role in the current team.
    hleb is totally unpopular to the fans and pep makes no secret that he doesn’t plan with him in the current team.
    let’s not forget that hleb is also totally unpopular in the dressing room, didn’t attempt(unlike chygrynskiy) to learn the spanish/catalan language and so on..

    senna is an excelent recruitement esspecially because it would be a clear sign of trust in romeu and busquets.
    senna is still in a good shape and can still be considered to play in big games like cl,clásico etc.

    back line :
    agree with topic! there is no need for a new centerback even after the departure of marquéz.
    i think fontás i ready for first team football and lucho wouldn’t mind either letting him go.
    fontás is a strong boy and has made an matured impression on me.

  8. Jnice
    July 31, 2010

    Senna would be a great option for cheap, buy didn’t Zubi say we aren’t interested in him?

  9. jnelson
    July 31, 2010

    decisions, decisions. well, since i am sick of us losing money on transfers i say keep Hleb if he is up to task. So, Marquez and Henry left for free? Chygwimpy for 10m less. Caceres? Henrique on loan again. Keirrison on loan (dumped by Fiorentina this time) again. Oh, and Yaya to Citeh for 24m. That last deal makes sense, but the others suck. only thing missing is splashing 40m on a bench warmer. Yay Rosell.

  10. Hauns
    August 1, 2010

    Agree nearly completely (with the exception of Hleb, but can understand that point too), did you read my posts on XT yesterday? lol just kidding

  11. Helge
    August 1, 2010

    I completely agree with all of your points, but I simply cannot imagine Hleb playing the bench warmer for most of the season without constantly transmitting bad vibrations…
    If he accepted the bench role and was a serious member of the training squad, everything would be fine – but we’re not living in a perfect world.

    Marcos Senna is my primary target for the rest of the transfer season, give him a one-year contract and we can all rejoice. He is more than just a back-up player for Busquets, he could also be a sort of teacher / master for him. He knows how to play with Xaviniesta, how to help Piqué and Puyol with defensive cover etc. due to their shared la Furia Roja experiences. I really cannot think of any better option (if he’s available for < 4m).

  12. poipoi
    August 1, 2010

    senna would be ok by me he’s great even when old, and if hleb wants to stay he has to do anything he is told, warming up the bench or like going to barça atletic

    btw… oh boy fuentalbilla was great 😀 viva albacete

      • poipoi
        August 1, 2010

        no, just photos and don’t have them yet. It was crazy, crowded as hell people shouting and with fireworks in the end. You can watch the whole thing in cuatro(dot)com – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2293UF6w88 – We got to see him really close when he left to the Albacete act when the town wasn’t that crowded. He never played in fuentealbilla FC ’cause they don’t even have one in town only Albacete andBarça 😉 Didn’t get to see the big ceremony that well with the crowd the drinks and all. Can’t wait for the pic of me standing in front of the “futbito” pitch where he learned to play. it’s the same exact thing as “villa fiorito” 😀 😀

        We got to see the area very well, Valencia/Albacete. And we, spanish+4×4= quest for rivers …cabriel and jucar… much nicer than what I thought, in fuentealbilla there were even stewards and “guardia civiles” all over the place, I had to park way outside the village when I went there. it was crazy, I wore my iniesta FCB jersey I don’t have my roja yet.

  13. flyzowee
    August 1, 2010

    i personally wouldnt mind going trophy-less this season, if the likes of fontas and jds are able to make the jump to becoming world class.

    Blooding youngsters requires playing time, which can sometimes cost u competitions like the copa del rey last season as well as goals at key points in a match (busquets vs At madrid amongst others).

    Its all part of the learning process, so im hoping they do la masia proud.

    Does anyone knw if thiago would take part in any of the pre-season?

  14. August 1, 2010

    It’s saddening to hear that zubi is not interested in senna.
    Maybe he missed last season’s match at villareal.

    I agree with kxevin on hleb. i thought he was OK for us but just played out of position too many times.

    I’ve been away from the internet world for the past few days.
    any new names popped up for the squad? As in transfers.

    • mei
      August 1, 2010

      most probably we missed the rest of his last season other than this match and zubi has not.
      What if we signed him and he performed/god injured as badly/often marquez did last season?

  15. Vj
    August 1, 2010

    Whoa, new front page design? Nice!

    • Vj
      August 1, 2010

      Nope, nothing new, please disregard the comment..

      I just hope its not my browser acting weird..

      • Jim
        August 1, 2010

        The four headings on the right sidebar seem to have gone. Bit of a redesign I think.

        • Kari
          August 1, 2010

          It’s as Jim says. Instead, there’s an ad telling me to fight Global Warming by buying florescent light bulbs.

          • Kxevin
            August 1, 2010

            I just see a doe-eyed damsel of vaguely Winona Ryder-esque looks.

  16. Kxevin
    August 1, 2010

    Craziness. Another “friendly” in Serie A was canceled because the players started fighting. Wow.

    And I’m giggling at the two sports dailies, EMD and Sport, who have nothing to do thanks to a closed-lipped board. So it just means more fictional Fabregas stories about messages to Rosell saying “Don’t come,” and speculation. Lord, today, will it NEVER end?

    As one Arsenal-specific site notes (finally) Fabregas is the only one who can (and should) end all this by saying “I want to stay,” or “I want to leave.” Note, by the by, that Arsenal’s captain is not included in my “what we need,” simply because I don’t think that any club needs a 45-50m substitute, right?

