Barcelona’s imminent capture of Paco Alcacer from Valencia may appear to be little more than a luxury signing considering the abundance of attacking riches already at Luis Enrique’s disposal.
After all, when you can already call upon the services of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, who have averaged roughly two goals per game since teaming up, adding one of Spain’s brightest young forwards as well might appear to be a rather unnecessary indulgence. But the fact that Enrique has pursued a new striking option so doggedly throughout the summer months shows just how seriously the club have taken this acquisition. It is far more than a mere whim.
And there are good reasons for that. Firstly, and most obviously, there is always a danger that Messi, Neymar or Suarez could be sidelined by injury or suspension at a key time of the season.
So much of the team’s game is based around the work of their front three, losing one of them for, say, a league trip to the Bernabeu or a Champions League knockout clash with Bayern Munich, would present a massive headache to Enrique if his only option as a replacement was the talented but raw Munir El Haddadi.
Now, although MSN will clearly always be missed, the team will have a much more comparable replacement – especially for Suarez, whose hard-working, physical style of play is closely mirrored by the new man.
And, of course, Alcacer will also serve as a more than useful replacement for one of the front three when Enrique opts to rotate his squad.
That has been the thinking behind much of Barca’s transfer strategy this summer, with the club’s management anxious to avoid a repeat of the late-season burn-out which saw them stutter through the final weeks of the season.
Alcacer clearly fits the bill for that purpose, but there is far more to his role at the club than acting as an expensive benchwarmer, because the most significant contribution he can make is not when he plays instead of Messi, Suarez or Neymar, but when he plays alongside them.
During the last two years, the biggest criticism of Barca has been that they have no Plan B. Most of the time, that doesn’t matter because their Plan A – with Messi and Neymar cutting inside from the flanks and Suarez rampaging through the middle – is so brilliant that nothing else is needed.
But there are occasions, especially in the most important games, when Plan A is faltering or being snuffed out and an alternative approach would be greatly welcomed.
An obvious example is last season’s Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid, whose stifling approach forced Barca to resort to lumping hopeful balls into the penalty area with Suarez as the only real target.
Now, rather than sending Gerard Pique upfield as an emergency centre-forward, Enrique can call upon a genuine frontman, tasked both with supporting Suarez and occupying the opposition defenders in the hope of creating more space for Messi and Neymar.
Alcacer’s arrival gives Enrique an option he didn’t have before: switching to a 4-2-4 formation, with two physically commanding centre forwards teaming up to receive ammunition from wide areas, meaning the team can either rely upon their flair players find to holes in opposition defences or simply attempt barge their way through.
Sure, Alcacer will start games against teams like Eibar when Suarez needs a rest. But don’t be surprised if he’s also Enrique’s first option from the bench in a closely fought Champions League final – and that, more than simply being cover for MSN, is the real reason he has been signed.
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