27 Jul Barcelona sign Malcom without considering more pressing squad needs
Barcelona’s dramatic swoop to complete the signing of Malcom from under the noses of Roma took many of the headlines in Tuesday’s papers, yet there is a sense that the signing hasn’t overly improved the Blaugrana’s squad or indeed improved more pressing areas of need.
One of the biggest criticisms of Jose Maria Bartomeu’s time in charge of the club has been how the club’s transfer policy hasn’t given Lionel Messi the teammates of a requisite quality to regularly challenge for the Champions League.
During this time Real Madrid has built a star-studded team around Cristiano Ronaldo with Los Blancos winning four of the last five Champions Leagues.
It isn’t as though Los Cules have played the role of comparative paupers during that period either with the club sanctioning expensive deals for Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Paulinho.
Paulinho has since returned to China, further weakening the central midfield position while Andres Iniesta has also left the club. Xavi Hernandez has never been replaced despite the club having previously had Thiago Alcantara in the ranks, a player who has since developed into the natural heir to Xavi.
Much of the summer of 2017 was spent trying to prise Marco Verratti out of Paris Saint-Germain; however this endeavour only served to irritate the French champions and make future business between the two clubs all the more difficult. As a result, any interest in Adrien Rabiot this summer is likely to end without signing the player, especially with Juventus believed to be keen on the Frenchman.
Failing to strengthen the midfield could deal Ernesto Valverde a catastrophic blow ahead of the new campaign, especially with Atletico Madrid enjoying their most productive summer transfer window in recent memory.
Malcom is an exciting footballer, and he can provide incredible creativity from the flanks, yet Valverde stuck with a 4-4-2 formation during his debut season at the Camp Nou and couldn’t find a way to include Dembele on a regular basis.
Dembele arrived as Los Cules’ record signing at the time before injuries curtailed his debut season, however, even when he returned to fitness the Spanish coach didn’t trust him enough to switch back to the 4-3-3 formation which has defined the club’s footballing identity for over two decades.
The former Borussia Dortmund winger is as talented as any other young player in the world today, perhaps even more talented than most. He was part of a World Cup winning squad and showed glimpses of his quality in both LaLiga and the World Cup.
Malcom’s arrival hands Barcelona another player of comparable traits and a coach who has shown no evidence of knowing how best to use such players. His Athletic Club team used a 4-4-2 system, and there hasn’t been any indication that he’s willing to change tact in Catalonia.
The 21-year-old has only played in Ligue 1 since arriving in Europe, a lack of experience that put off both Arsenal and Manchester United in January. Dembele also played in the French top flight, but he had the crucial advantage of a spell with Borussia Dortmund in the much more competitive across the board Bundesliga. Malcom doesn’t have such a luxury and will arrive in Barcelona with fans expecting an immediate impact.
Yerry Mina was signed in January with an eye towards the future, yet less than six months later the Colombian finds himself being touted across the continent as the Blaugrana look to recoup the fee they parted with. Mina performed well at the World Cup and had an apparent defensive ability, yet Barcelona appears to be giving up on a talent who could take the baton from Gerard Pique.
Clement Lenglet is an astute signing and will take some off the defensive burden off Samuel Umtiti, as well as giving Valverde the opportunity to rest Pique throughout a long season. This is an example of a smart transfer strategy, but the Bartomeu administration can’t seem to fix the midfield issue.
As much as Coutinho is heralded for his flair and creativity, he’s not a central midfielder, not by a long stretch of the imagination, to say the least. He isn’t a natural replacement for Iniesta, and it’s inevitable that the club will suffer a drop in performance from an already ailing midfield.
Such a critical area in the team can’t be ignored with expectations so high. Winning LaLiga last season was an achievement for Barcelona, but it’s difficult to say they were up against a fully firing Atletico or Real Madrid.
The challenges will be far more strenuous this season, and they were already shown up in the Champions League by Roma.
Unless N’Golo Kante can be signed from Chelsea, Barcelona’s midfield will lack balance. Arthur’s arrival from Gremio is an intriguing deal with the Brazilian’s range of passing merely sublime. He could well bridge the gap in quality in midfield for the Catalan club, but more needs to happen.
Bayern Munich has made the rather bizarre move to allow several key first-team players to leave this summer. Jerome Boateng could leave for PSG, and Thiago Alcantara is also seen as dispensable if the right offer arrives.
Barcelona should look to re-sign the Spanish international if possible. Thiago would represent a world-class addition to a critical area of need within the team, and it would also take the pressure off both Dembele and Malcom.
Suarez’s ability to play every single match has been called into question of late, and it’s likely that Messi will be moved into a central position if Valverde does acquiesce and move to a 4-3-3 system. Thiago, Arthur and Sergio Busquets would form an incredibly strong midfield, and Malcom and Dembele on either flank have the potential to tear any defence apart.
Barcelona supporters are desperate for the club’s president to preside over the construction of a balanced team, and while the signs aren’t promising at this stage, that could change following Malcom’s arrival. Only then can we judge the signing of the former Bordeaux star, described as former coach Gus Poyet, as a ‘great gamble’ for the LaLiga champions.
*Disclaimer: The opinions within this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of SportPesa