Lionel Messi still Barcelona’s key but Sergio Busquets a main man too
Barcelona’s Ernesto Valverde laughed off talk that Atletico Madrid and Valencia already dropping points is crucial in the title race.
After a busy summer, Barcelona’s squad is set for another assault on La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. A lot has changed, with the arrival of four new players, while more than 10 have left the club, including Andres Iniesta. Some things have stayed the same, though, like the fact Lionel Messi remains the main man.
With the new season underway, we look at who joins the Argentine among the most important players at Barca.
This list is not extensive and has been ranked according to varying factors. Some players still with a part to play have been omitted. Performance, potential, the ability to make an impact and influence the course of a game, other options in that area of the field, the ability or inability to replace them and market value have all played a part in selecting the 15.
1. Lionel Messi
This one doesn’t really need an explanation. It’s incredible that after ending last season as the top goal scorer (34) and top goal provider (12) in La Liga, as Barca won a league and cup double, he didn’t make the three-man shortlist for UEFA’s Player of the Season. He’s made the extraordinary seem ordinary and remains Barca’s leading light by some distance.
2. Sergio Busquets
Always an underrated player at the base of Barca’s midfield, his role takes on extra significance this season following Iniesta’s departure. There are now options in the squad to take his place if he’s ever absent, but none are capable of quite performing the role he has expertly fulfilled for almost a decade now.
3. Marc-Andre ter Stegen
He proved last season that he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world, making game-saving stops in a number of matches, particularly early in the season. Barca will need him to do the same this year, especially when the bigger fixtures come around.
4. Luis Suarez
Suarez’s performances on the pitch have been under the microscope for almost a year now, and deservedly so (despite an OK goal return). But the painful truth for Barca is that they have no suitable alternative, bar Munir El Haddadi. If they’re going to compete on all fronts, it’s vitally important that they get the best out of the Uruguay striker.
5. Gerard Pique
The veteran of Barca’s backline, Ernesto Valverde will need his centre-back to have a good season and exercise his leadership qualities, as he’s increasingly done in recent campaigns when the chips have been down. Retiring from international football will enable him to completely focus on his day job.
6. Ivan Rakitic
Like Busquets, there’s extra emphasis on Rakitic following Iniesta’s loss in midfield. Until we see how Vidal and Arthur adapt to their new surroundings, the Croatian will remain a key player in the middle of the park. He offers Valverde options across midfield and will also be the man asked to fill in for Busquets if required.
7. Philippe Coutinho
Having had six months to bed in, there’s an expectation that Coutinho’s Barca career can now really take off. Messi and Suarez will still carry a large part of the attacking burden, but as the season progresses, the Brazilian will need to contribute. His excellent range of shooting could be particularly helpful.
8. Ousmane Dembele
Injury issues behind him and his large pricetag half-forgotten, this could be a big season for Dembele. He’s started well, with winning goals against Sevilla and Real Valladolid, and his pace, change of direction and the fact he’s two-footed provide Barca with qualities they don’t have elsewhere.
9. Samuel Umtiti
Fresh from winning the World Cup and with a new contract at Camp Nou in hand, Umtiti’s development into one of the world’s finest centre-backs is expected to continue alongside Pique. The arrival of Clement Lenglet from Sevilla should keep both defenders on their toes, too.
10. Jordi Alba
The left-back’s relationship with Messi is bordering on telepathic at times. Messi is always looking for that diagonal pass to him. However, there are complaints Alba doesn’t always contribute as much as he should in the attacking third given the positions he regularly gets into.
11. Sergi Roberto
Likely to spend the majority of the year as Valverde’s first choice right-back, but has also been seen in midfield, his natural position, this season. His versatility and reliability are his two biggest attributes.
12. Arturo Vidal
Valverde may turn to Vidal in the big games, as he did with Paulinho, when he tends to prefer a more conservative approach. The Chile international, therefore, may often feature in a four-man midfield and will be keen to silence those who questioned his unexpected arrival from Bayern Munich.
13. Arthur Melo
Demonstrated in preseason that he has the technique and skill set of the prototype Barca midfielder (Rafinha has compared him to Xavi Hernandez) but will be given a season to bed in after joining from Gremio this summer. Injuries and suspensions, though, could see him take on a bigger role.
Stolen from Roma at the eleventh hour this summer, Malcom looks set to feature as an impact player at Camp Nou this year. The Brazilian youngster has pace but his talent is still raw. It’s up to Valverde to nurture it. His performances at Bordeaux suggest he could make an impression.
15. Nelson Semedo
Offers more speed going forward than Sergi Roberto but as things stand is the second choice right-back. Has shown more than enough to suggest that, with hard work and the right opportunities, he could make the position his own. Certainly offers a different option and one which will be used.