    I still think that we are going to stand pat, our acknowledged DM needs notwithstanding. To flyzowee’s comment, I’m kind of with you on that one. I think that every club’s performance goes through a sine wave of sorts, with ups, downs and trophyless phases. If we need to have one to buttress the foundations of our future, I’m okay with that. I don’t think it will be this season, though. No way. Too much talent in one place for that to happen. I look at this starting XI:

    Alves Pique Puyol Abidal
    Xavi Busquets Iniesta
    Messi Ibrahimovic Villa

    Then I say to myself, Pedro! is on the bench, along with Krkic, Keita and Correia, and I wonder who will be capable of beating us. And nobody in that starting XI is knocking on retirement’s door, with the possible exception of Puyol, but he is still a lion. No, I think we’re pretty well set for a while.

    • Bundy
      August 1, 2010

      Its not just the quality of the players, its also their mentality too, they always want to win every game, each player wants to play even if it is against Numancia or Sporting. The players turn up to training full of motivation.

      Pep always repeats that message whenever he talks about the team.

    • Kari
      August 1, 2010

      I remember that. By thethe end of that game, he was shouting something about bulls in pink too-toos and matadors with no knickers on.

      Not that I care or anything. I’d like to remember as little as I can in regards to the end of that season. Ugh.

      Personally, as far as non-Barca or Riquelme related quotes/hyperboles go, I loved this Fulham one. Surprised that it made YouTube though:


  17. Kxevin
    August 1, 2010

    Oh, and in the “aren’t you glad we have such well-grounded players” file, Manchester United’s Anderson totaled his Audi R8 yesterday, and had to be dragged from the wreckage. He and two other people were hospitalized for minor injuries.

    It’s just difficult to imagine any of our players doing something that silly and dangerous. No word yet on whether booze was involved, but booze or not, it doesn’t take all that much to lose control of a supercar. Just because you can afford one, doesn’t mean you know how to work it.

    • mei
      August 1, 2010

      I remember in a laporta-era documentary that specific activities were banned in ronaldinho’s contract, that could lead to injuries , bad publicity etc.
      It probably is a standard procedure for every players contract ,and it really should.
      Sport cars usually have better handling and manouvering abilities to standard cars when it comes to the “normal” speed people operate their comes, its the extremeties that leads to trouble.

  18. Luna
    August 1, 2010

    Ok totally offtopic question. I have sennheiser noise cancelling headphones. I am looking to update as they are crapping out. My cool friends tell me to go with the Dr. Dre Beats over the ear noise cancellation, my business class friends swear by Bose, but I guess I want best of both worlds, noise cancellation, without bleeding, and great sound, which I heard Bose mid is quite awful.

    • Luna
      August 1, 2010

      Woops didn’t finish. Any recommendations???

      This way when I am on a plane watching a match i downloaded on my computer I really, really can’t hear the person next to me smirking and saying something silly about, “so you like soccer?”

      • Kxevin
        August 1, 2010

        Bose sounds like crap. Go with the in-ear design, so that you get noise control and great sound. I love the Etymotic ER-4s. Less expensive than Bose, smaller, and sound light years better. I’m something of a headphone freak, since I think that great sound should still be portable. My main rig is the Grado RS/RA-1 combo, but they don’t really control noise. The Etymotics do. Great for flying, and they keep my ears from popping on takeoff and landing, to boot.

        • Luna
          August 1, 2010

          Thanks Kevin. I hadn’t thought of in-ear design. I’ll check these out. I have small ears so hopefully these are comfortable. I am always looking for the next best thing in headphones but of late, there were other things to purchase. Now is the right time for headphones.

        • August 2, 2010

          Is there a difference between the ER-4P and the ER-4S?

          I’m sort of in the market for some noise-canceling headphones, but $150+ strikes me as a lot for headphones. Am I just looking in the wrong place?

          • Luna
            August 2, 2010

            I;ve seen the same prices, but I am not sure if the other ER model that is $70 is quite as good.

          • Kxevin
            August 2, 2010

            The ER-4P gets a little signal boost for portables. $150 is about right. Worth every penny.

        • Alexinho
          August 2, 2010

          Hey Kev could you give us the link for your personal tech blog?

          • Kxevin
            August 2, 2010

            Don’t have one. I’m just a nerd who likes nice things. Used to write about high-end audio eons ago, but those days are long past.

  19. BA
    August 1, 2010

    i’d like to see the quote if ZubiZa said he definitely wasn’t interesting in Senna, because Senna himself seems to be making all the right noises:

    Senna – “It is my honour and a dream that Barca think of me…”

    His Agent- “I’m sure that if Barca talks with Villarreal, the officials shall not obstruct the exit,” he said. ”In these eight years, Senna never had any problems at the club, in contrast, has always been very professional and to go to Barca would be a unique opportunity.”

    i can’t think of any more fitting defensive midfielders available at present.

    • Kxevin
      August 1, 2010

      Trueness, BA. I looked, and couldn’t find a quote saying that we weren’t interested. And it would bumm me out if there was one, because Senna seems perfect for our needs. Support for Busquets, time for us to see if the young’un actually has what it takes. And all for 3-4m?

  20. BA
    August 1, 2010

    random thought:

    is anyone else aware of that fact that Real Madrid’s full squad in transfer fees alone has cost far more than *half a Billion dollars*?! $625,947,000 to be exact. that is, to me, a stunning figure.

    while the cost of our squad when measured the same is hardly 1/3 of that(!) at $243,988,000; with Ibrahimovic and Villa accounting for roughly half of the overall total, at $116,430,000. big money, to be sure, but $6,540,570 *less* than the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo alone! (would anyone in their right mind trade both Ibra and Villa for Ronaldo?)

    the biggest difference in cost? they have just 2 players in their senior squad that came through their own Youth system; we have 9.

    interesting figures, i thought, and worth sharing.

    • missingpage
      August 2, 2010

      interesting indeed BA 😉 thanks for sharing!

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