Analysis: Wild speculation or smart thinking? The surprise wide option for Barcelona

Barcelona have been accused of being many things, financially irresponsible being one of them, but they are set for a relatively thrifty summer transfer window in 2023.

The Blaugrana know that with no possibility of increasing their salary limit dramatically through the sale of assets, as happened last summer, they will have limited room for manoeuvre in the transfer market. Most, if not all, of the their deals will have to arrive on a free in order to accommodate the cost.

If they do not fit under the salary limit, which is likely to be around €120m-€170m lower for them next season, they will only be able to spend 40% of the money they save and bring in through sales.

That has had a number of consequences on how they have approached certain position groups, most notably in midfield and defence, but little has been said about the forward line.

It remains to be seen if a major exit will occur. Ousmane Dembele only has a deal until 2024 and although Xavi Hernandez will fight to keep him, if negotiations over a new contract go poorly, Barcelona may try to sell him.

Big-money signings Raphinha and Ferran Torres cost over €110m between them, but both have flattered to deceive. By the time the World Cup arrived, neither were sure of their place in the starting XI. The Blaugrana may try to cut their losses and ease the financial pressure with a sale if it comes to it.

Memphis Depay is out of contract in the summer and all signs point to the fact he will depart the club on a free, unless a dramatic turnaround occurs in the coming months.

Although Xavi currently has six quality forwards at his disposal, he may well be looking to bring in one or two again next summer, depending on how things play out.

One option would be to make Ez Abde, currently on loan at Osasuna, a bigger part of the first-team picture. The Moroccan international is capable of magic in one-on-one situations, but remains a raw prospect.

As per Fichajes, one of the names that Barcelona are considering is Crystal Palace winger Wlifried Zaha. The 30-year-old is out of contract next summer and would fit the bill cost-wise. He was also linked with the Blaugrana and Juventus in 2022.

The Ivorian has eight goal contributions in 15 appearances for Palace this season, and in three of the last four campaigns has hit double figures for goals. Barcelona see him as a potential replacement for Memphis should the Dutchman leave, and would also be able to cover a Torres exit.

Zaha has been a star for Palace for several seasons and an instrumental factor in keeping them in the Premier League for the last eight years. His ability to create from nothing, beat a defender from a standstill and quicken the pace suits the profile of wide forward that Xavi has pursued since he became manager at Camp Nou. Theoretically, playing for a bigger team that attacks more often would allow him to improve on his current numbers too.

Although aging into his thirties, on a free transfer it wouldn’t necessarily represent too much of a risk for the Blaugrana. Zaha’s signing would also allow them to focus resources elsewhere.

Perhaps the biggest question marks would be over adaptation. Albeit as a teenager, Zaha struggled to make an impact at Manchester United, and has only been successful at one club. Pressure aside, which is no small thing, the mindset of playing for a major club alters completely. Zaha is often seen tearing defences to pieces on the counter, with space to work in. For Barcelona, the onus is on them to break down deeper defences, something Zaha is not used to.

It is a factor that appears to have hurt Raphinha’s creativity so far this season for Barcelona, as he often finds himself with little room to either beat his defender or find a teammate racing into space.

On paper, Zaha makes sense for Barcelona in terms of cost, profile, and attributes. Countless examples have shown that fit is just as important as actual ability at Camp Nou though. The technical team there must work out if Zaha’s significant talents can translate to the type of game that he would be playing in Barcelona, or whether the context would be too different.

Tags Barcelona Crystal Palace Wilfried Zaha
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