Barcelona confirm signing of Toulouse defender Jean-Clair Todibo

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Jean-Clair Todibo.

Barcelona have confirmed the signing of Toulouse defender Jean-Clair Todibo on a free transfer, though the 19-year-old will only move after the end of the season.

Todibo, whose contract at the Ligue 1 club expires at the end of this season, was being monitored by Manchester City and Juventus as well, but Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal was reportedly instrumental in convincing his fellow Frenchman to choose the Catalan club instead.

The youngster is the second defensive signing Barcelona have made during this window, after bringing in Jeison Murillo on loan from Valencia, with an option to make that move a permanent one in the summer.

Todibo only made his debut for Toulouse this season, and has made 10 first-team appearances so far.

Barcelona have been facing somewhat of a defensive crisis thanks to injuries to Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen, leaving Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet as the only fit first-team defenders before Murillo’s arrival.

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A year on and Philippe Coutinho is still an awkward fit for Barcelona

Andy West 7/01/2019
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A year after joining Barcelona from Liverpool, it’s fair to say that Philippe Coutinho has not even come close to justifying the whopping fee forked out by the Camp Nou club.

Sunday night’s brief substitute appearance at the end of his team’s 2-1 victory at Getafe strengthened the predominant feeling that Coutinho has lost his way, and is currently far from the exciting creative spark who lit up the Premier League during his last season or so with Liverpool.

Against Getafe, Coutinho appeared as a substitute for the last ten minutes in place of Ousmane Dembele, who had delivered a decent performance full of cutting edge and attacking threat. His replacement, meanwhile, did practically nothing other than dribble into blind alleys and appear to be on a completely different wavelength to Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Of course, he only had a few minutes to impress and it’s very difficult for any player to make a meaningful in such a short space of time. But the problem is that Coutinho in the last few weeks has done very little to merit more minutes, and is perhaps fortunate that Rafinha and Malcom have been injured to receive any playing time at all.

Coutinho’s problem is that his role within the team has remained undefined and uncertain. Specifically, the question is straightforward: is he a winger, or is he a midfielder? Is he filling the gap left by the departure of Neymar, or Andres Iniesta?

At Barcelona, this matters more than most other clubs. Elsewhere, Coutinho would not have to be the ‘new’ anyone and could instead forge his future as a hugely talented player in his own right. But Barca are not other clubs.

Their traditional playing style is so based around specific roles for specific players that it is even called ‘play by position’ (juego de posicion), granting far less autonomy for individuals to find their own way – especially in a team where everything, understandably, is geared towards getting the most out of Messi.

So Coutinho, like fellow big-money signing Dembele, hasn’t been able to simply turn up and carve out a personal niche on the basis of his undoubted ability and his past achievements with Liverpool and Brazil. He has to fit in, and at the moment it’s not clear exactly where that will be.

Connected to this is the problem of Coutinho’s style of play. Although his technical level is very high, he does not really fit into Barca’s fast passing and sharp movement methods. He prefers to take more touches of the ball, creating space for himself through dribbling past opponents. He could be called a ‘run first’ rather than a ‘pass first’ player, a luxury which is granted only to one man at the Camp Nou…and he comes from Argentina, not Brazil.

He also has a tendency, perhaps instilled by his many years in England, to take the most direct route possible towards goal. ‘Attack, attack, attack’ is the mantra in the Premier League, where making a sensible but ground-yielding backwards pass to ensure the retention of possession is met with groans of frustration rather than appreciative applause. Again, this does not fit in with the Barca way, which regards ownership of the ball as non-negotiable.

For all these reasons – positional uncertainty, too many touches and excessive directness – Coutinho is currently floundering rather than flourishing. It is now two months since he last produced a strong performance (at Inter Milan in the Champions League, on 6 November), and he has fallen well behind Dembele in the battle for a regular starting place.

None of this means, however, that he should be dismissed as an overpriced failure. Coutinho’s 12 months in Spain have been flecked with some memorable highlights such as the opening goal in October’s Clasico thrashing of Real Madrid (his most recent goal), and he is clearly a much better player than he is showing at present.

What he really needs now is simply to play. He will only settle into a defined role and start to fully understand what is demanded of him by spending time on the pitch – which will also allow him to rebuild his fragile confidence.

Fortunately, opportunities should be just around the corner. With a busy schedule including midweek Copa del Rey ties, and the need for coach Ernesto Valverde to rotate his squad ahead of the decisive games in the spring, Coutinho should get plenty of starts. It is a chance he needs to take. He has the talent, that cannot be doubted, and if he can develop a deeper level of tactical understanding he can still be a major success at the Camp Nou. But the next few weeks could be crucial.

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Ivan Rakitic urges coach Ernesto Valverde to continue at Barcelona

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Ivan Rakitic.

Ivan Rakitic has urged Ernesto Valverde to extend his stay at the Camp Nou after 18 months of domestic domination.

The Barcelona boss had recently revealed talks over a contract extension at the club will be conducted later in the season amid speculation he could leave the club at the end of this campaign.

The Croatian midfielder – who has been a key part of Valverde’s system – wants the former Athletic Club coach to stay at the Catalan club beyond 2020.

“The coach’s future is a question for him and the club, but as players we are all very happy with him,” Rakitic told reporters, as cited by Marca.

“The job he and his coaching staff are doing is really good and I believe he is most likely to stay here and continue (beyond the summer).

“As players we will all work hard and what they decide to do will be their decision, but they will come to the conclusion which is best.

“We had to work hard for this win at Getafe because this is a very complicated league, every team is difficult and there are many challenges to come.

“This is one of the most difficult games of the season, they are very compact and it was a real battle.”

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