Barcelona should sell Suarez, keep Vermaelen and other summer transfer decisions

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All together: The Barcelona dressing room.

After storming to the La Liga crown and seeing dreams of an historic unbeaten campaign only fall at the penultimate hurdle, it would be easy to deduce that Barcelona’s squad will remain settled this summer.

Yet, April’s humiliating ‘Romantada’ in the Champions League’s quarter-finals exposed vulnerabilities that head coach Ernesto Valverde and his technical staff will be eager to correct.

Here we look at which stars should be retained at all cost, who should be moved on and those whose futures remain unclear.

UNTOUCHABLES

Everything at Camp Nou begins and ends with Lionel Messi.

It goes without saying that their source of greatest inspiration and scorer of 45 goals in 54 matches across all competitions will be going nowhere.

A figure to emerge of similar importance in 2017/18 was Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak just pipped him to the Zamora Trophy, La Liga’s best shot stopper, with 22 clean sheets to 19 but this does not detract from the 26-year-old’s brilliance.

At left-back, Jordi Alba produced a career-high eight La Liga assists. Claims by his agent, Vicente Fores, that the club have stalled on contract negotiations for 18 months must be acted upon.

Centre-back Gerard Pique can look back on a resounding campaign upon the 10-year anniversary of his Barca return. His average of 0.9 blocks per La Liga game was the best of his career even though he’s now 31-years old – and the joint-fourth highest recorded across the division.

The last time Barca conceded fewer than this term’s 29 goals was in 2014/15 – and another big reason for this was Pique’s partner, Samuel Umtiti.

The France international’s average of two tackles per La Liga game was nearly double 2016/17’s 1.1. A new contract cannot be signed soon enough.

Sergio Busquets remained a remarkably consistent presence in defensive midfield, even at 29-years old. His average of 2.8 tackles per game was just 0.1 worse than 2016/17.

As Andres Iniesta departs, a new era opens up with Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho. Five goals and eight assists in 18 top-flight games after his €160 million (Dh678.1m) January switch from Liverpool points to what is to come in 2018/19.

Belgium centre-back Thomas Vermaelen only started 12 La Liga games. But minus the disaster at Levante, of which others were more culpable, he offers a steady presence.

A return of five clean sheets from 14 appearances shows his influence, especially as he’s usually deployed in much-changed sides.

Sergi Roberto remains an imperfect solution at right-back, but seven La Liga assists cannot be argued with.

Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic’s output dropped dramatically in Valverde’s 4-4-2 formation, tallying one goal and five assists in 2017/18 compared to the previous five assists and eight goals. But there remains few better technicians in Europe.

Right-back Nelson Semedo was not adjudged good enough to make Portugal’s World Cup 2018 squad, yet a positive cameo in this month’s El Clasico draw with Real Madrid points to his potential.

Samuel Umtiti displaying just how much the Barca jersey means to him.

Samuel Umtiti displaying just how much the Barca jersey means to him.

OUT THE DOOR

The time has come for a tough decision about Luis Suarez.

Sacrificing a striker who struck 25 times in 33 La Liga games looks like madness. But it would represent an opportunity to refresh and replenish the squad.

At 31-years old, this is the last chance to cash in. His travails with a nagging knee problem in the early months also should not be forgotten, scoring just six times in his first 19 cumbersome matches in all competitions.

If France forward Antoine Griezmann is recruited from Atletico Madrid, space needs to be created. Suarez should be the man to step aside.

The time has come to put forlorn Portugal centre midfielder Andre Gomes out of his misery.

March’s revelations about his troubled mental wellbeing points to the importance of making a fresh start. A horrendous display a month later in the 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo showed not even his admirable candour had produced a cure.

Utility man Aleix Vidal remains a spare part and is expendable. The same goes for four-goal reserve striker Paco Alcacer.

Left-back Lucas Digne is another to come up short since his €16.5m (Dh70.7m) recruitment from Paris Saint-Germain in July 2016.

Spanish forward Denis Suarez played just 515 minutes in La Liga. A mooted loan move to boyhood club Celta Vigo would work for all parties.

Luis Suarez (l) could be expendable at Barca.

Luis Suarez (l) could be expendable at Barca.

MYSTERY MEN

France winger Ousmane Dembele is never going to fulfill his abundant promise as a bit-part player. Regular action is required for the erratic August 2017 signing from Borussia Dortmund to justify his initial €105m (Dh449.7m) fee.

Valverde must either commit to a project he’s appeared lukewarm about, or sanction a loan escape for the 21-year-old who still managed a La Liga goal or assist every 103 minutes.

A goalkeeper of Jasper Cillessen’s ability should not be restricted to one full 90 minute outing in this month’s meaningless 5-1 triumph against Villarreal. But if the Netherlands international is content as a No2, Barca should be grateful.

Brazil centre midfielder Paulinho represents the uncomfortable face of Valverde’s functional Barca. His durability across 34 games and nine goals in La Liga points to an innate value, yet would too many tears be shed if he was sold a year after his acquisition from Guangzhou Evergrande?

Towering Colombia centre-back Yerry Mina should pursue a loan move after struggling to get up to speed since January’ arrival from Palmeiras. His horror show at Levante was a major contributor to the only league defeat.

Ousmane Dembele ended 2017/18 in good form.

Ousmane Dembele ended 2017/18 in good form.

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Live Barcelona Blog: Lionel Messi hat-trick leads Argentina rout of Haiti

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Niall and the rest of the Sport360 team are in place to provide you with the latest news, comment and analysis on all things Barcelona.

Our daily blog will ensure you have all the latest updates throughout the week but we want you to get involved, too.

Tell us your thoughts on what’s happening by tweeting @Sport360.

9:10am – Messi score hat-trick in Argentina’s World Cup warm-up 

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick to power Argentina to a 4-0 victory in their World Cup warm-up match against Haiti – and said lifting the World Cup would be the nation’s “dream”.

The Barcelona forward fired a penalty into the back of the net to open the scoring after 17 minutes, before taking his second 12 minutes into the second half.

Messi completed the triple – and scored his 64th international goal – with a tap-in past Haiti keeper Johny Placide after 65 minutes.

Two minutes later, Sergio Aguero rounded of the scoring, driving the ball into the bottom left-hand corner following a pass from Messi.

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Barcelona reportedly activate Sevilla centre-back Clement Lenglet's €35m release clause

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Barcelona are closing in on the signing of Sevilla centre-back Clement Lenglet after the club activated his €35m (£30.5m) release clause, according to Spanish radio station Cadena COPE (via SPORT).

Lenglet, who joined Sevilla from Nancy last January, has enjoyed an impressive season with Los Hispalenses, and his form hasn’t gone unnoticed with a host of clubs having been linked with a move for the 22-year-old, including Manchester United.

Amid interest, Sevilla offered Lenglet a contract extension in early May, but the centre-back is now expected to travel to the Camp Nou to formalise a deal with the league champions.

According to the report, the French youth international will sign a five-year deal with the Blaugrana, and the move is expected to be announced imminently.

The capture of Lenglet will be a relief to Ernesto Valverde and the Barca hierarchy, with Gerrard Pique the only centre-back guaranteed to be at the club for the start of next season.

Samuel Umtiti has been locked in contract talks with the club, although the French international has recently made clear his desire to remain in Catalonia, telling L’Equipe (via Marca): “What I wanted was the negotiation that I’ve already had with them and I’ve always been very clear about what I wanted.

“I have been clear that I want to renew with Barcelona and I want to be here next season. I’m at a club that has allowed me to fulfil my dream of playing for them and want to stay. I’m in charge of my future so for me to go, the club would have to kick me out.”

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