Barcelona waited a long time for Ernesto Valverde. When they finally snared him last Summer, he proved he was worth the wait, almost going unbeaten in the league as Los Cúles cantered to first place.
A disappointing exit to Roma in the Champions League quarter-final, however, leaves a permanent blotch. The Catalan’s collapse might have been more mental than technical at the Stadio Olimpico, but some commentators pointed towards Barcelona’s thinning squad as a contributing factor. With Valverde expected to offer a more robust attempt at the European crown next year, here are five players he should sign.
1 Hector Bellerin
Much-maligned as his club limped to a disappointing 6th place domestically, Hector Bellerin was an easy scapegoat for Arsenal’s desperate season. His vegan lifestyle and extravagant taste in clothes have only helped fuel the speculation that he cares more about his image than any sporting success with his club.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. Departing Barcelona as a raw youth player, Bellerin earned his place on the Gunners team sheet through merit alone.
His form might have been patchy in the past 12 months, but his ability to surge forward from right-back makes him one of the most attractive defenders on the continent. Barcelona, having juggled between Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo all year, need a first-choice right-back who can marry instantly with their style of play. Bellerin is the man.
2 Adrien Rabiot
Adrien Rabiot has an attitude problem. That much is clear from the scandalous way he protested his exclusion from the French World Cup squad two weeks ago. What is also clear, however, is that he is one of the brightest midfield talents in the world.
The Frenchman, who was once on the books of Manchester City as a youth player, would offer the balance and incision that André Gomes has so far been unable to provide at Barcelona. Rabiot is a better passer than the Portuguese, whilst also being more mobile.
3 Florian Thauvin
Newcastle fans might scoff, but Florian Thauvin has reinvigorated his career with a wonderful twelve months in Marseille. A passenger on Tyneside, the winger has been unstoppable for Rudi Garcia, with his blinding wing play rewarded with a place in Didier Deschamps’ squad for Russia.
Valverde, who consistently used a 4-4-2 system in his freshman year at the Camp Nou, would relish Thauvin’s adaptability. Not only can he play on either flank, but he would also represent a powerful goal-scoring threat, having registered 22 goals in 35 league appearances.
4 Mauro Icardi
Nobody was surprised when Mauro Icardi was excluded from Jorge Sampaolis’ World Cup Squad last week. The Inter man has struggled to reconcile his reputation internationally after marrying the partner of his colleague Maxi López in acrimonious circumstances.
In sporting terms, however, Icardi is a prize bull. He enjoyed another stellar goal-scoring year in Serie A last time out, but with Financial Fair Play requirements looming, Inter might be forced into a sale.
The 25-year-old has yet to feature in the Champions League and can ill-afford to wait as his current club finds their feet after a multi-year absence. Icardi is good enough to return to the club he left back in 2011 and would offer a reliable alternative to the aging Luis Suárez.
5 Toby Alderweireld
With contract negotiations at a protracted standstill, Toby Alderweireld looks certain to depart Spurs this summer. It’s a shame for Mauricio Pochettino, who has relied on the Belgian’s defensive brilliance for much of his tenure in North London.
Alderweireld would adapt instantly to Barcelona’s passing style, whilst his time at Atletico Madrid negates the need for any adaptation to the Spanish culture and lifestyle.
At 29, he is at the peak of his powers and would offer instant solidity for a backline that has struggled to accommodate the inconsistencies of Thomas Vermaelen and Yerry Mina.
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