Barcelona’s Primera Liga triumph last season was based almost entirely on their ability to outscore the opposition, whatever the circumstances. But the relative ease with which they strolled to the title masked the failings of a less than watertight back line. Sloppy defensive errors often led to goals conceded unnecessarily but seldom had negative consequences because of the ability of the team’s attacking players, and Lionel Messi in particular, to score so many goals.
Alarm bells were sounded as early as October when La Blaugrana threw away a 3-0 lead but escaped from El Riazor with a 5-4 win over Deportivo La Coruna – a side that would go on to be relegated. As they did throughout much of the season, Barca were forced to play midfielder Javier Mascherano as a makeshift centre back in that game in the absence of injured skipper Carles Puyol.
With or without Puyol, however, Barca’s defence looked vulnerable last term against half-decent opposition – witness their 2-1 Champions League defeat at Celtic Park. Their subsequent double-hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich was evidence of a deeper malaise, but Coach Tata Martino knows he has to shore up the backline if the Catalans are to have any impact in Europe in the coming season. Yet with the new Primera season only days away, no new centre back has arrived at Camp Nou, despite expectation to the contrary all summer.
As last season drew to a close, Milan’s talented Brazilian defender Thiago Silva was expected to be Barcelona bound, but when Paris Saint-Germain beat the Catalans to his signature, a litany of names began to be linked with a move to northern Spain.
Silva’s fellow Brazilian David Luiz is said to be at the top of Barca’s list and there have been reports suggesting that the Chelsea man would even be prepared to lower his wage demands to force the move through. The Blues have rejected a bid of between €25m and €40m from La Blaugrana for Luiz, but their Chairman Roman Abramovich reportedly will not let him leave for less than €50m.
Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has been touted as a potential target for Barca, should they fail to land Luiz, but the Dane is under contract at Anfield for another three years and Liverpool would be reluctant to see him leave. Some reports suggest the Catalans have made a bid for Agger, which has been rejected, while others imply he is simply not technically good enough to be even under serious consideration by Barca.
Next up could be Valencia’s Jeremy Mathieu or Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen, both said to be in the running if Barca fail to secure the services of either Luiz or Agger. The French and Belgian defenders both had good campaigns last term, although it seems unlikely that either Los Che or Spurs will want to sell. Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany has also been linked with a move to Camp Nou.
The common thread linking all these stories is that Barcelona themselves have made no public pronouncements on any of them. Make of that what you will, but the likelihood is that the Catalans will continue to keep their counsel until a deal is done and, in the meantime, will continue to score more than they concede.