January transfer window: which players should Barcelona sign?
The arrival of Xavi is only half of the puzzle for Barcelona, who need to strengthen in defence and sign a new striker in the short term before a rebuild.
When Xavi Hernández took the Barcelona job, the legendary midfielder will have been well aware that it consisted of two separate parts: firstly, to guide a cash-strapped, injury-plagued side shorn of Lionel Messi to the end of the season as best he can, and secondly to initiate a top-to-bottom rebuild of a squad consisting of seasoned campaigners and precocious teenagers, with little in between. As January approaches, Xavi will be looking to address the first of those issues with some short-term fixes, while also considering whether a move for any long-term targets – Ferran Torres is almost in the bag and Erling Haaland has been touted by the ubiquitous Mino Raiola - is feasible before Barça embark on their Europa League campaign. That may prove to be Barça’s most viable route back to the Champions League next season, although the form of Atlético and Real Sociedad will give Xavi an achievable target to aim for after the winter break.
Xavi’s positional pique in defence
Barcelona would be in a considerably better league position were it not for the tendency of the back line to leak goals from winning positions. In interim boss Sergio’s last game in charge Barça blew a three-goal lead against Celta and Xavi’s side took the lead twice against Osasuna but failed to protect their advantage. A single Betis strike was enough for the Andalusians to claim three points in Camp Nou and Elche were unfortunate to leave empty-handed after scoring twice to draw level. Xavi has bemoaned his side’s lack of positional awareness, and his defence has been the biggest culprit.
As such, Xavi will be looking to shore up that area of the pitch as quickly as possible, with Sergiño Dest and Samuel Umtiti likely to be moved on. The arrival of Dani Alves gives Barça an extra option in several positions but the 38-year-old hardly fits the long-term bill. Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara has been linked and is a free agent in the summer, which has also attracted the interest of other clubs including Manchester United. Primarily a defensive midfielder he can also slot into the back four, which will be of interest to Xavi, who values versatility in potential targets.
Closer to home, Barça have been linked with Joules Koundé, but given Sevilla’s valuation of the player at around €60-€70m the Frenchman is likely well out of Camp Nou’s reach. A cheaper target and one who would have little trouble fitting straight in would be Betis’ Marc Bartra, who came through La Masia and played over 100 times for Barça before moving to Borussia Dortmund in 2016.
Building a midfield around Pedri
Whatever else Ronald Koeman is remembered for at Barcelona, culers have the much-maligned Dutchman to thank for securing the signature of one of the finest pieces of business the club have ever pulled off: landing Pedri from Las Palmas for a mere €5m. The Spain international will be the bedrock of Xavi’s rebuild and midfield is the one area where his side are in fairly good shape. The emergence of Gavi and Nico González has provided Barça fans with something to cheer this season and both players are very much the real deal, despite their combined age standing at two years younger than Alves.
The big question mark is Frenkie de Jong, who has failed to spark Barcelona’s midfield in the way anticipated after his arrival from the scintillating Ajax side that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2018-19. The 24-year-old will not be discarded lightly after setting the club back €75m and it could be that Xavi will bring the best out the Dutch international, but there have been rumours that Barça are willing to try their luck in a very similar fashion with a move for out-of-favour Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek. A bid to bring former La Masia midfielder Xavi Simons back from PSG is also a possibility his namesake may look into.
Barcelona in a winter Bunde-land?
Barcelona have been linked with a host of strikers in the wake of Sergio Agüero’s retirement and Ansu Fati’s injury problems but the most likely move Xavi will make is for Ferran Torres. The Spain international ticks all the right boxes and Manchester City seem open to negotiations, with the stumbling block being a fee for the 21-year-old, who cost City €23m a year and a half ago but is now valued at double that.
Edinson Cavani has been targeted as a short-term fix, the Manchester United forward having seen little action this season due to injury and the arrival at Old Trafford of Cristiano Ronaldo. The 34-year-old Uruguay striker may be allowed to leave on a six-month loan, which would suit Barça’s needs. He would need to accept a pay cut, but may be tempted by the prospect of regular football in a new league to cap his career.
Barça are reportedly also in talks with Porto Alegre over 20-year-old Brazilian forward Yuri Alberto, who can play through the middle or on either wing. Another possibility is Xavi’s former Al Sadd striker Baghdad Bounedjah, who has been worth a goal a game in the Qatar Stars League since he joined from Étoile du Sahel in 2015.
Barça’s primary target in the long-term of course is Haaland, as is the case with Real Madrid, both Manchester clubs, Juventus, Bayern Munich and PSG. The Camp Nou board cannot compete on a financial level so will have to promise the Norway striker the world to lure him to Catalonia, and a lot will depend on how Haaland sees his medium-term prospects: securing a Champions League place this season is Xavi’s top priority in that regard but it would be a surprise if Barça do not at least sound the Dortmund striker out in January, via Raiola.
Working in Barça’s favour in the Haaland race is Joan Laporta, who has previous in delivering on grandiose promises. When he took over the presidency at the turn of the century, Laporta said he would bring either Thierry Henry, David Beckham or Ronaldinho to Camp Nou to revive the club’s fortunes. Barça were at the time in the UEFA Cup and barely bothering Real Madrid or anyone else in LaLiga, and Laporta delivered the Brazilian, beating Manchester United to the buck-toothed genius. The rest, as they say, is history, with Xavi himself stating in 2003-04 after a Clásico victory that the arrival of Ronaldinho was the beginning of “the Barcelona rise.”