Barcelona will be hard-pressed to sign anybody this January and quite possibly next summer too. That has been the clear message coming out of the club. Having seen a total lack of squad planning for several years under former President Josep Maria Bartomeu though, there are still holes for current President Joan Laporta to fill.
Perhaps the most pressing need is at right-back, but with Sergio Busquets potentially leaving at the end of his contract next summer, the club are acutely aware of the need to replace him too.
Such are the financial constraints that the Blaugrana are essentially only looking at players running out of contract next summer.
Ilkay Gundogan had been mentioned as a preferred option to come in for Busquets, but that now appears to have fallen through. Meanwhile Jorginho of Chelsea has been mentioned as the favourite to come in. Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans has also been mentioned frequently. Sport have released a comprehensive list of all the out of contract midfielders that the Blaugrana are considering too.
With such limited resources though, it begs the question as to whether those players further down the list are actually suited to Barcelona’s needs or merely convenient and possible.
A conundrum for Barcelona. Perhaps the option of the next four that would best fit their needs defensively. The Chelsea midfielder used to cover more ground than anyone else and effectively free up the rest of the midfield to play with more daring, knowing that Kante could clean up behind them.
Now 31, it feels like some time since he exhibited that kind of form, as he regularly deals with injury issues. Kante is unlikely to come cheap in terms of salary either.
Given it would be Busquets that Kante would replace, he would be a sudden departure from the Spaniard. Kante has never operated as a single pivot and does not have the same ball skills or vision to be able to direct play in the same fashion that even a waning Busquets does.
Perhaps Xavi Hernandez would be able to scheme around that and Kante could operate in a two with Frenkie de Jong or Pedri, yet this seems a stretch.
At his very best, it might have been a trade off worth making, but if, as looks to be the case, Kante’s best is in the rear-view mirror, it would be a tough sell.
Another midfielder that has rarely operated in a single pivot, Rabiot’s form at Juventus for the most part been disappointing.
Linked with Barcelona in his Paris Saint-Germain days, Rabiot is talented and is showing as much with France at the World Cup. He might be the player that uses the ball in the most similar fashion to Busquets out of the four to be mentioned here.
However Rabiot’s character has come into question time and again during his career, and his contract would not be a cheap one. Generally, he is accustomed more to an ‘interior’ role or part of a double pivot rather than Busquets’ position too.
With a young squad, Xavi is attempting to build a mental fortitude that is not currently present and beyond footballing and financial concerns, Rabiot’s personality would not add to that fortitude.
The Manchester United midfielder has been oft criticised in England for lacking the game to cut it at the top level.
Fred has exhibited technical ability and in the right system, has proved capable of competing in the biggest games. Perhaps the most balanced in terms of offensive and defensive output of the four names to be listed here, he could potentially complement the likes of Pedri, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong best out of any of them.
Equally, it should not be lost that United manager Erik ten Hag worked hard to replace Fred with de Jong last summer. That should give Barcelona something of an indicator that perhaps Fred is not an option that would bring more than decent performance. Against smaller teams Barcelona have shown they can cut it, their problem is on the biggest stage, where United at least have doubts that Fred belongs there.
The Lyon midfielder was heavily linked with a move to Real Betis last summer, but it fell through due to Los Verdiblancos’ financial constraints.
Aouar quite simply is not a Busquets replacement. Blessed with vision and a weight of pass, Aouar is an exciting player, but perhaps that is not what you want from your pivot.
Although he was used as part of a double pivot under Bruno Genesio, receiving the ball from defenders and progressing the ball upfield, Aouar does not have the same appreciation of pressing or positioning required to play a deeper role on his own.
At 24, with room for growth, there is no reason that Aouar could not be a smart addition to the Barcelona midfield. It would likely be further forward though and not suited to their needs.
Overall, if Barcelona cannot obtain any of their other targets in midfield and do plump for one of these options, then they will be arriving as either depth or require a reconfiguration of their current system.