FC Barcelona: Top 5 Barca B Prospects in Line for Promotion to the First Team
Although I'm a Real Madrid fan, I've never hidden my admiration for the productivity and effectiveness of Barcelona's youth system. The fact that it is able to produce at least one or two world-class talents on a yearly basis is truly remarkable.
This season, seven different Barca B players have already been involved with the first team, with two players, Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello, having made the full step up to the first team.
Let's take a look at the who the next five are most likely to be.
Jonathan Dos Santos
Jonathan Dos Santos has actually amassed the same number of first team caps as Cristian Tello, but has made one less league appearance for the first team.
He's still splitting time between Barca B and the first team, having made his latest appearance on February 18th for Barca B against Deportivo La Coruna.
Nevertheless, Dos Santos' time with the first team will surely arrive very soon. Seydou Keita is getting into later stages of his career, and could be on the move to Liverpool if rumors are to be believed.
Even if the rumors aren't true, Barcelona don't have much depth at defensive midfielder. Javier Mascherano is usually used as a center-back by Pep Guardiola, leaving only Keita and Sergio Busquets to play in the position.
Dos Santos' game is still in need of a great deal of development, but he has certainly looked good enough to be a depth player in Barcelona's first team.
I expect he'll be elevated to that level this summer after he completes his third season with Barca B.
Back in December, I predicted that Sergio Roberto would break into Barcelona's first team before his 21st birthday.
At the rate he's progressing, he might break into it sooner.
Just two months from my first post on Roberto, Roberto has doubled his total number of games for Barca's first team.
He's played the full 90 minutes in a 3-2 loss to Osasuna in La Liga, and also played the full 90 in a Copa Del Rey last 16 matchup with Osasuna, a game in which he scored the winner for Barcelona.
Like Dos Santos, Roberto's position helps his chances of promotion to the first team. As a central or attacking midfielder, Roberto's current competition in the first team consists of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Thiago Alcantara.
Cesc Fabregas and Seydou Keita are also capable of playing as central or attacking midfielders, but Fabregas has been used as a winger or striker so frequently this season that it's hard to consider him as someone who'll push Roberto further down the depth chart.
As for Keita, he's been primarily used as a defensive midfielder by Pep Guardiola, so he poses a very minimal threat to Roberto's playing time.
Breaking it down, Roberto has only three (and a half with Fabregas) players to contend with for playing time in two positions.
He won't pick up many starts obviously considering the superior quality of those three (and a half) players, but there will definitely be playing time available to him.
Of course, the eventual return of Ibrahim Afellay has to also be factored in.
The Dutch international's future looks rather uncertain right now. Roberto has proven himself to be a good player in limited PT with the first team, and I expect he'll be one of the first Barca B prospects to make the permanent step up next season.
Against Valencia, Montoya finally made his season debut in La Liga, and did so excellently.
After 90 minutes, Barcelona left with a comfortable 5-1 victory over the visitors, and Montoya confirmed his status at Barcelona's second-choice right back.
I'm not completely sure I understand why Montoya hasn't been promoted to Barca's first team already.
I know Guardiola has a thing against defenders, and dreams of the day when he can just put 11 midfielders on the field (or maybe Valdes, Messi, and nine midfielders), but realistically, it only makes sense to promote Montoya.
Despite his young age, Montoya knows the Barcelona system through-and-through; he's been in it since 1999, and has been part of Barca B since 2008.
More importantly, Barcelona has no one to back up Dan Alves. Carles Puyol can play as a right back, but we've seen against Real Madrid that he is far less comfortable in that position than he is as a center back.
Still, it seems someone has finally alerted Guardiola to Montoya's quality and experience. Hopefully his appearance against Valencia isn't a one time thing, and we see more of him before he earns a permanent promotion to the first team in the summer.
Unfortunately, despite being arguably one of the best and most-prepared players in Barcelona B, Bartra is still yet to receive any playing time with Barcelona this season aside from the 90 minutes he played against BATE Borisov in the Champions League.
Again, my only theory for this is that Guardiola hates defenders.
It's the only way I can explain the fact that he has now twice dropped Gerard Pique for Javier Mascherano, has yet to promote Martin Montoya to the first team, and continues to play three man defenses against the best teams in the world.
Bartra really should be in line for promotion to the first team at this point, given that Mascherano is a defensive midfielder and plays like one, and Andreu Fontas hasn't been convincing this season.
But with the limited playing time he's received this season, it's hard to tell at this point.
Rafa Alcantara is my "wild card" pick for this list.
At present, there are a number of Barca B prospects behind the Sergio Robertos, Martin Montoyas an Junior Dos Santoses. One of those is Rafa Alcantara.
Alcantara is the younger brother of Thiago Alcantara, with many saying he's more talented than his older brother.
While it's hard to justify such lavish praise presently, especially considering how good Thiago Alcantara has become, it's clear that Rafa Alcantara is a real gem-in-the-making.
This season he's started every Barca B in Segunda Division, and has scored a team-leading six goals from center midfield.
He's been used on occasion as a striker, indicating his physical strength and versatility as a player.
I still don't see Rafa Alcantara getting much PT for the first team anytime soon, but a couple of years down the line, or even just next summer, Rafa could be the name on everyone's lips.