New formation and the Ousmane Dembele dilemma plus other Barcelona issues

Alex Rea 21/07/2018
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A new era beckons for Barcelona with Lionel Messi succeeding the departed Andres Iniesta as club captain, but with the talent in support, boss Ernesto Valverde will hope for more of the same.

The Blaugrana will begin preparations for their La Liga defence with a pre-season tour of the United States and will kick off their schedule against Premier League side Tottenham in California on July 28.

So, with that in mind, we examine some of the key issues for Valverde over the next few weeks.

NEW SEASON AND A NEW FORMATION

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-REAL MADRID

The Barcelona identity is entwined with a 4-3-3 formation with much of their success in the modern era owed to variants of the system.

However, Valverde took a massive step away from the shape and instead opted for a more pragmatic 4-4-2 last season with Messi afforded a free role to both create and destroy.

While domestically it was effective, the step up in class and difficulty on the European stage means a return to 4-3-3 is necessary and it is of course why Barca splurged a club-record fee on Philippe Coutinho.

The Brazilian’s versatility to play as either an attacking midfielder in the central three or on either side of the front trio will lend well to the shape.

Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic require a forward-thinking creative player in alongside them while further up the pitch Messi and Luis Suarez will benefit from Coutinho’s sorcery.

His position will largely depend on any signings brought into the club – Chelsea’s Willian is reportedly their number one priority while young midfielder Arthur Melo will require time to assimilate – and what Valverde has planned for Ousmane Dembele.

THE DEMBELE DILEMMA

Sevilla v FC Barcelona - La Liga

And so we move onto the World-Cup winning Dembele. Patience is not a virtue gifted to big-money signings and the £135.5 million fee became a vice grip around the neck of the winger, strangling his opportunity to make a true impact last season.

Still just 21, though, he has much to learn but also so much to give and his importance to Barcelona next season can’t be understated. If Valverde does indeed switch to a 4-3-3, Dembele is a raw talent who must be weaponised.

His direct style and piercing pace provide a fine option to work in the front three and if he can demonstrate consistent results, the side will be far more balanced for his inclusion.

On his game, Dembele is a one-man overload for full-backs and his speed draws centre-backs out of position which frees up space for Messi and Suarez. Recycling possession with care is one area he must improve but an injury-free run will help in that regard.

He has all the tools to be a central figure for Barcelona, which is part of the reason why fans are so desperate for him to fulfill that potential, and perhaps with a mix of trust and a bit of love, he can be a success.

Certainly talk of sending him out on loan is nonsensical anyway.

MIDFIELD RECRUITMENT

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The strategy for Barca is to cut down the fringe-player pile rather than allowing those at the top like Dembele to exit.

Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina, Paco Alcacer, Aleix Vidal and Lucas Digne are among the names who could join Paulinho in leaving Camp Nou this summer.

With Iniesta gone as well, that does mean Valverde is a little short on options in the middle and it could see him dip into market despite Arthur’s arrival.

The 21-year-old will need time to integrate and with Ivan Rakitic likely exhausted from an energy-sapping World Cup campaign with Croatia, Barcelona need to bring in at least one more body.

They must choose wisely, though. Miralem Pjanic, Frenkie De Jong, N’Golo Kante, Adrien Rabiot, Christian Eriksen and Thiago Alcantara have all been linked but nothing is set in stone.

Valverde requires a technical talent rather than physical prowess, which is why Paulinho was allowed to depart, and one player who could fit the bill is Rabiot.

The 23-year-old already has a ringing endorsement from a Barca icon.

Speaking to Mundo Deportivo, Xavi said of Rabiot: “He’s a player of an excellent level technically.

“He could play perfectly as a central midfielder at Barca. He could contribute a lot, but that’s already entering the realms of speculation.

“I’ve been asked a lot about [Antoine] Griezmann this summer and, in the end, he stayed at Atletico. But if Rabiot comes, he’d be a great signing.”

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Live Barcelona blog: Only two more signings expected - including Willian

Chris Bailey 21/07/2018
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Welcome to today’s Barcelona blog. David Cooper and the rest of the Sport360 team will be with you throughout the day with the latest news, rumours and insights from the Camp Nou.

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.

1.00PM – Barca target two more ‘top level’ signings

Adrien Rabiot

Don’t expect a revolution at the Nou Camp before the season gets under way, with just two more signings being targeted by Barca bosses including Willian.

That’s according to reports, anyway – check out the latest update here.

10.00AM – Willian stay or Willian go?

Willian praises Eden Hazard

One of the most surprising transfer sagas of the summer continues to rumble on, with Barcelona reportedly making a third improved offer for Chelsea winger Willian.

Is he good enough to play for Barca? Read more on the story here.

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Barcelona searching for two more 'top level' signings amid Willian talk – reports

Chris Bailey 21/07/2018
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Clement Lenglet and Arthur Melo are the only signings to have strolled through the doors of the Nou Camp so far but, according to reports, Barcelona are on the lookout for two more names before the window is done.

Spanish outlet Sport have run a report indicating that Barca believe their squad will be ready for the new season with another couple of names – and that’s including Chelsea winger Willian as their interest in him ramps up with a third and improved £55 million bid.

Along with Willian, Ajax starlet Frenkie de Jong and PSG midfielder Adrien Rabiot are the other known Barca transfer targets, though Ernesto Valverde and his team are thought to be working from a list of six.

It stands to reason that Barca will be searching for another midfield player as Brazil international Paulinho returned to China after Andres Iniesta headed to Japan. They are seemingly willing to let misfit Andre Gomes leave this summer, too.

Whatever happens, the spine of Valverde’s squad does need some freshening up. Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have all reached their 30s.

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