FC Barcelona Transfer Rumors: 7 Targets to Put Barca Back on Top in Spain
Barcelona may have capitulated against rivals Real Madrid in La Liga last season, but the Catalans are not a group that takes defeat lightly.
This will be a summer of reassessment and restocking at Camp Nou, where there is some deadwood to unload in certain areas and some money with which they can buy some of the best players in the world.
The Blaugrana can either hope that their tiki-taka game will work better and more consistently next season or purchase fresh talent to help push for a title under new manager Tito Vilanova in 2012-13.
I think that Barcelona will choose the latter, and here I present to you seven of the best players they could go after this summer.
With Eric Abidal's prolonged absence and continued aging, Barcelona could use a fresh, dynamic young left-back.
If they decide that this is what they want, they should act and sign Jordi Alba as quickly as possible.
Alba is a pacey, aggressive and balanced defender who can maraud forward to support attacks (like he will constantly, if he plays for Barca) and do his duty at the back with aplomb.
After a stellar season at Valencia, Alba has broken into the incredibly good Spanish national team, and is quickly proving himself to be indispensable for Vicente del Bosque.
In many ways, Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao is the ideal defensive midfielder.
Strong in the tackle and robust in the challenge, he does his defensive duties extremely well, and yet also has the ability to act as a deep-lying playmaker to facilitate attacks.
In Barcelona's system, these skills are highly valued, and Sergio Busquets often cleans up before distributing the ball to Xavi or Andres Iniesta.
Barca would have a tremendous amount of depth in this area if they signed Martinez. He would be a massive upgrade from a player like Seydou Keita, who, while effective, does not have game-changing ability.
If this is true (which, let's be honest, isn't likely the case), and if it happens, the club will acquire a center-back that fits their system perfectly.
With Carles Puyol aging all the time and makeshift options like Javier Mascherano being deployed out of position in his stead, the Catalans would be wise to pick up a world-class center-back.
Not only is Vermaelen just that, but he would mesh perfectly into the team from day one. Technically outstanding for a player of his position, the lack of importance he places on defending would not be as exposed in a team that keeps the ball for 75 percent of the game.
Vermaelen's constant desire to get upfield and start attacks as part of a high back line is not at all a departure from how the team's current defenders operate.
If Barca cannot get their hands on Thomas Vermaelen, David Luiz would not be a bad consolation prize.
Luiz, too, is very much an attacking center-back. So much so, in fact, that one wonders during some of his displays for club and country if the defender can actually, you know, defend.
Again, though, this somewhat important flaw would be greatly masked by the quality of those in front of him. What's more, Luiz has the pace to recover if and when he makes a mistake. It is these types of defenders and not lumbering center-halves that Barcelona should sign if they do not wish to break with their model.
I know that I'm cheating a bit and this is not a transfer, but David Villa's return is just as important as any player who Barcelona bring in this summer.
His significance as the pure goalscorer of the team cannot be understated. Defenses cannot move up to mark Lionel Messi when the threat of Villa exists. At any point, the Spaniard could make a sly, undetected run behind the defence to beat the offside trap and knock home a goal.
His manager has the freedom to use him in a traditional striker's role or deploy him out wide to allow the genius of Messi to work its magic in the center of the pitch, where it can do the most damage.
With Villa back and in form, we may see the Barcelona attack really begin to hum again.
Though they would have to pay a price that perhaps even the mighty Barcelona would not be able to match, signing arguably the best young player in the world would certainly go a long way to closing the gap between themselves and Real Madrid.
Neymar has his flaws, to be sure. He is a bit of a lightweight, cannot defend, has no club football experience outside of Brazil and is one of the biggest divers around. However, that should not dissuade Barca from signing him.
In the right hands, his quality and raw potential could be molded into the best talent in the world. For a price, Barcelona can have that all to themselves.
If Barcelona somehow manage to pry Gareth Bale away form Tottenham, the entire dynamic of the team will change.
The focal point of the attack will not switch from Leo Messi to the Welshman, but the tremendous speed that Bale has could change a significant part of the Blaugrana's game.
They do not currently have a player who can simply flick on the afterburners and blow past his marker. Bale could offer a potent counterattacking threat once he becomes integrated with the team and its style of play.
Timed intelligently, his runs behind the defence would be unstoppable if and when he was picked out by Xavi or Andres Iniesta. Bale has demonstrated that his technical ability is nothing short of world-class in itself.
Money spent on him would be well spent indeed.