After winning La Liga with a 14 point margin and adding the Copa del Rey for the fourth consecutive year, Barcelona’s season was still tinged with disappointment.
Real Madrid’s hat-trick of Champions League trophies underlined the Blaugrana’s failure on the European stage, compounded by the 3-0 defeat in Rome which saw them limp out at the quarter-final stage in unexpectedly spectacular fashion.
The sale of Neymar last summer may not have caused the seismic disruption that many predicted, though it has certainly shaken up their future-planning. But despite a host of high-profile players being linked with a move to the Catalans, a star name is yet to be added to their squad.
Could this be due to greater problems within the club?
Missing the targets
Rejected by Antoine Griezmann through documentary, thrice blocked by Chelsea in their bids for Willian, Barcelona’s top two targets appear to have slipped from their grasp.
It hasn’t all been bad news for the Catalans, though. The signing of promising centre-back Clement Lenglet for a fee of €35 million from Sevilla adds to the €40 million capture of Arthur from Brazilian side Gremio at the beginning of this month.
Add in the two major signings of last season, Ousmane Dembele last August and Philippe Coutinho this January - which came to a combined total of around £280 million - and it’s clear they are still attracting major talent.
But with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez both now 31-years-old, there is a definite need to bolster their attack. And soon.
The curious case of Dembele
One of their new stars has so far failed to light up the Camp Nou. Ousmane Dembele was restricted to only 17 La Liga appearances last season - largely due to muscular injuries - and with five of those coming from the bench, the Frenchman only twice completed the full 90 minutes in La Liga, contributing three goals and six assists for his team.
Afforded a degree of leeway, much more will be expected of him in the coming campaign. Having just turned 22-years-old, commanding the fourth-most expensive transfer fee, there will be little room for hiding.
The performance of his 19-year-old French teammate, Kylian Mbappe, at this summer’s World Cup is also likely to pour focus on his exploits during the coming season.
Valverde has been quick to shoot down speculation linking Dembele with a move away, insisting he will be given time to develop the sparks he has shown during his debut season in Spain and previously with Borussia Dortmund.
The plot thickens...
The news reports currently circulating suggest that a €41 million deal is set to seal Malcolm’s signature from Bordeaux, hot on the heels of a confirmed agreement between the club and Roma just last night. The French club reportedly denied Malcom permission to fly to the Italian capital once news surfaced of Barcelona's interest for €5 million more.
As a young right winger with pace to burn, Malcolm is a player very much in the mould of Dembele, and arguably not as talented. The French winger is, though, perceived to be ambipedal, meaning he can easily be positioned on the left wing to accommodate Malcolm, should he sign.
This would provide balance in the team with natural pace and width on either side of the pitch, a step which further takes Barcelona away from their possession-based roots.
Replacing the midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta was never going to be an easy task, but shifting their footballing philosophy leaves Valverde wide open to criticism this season if his gamble fails to pay off, just as was the case with Luis Enrique and his quick transitions.
Downsizing or prudence?
There’s no denying that the signature of Malcolm would represent a significant gamble itself. Real Madrid may be the club associated with the Galactico signings, though Barcelona are no strangers to making headline deals.
The much-lauded La Masia academy has provided the backbone of Barcelona’s team for decades, but fewer players are now making their way into the senior side from the youth teams.
Another recent report currently finding column inches links West Ham's Domingos Quina with a potential move to Barcelona. An 18-year-old central midfielder who is rumoured to be available for £600,000, Quina is another potential hurdle to the current talents within Barcelona’s academy.
Malcolm in the middle
As for Malcolm, his proposed move to the side who finished third in Serie A last season has been preceded by a string of Premier League clubs being linked with his signature. The most concrete of which appeared to be Everton after the top six clubs all diverted their attention elsewhere.
The last-minute nature of Barcelona’s swoop suggests that he was far from being their first-choice target. Following Gerard Deulofeu’s failure to deliver at the beginning of last season, this again looks like a cheaper, makeshift solution rather than the product of a clear plan.
If he can help deliver success both domestically and in Europe, this deal will be regarded as a master-stroke. If not, it will be a long - or perhaps very short - second season for Valverde.