A week ago it appeared Barcelona would enter this summer’s transfer market in a defensive crisis. News circulated that both Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano would depart for new challenges at Juventus but it has since been confirmed that it is only Alves that has chosen to leave with Mascherano committing his future to Barcelona.
While Alves’ departure is a blow, the loss of Mascherano would have been far worse. Barcelona would have known that with the futures of Thomas Vermaelen, Adriano and Marc Bartra (who has since left) up in the air, the prospect of losing two first choice defenders in addition would have been difficult to negotiate. With those fears now eased Barcelona can focus on strengthening a back line that is in clear need of new blood.
There has been talk of a €40m move for Marquinhos from PSG but there are doubts about his suitability to Barcelona’s system. The Brazilian is not a bad player, in fact he is quite talented, and he does possess certain characteristics that would point to the possibility he could be a suitable long term replacement for Mascherano, but Barcelona should be looking in another direction. In any case, according to Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, Barcelona have expressed interest in one of his players: none other than Samuel Umtiti. He would certainly cost less than Marquinhos and suits the Barcelona system more.
Umtiti is a 22 year Frenchman (recently called into the Euro squad for Barcelona’s Jérémy Mathieu) who is equally comfortable operating from a central defender position or at left back. Barcelona fans, does that remind you of anyone? Yes, in Umtiti Barcelona will be signing a player who closely resembles former Barcelona favourite Eric Abidal. Bringing in Umtiti now makes perfect sense. With Mascherano set to stay for at least another year, Umtiti will be afforded the time to adapt to the Barcelona philosophy. Something he should have no trouble doing once given enough game time through rotation.
Barcelona play with an almost suicidal high line, and while there are few teams in the world who replicate their bravery in that regard, Umtiti does play in a high line in Lyon. He’s accustomed to playing with space behind him. He’s displayed good pace which he can use to step in front of opponents to intercept passes and to cover any ball placed over or through the defensive line. Another major asset he possesses that will please Barcelona fans is his passing ability. Like the aforementioned Marquinhos, Umtiti is tidy in possession and understands the virtues of quick passes to his midfielders to keep the momentum going. However, where he sets himself apart from the Brazilian is his ability with a long pass. Now some would say that long passes are not the Barcelona way however a closer examination reveals that is not necessarily true. Mascherano’s ability to send accurate long passes is a truly under-appreciated part of his skill set and has proved vital to Barcelona for years. In Umtiti, Barcelona would have a youngster capable of filling that role.
All in all, if what Aulas says is correct and Barcelona are in fact looking to bring in Umtiti, they are after a player who ticks all the boxes. His price will be affordable for the club and he will add the required assets to Barcelona’s squad.