Winning La Liga and Copa Del Rey last season would normally be classed as a successful season. However, fans of Barcelona were critical as they failed to repeat their treble-winning exploits the season before.
What greatly concerned supporters was how the Catalans nearly threw away the League title while in a position of strength. La Blaugrana failed to win four league games in a row, which included three straight defeats and a 2-1 defeat at home to arch-rivals Real Madrid. Luckily, they managed to recover by going on a five-game winning run as they sealed the championship by beating Granada 3-0 on the last day of the season. Defensive lapses, such as throwing away a two-goal lead against Villarreal in March, has resulted in Barca delving into the transfer market to rectify those issues.
The signing of Samuel Umtiti from Lyon is an excellent acquisition and deals with the nagging issue of centre-back. Ever since Carlos Puyol retired, they have found it difficult to replace him. Yes, Javier Mascherano has ably deputised over the last few years, but he is 32 and a converted defensive midfielder. Thomas Vermaelen has played few games due to injury, Marc Bartra was in and out of the squad before moving to Borussia Dortmund last month and Jeremy Mathieu has been unconvincing at times.
Umtiti fits well into the club's possession-based philosophy. Comfortable on the ball, his passing accuracy averaged 87.2 percent in Ligue 1 last season for Lyon, and when he was drafted into the French national team for Euro 2016, it averaged 95.4%. Puyol hailed Umtiti's arrival when he spoke to Barcelona-based newspaper Mundo Deportivo.
“He’s a very technical defender, with good skills to shape the game from the back, and a positive aggressiveness that allows him to be [in position] before his opponents,” the retired stopper explained.
It's not just at centre-back where Barca have strengthened as Lucas Digne has also been brought in, albeit from Paris Saint-Germain. Like Umtiti, Digne is a good passer of the ball, with the former Roma loanee hoping to put pressure on the incumbent left-back Jordi Alba. It should keep the Spaniard on his toes, as whenever a player’s position is rarely challenged, they can become sloppy and it can cause their performances to deteriorate.
Barca should be applauded for these signings. In recent years, some of their defensive signings have been poor – Douglas is one prime example. Furthermore. Umtiti and Digne, both in their early 20’s, show long-term thinking at Barcelona, with the hope that they stay at Camp Nou for a while.
However, with veteran right-back Daniel Alves signing for Juventus after eight years of fine service, the Catalans could look to buy a player to replace him or promote Aleix Vidal as the starting right-back. At the very least, Coach Luis Enrique will feel assured their defence is now stronger than it was 12 months ago and better-prepared for the new season. In the end, that’s what matters.