Saturday night’s victory for Celta Vigo over Barcelona meant a great deal to the Galician club, more or less securing their place in the top flight, but for the visiting team it was a rare opportunity to experiment and look to the future.
With a total of eight players aged 22 or under in his all-changed starting line-up, Barca manager Ernesto Valverde will have drawn a few positive conclusions despite the defeat – especially the comfort with which the midfield trio of Carles Alena, Arthur and Riqui Puig settled into the action.
By far the biggest negative, however, was the lack of goal threat posed by Barca despite their domination of the midfield for much of the game. There was only one shot on target all night, which came from right-back Moussa Wague, and on the whole it was difficult to imagine how Barca would ever score.
And here lies the greatest issue facing the club this summer: a frightening lack of depth in the goalscoring positions. With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez taken out of the equation, there’s just nobody else at the club who looks capable of hitting the target on a regular basis, including the youth ranks where nobody has scored more than eight goals for Barca’s B team this season.
The team’s enormous degree of reliance upon Messi and Suarez is obvious from the fact that two two superstars have combined to net 64 percent of the team’s goals in La Liga this season (55 out of 86), with Ousmane Dembele adding eight and nobody else managing more than Philippe Coutinho’s five.
Of course, relying upon Messi and Suarez is a perfectly acceptable strategy while they are fit and available, and Messi will continue to excel from his deep-lying forward role for many years to come.
Suarez, however, is now 32 years old and cannot be expected to deliver on a weekly basis for much longer, especially considering the amount of energy he puts into every game.
When the time comes for the Uruguayan to vacate his place in the starting eleven, he will be missed enormously. One side-effect of Messi’s ridiculous feats is an unconscious downgrading of just how good Suarez has been during his five years in Spain, which have seen him already become the fifth highest scorer in the club’s history.
As well as his goals, Suarez´s voracious workrate and ultra-competitive spirit have also helped set the standard for his teammates to follow, and to replace him Barca will not be able to fall back upon make-do replacements like the loan signing of Kevin Prince Boateng or occasional outings for emerging youngsters.
To really maintain standards, they will have to enter the transfer market in a major way, and this summer is exactly the time they must do so before Suarez’s inevitable decline starts to hurt too much.
Who should be targeted, then? It’s not an easy one, because the team needs more than just a goal poacher. With Messi largely excused from chasing back in defence or closing down defenders, Barca’s striker has to be capable of working extremely hard in addition to providing quality in front of goal.
And not many players in the world fit that description, hence the club’s desperate recruitment of Prince-Boateng after their failed efforts to land Cristhian Stuani from Girona in January.
The options are very thin on the ground – just look at the leading contenders for the European Golden Boot award, which currently has Messi and Kylian Mbappe followed by 36 year-old Fabio Quagliarella of Sampdoria.
In an ideal world, Mbappe would be recruited from Paris Saint-Germain, but that looks like a non-starter. And few of the game’s other top attacking talents right now (Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah, Neymar) are centre forwards, so Barca might find that all roads lead back to somewhere they have already travelled…Antoine Griezmann.
Considering the way he messed their club around last summer, many Barca fans will be reluctant to countenance this idea, but realistically Griezmann is probably the best possible fit for their team.
He is experienced enough to be a safe bet, but young enough to have his best years ahead of him. He is versatile, and can therefore share playing time with Messi and Suarez wherever a place arises. He knows La Liga. He is hard-working (you don’t survive for so long under Diego Simeone otherwise). And, most importantly, he is a proven goalscorer, reaching at least 15 league goals in each of his five seasons with Atletico despite playing for a team which doesn’t exactly ooze free-flowing attacking football.
For those reasons, you can look around the footballing world as far and long as you like, but you will struggle to find many players better suited to the task of complementing and eventually replacing Luis Suarez.
After rejecting the club once already, Antoine Griezmann may have to be welcomed to the Camp Nou this summer through gritted teeth. But he should still be welcomed anyway.
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The Frenchman lasted only five minutes into Barca’s 2-0 defeat to Celta Vigo on Saturday, breaking down once again with a hamstring complaint.
Dembele is most definitely out of Tuesday’s European counter and his season could well be over.
Vigo beat a much-changed Barcelona side and took a big step towards securing La Liga survival.
With the title long secure, Valverde opted to change the whole starting XI from the Champions League’s tie against Liverpool, resting key players for next week’s second leg.
Maxi Gomez broke the deadlock in the 67th minute before Iago Aspas wrapped things up with a late penalty, given for handball following a Video Assistant Referee referral.
Check out the video above to see Valverde discuss Dembele’s injury.
The home side move five points clear of the relegation zone to 14th place, while Barca slipped to a first La Liga defeat since November.
With the first team rested after their Champions League exploits against Liverpool, Barcelona’s XI sported some unfamiliar faces, with right-back Moussa Wague impressing the most.
Here, we take a look at the 20-year-old’s performance.
Shots (On target): 1 (1)
Passes (Success rate): 50 (86%)
Successful dribbles: 3
Aerials won: 1
Tackles won: 3
Moussa Wague and Riqui Puig do not look like players who have played in Segunda B all season. They look like all-out first teamers.— La Masia (@Youngcules) May 4, 2019
Wague was one of the few players who showed urgency in attack when in possession. The full-back kept Sofiane Boufal – one of Europe’s better dribblers – in check, ensuring the right flank stayed free from danger.
In attack, Wague provided both underlapping and overlapping options depending upon the situation. The former Eupen man’s movements were evidence to the fact that his reading of the game was worth appreciating.
The Senegalese defender’s pace helped keep him in the same frame as Boufal in a toe-to-toe battle. He won three of the five tackles he attempted and was only dribbled past twice during the 90 minutes. Most importantly, Boufal was restricted to just two shots, both of which were off-target.
The full-back found it difficult to ward off the aerial threat presented from long balls from the Celta Vigo left flank. This was due to his positioning which was usually advanced and closer to the centre of the pitch than the touch-line. Luckily for him, Jean Clair Todibo was ever present to provide aerial support and allow him the liberty to focus on his attacking duties.
Not all the young guns that took the field against Celta Vigo can say they made the best of the opportunity provided to them. Wague was clearly the pick of the bunch, looking lively in attack and defence.
The defender’s dribbling was an added dimension to his game, an important one for a modern day full-back. The Senegalese player impressed, displaying attributes that could make him a great fit to Barcelona in the years to come.