Barcelona: What to Expect from the Blaugrana as Transfer Window Closes
The winter transfer window is rapidly closing, and Barcelona is looking to keep hold of its hard-earned eight-point lead at the top of the La Liga table through the end of the transfer period and beyond.
That goal in mind, what are some of the things that Barca could do in the final 10 days of the window to ensure that the La Liga title will be theirs—both for this season and beyond? Let's take a look at some of the names mentioned and see what we can expect from Tito Vilanova and Co.
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A constant partner for Lionel Messi up front on his arrival at the club in the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup, the nasty leg injury David Villa suffered in the semifinal of last year's Club World Cup and the subsequent emergence of younger players like Tello and Alexis Sanchez has caused a dip in his playing time. He's really being used as a squad player at this point.
The Gunners have already tried to acquire Spain's top international goalscorer this month, preparing a bid in the range of £16 million, but Barca had been unwilling to sell. The striker's new demands, however, may change the landscape if they're true.
With Arsenal desperate for both depth (illness to Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud forced Arsene Wenger to call up want-away Andrey Arshavin for Arsenal's showdown with Chelsea last week) and quality at the striker position, a move to the Emirates for Villa would be a logical choice. The only question would be whether such a move happens now or in the summer.
With Arsenal desperate to get back in touch with a Champions League place and Villa looking unhappier by the minute, neither option would surprise me, but I think Villa will more likely stay out the rest of the season in Catalonia. Barcelona would be better served waiting to see what Villa might do under Vicente Del Bosque for Spain at the Confederations Cup before selling him. If he does well, they'll be getting a much larger sum back in return.
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With the surprise news that Victor Valdes will not renew his contract when it expires after next season, fans and pundits alike have been bandying about potential replacements for the La Masia product.
One name that has reportedly popped up on Barca's radar is Belgian international Thibaut Courtois. The 20-year-old made his international debut in November of 2011 and has since been his country's No. 1 keeper.
The property of Chelsea, he has spent the last season and a half on loan at Atletico Madrid, currently placed second in the La Liga standings. This extended loan has given Barca's brass a good look at the young goalie, and rumors are they like what they see.
There are problems with making any moves for the youngster in this window. First off, it's doubtful that Atletico would allow anything to interfere with the current loan deal with them in line for a Champions League place.
Second, his parent club, Chelsea, may not be interested in selling—in this window or any other.
The Blues currently have one of the five best goalkeepers in the world in Petr Cech between the sticks, but the Czech international is 30 years old. Goalkeepers age well, but Roman Abramovich will soon have to decide whether he wants to pull the trigger and put the youngster in goal or gamble on how long Cech will be a top-level player and cash in on his top prospect.
Another possibility from the outside is Liverpool stopper Pepe Reina. The Reds starter began his career at Barca before moving to Villarreal and then to his current stomping grounds at Anfield in 2005.
I think what happens here will depend on what Barca has in the pipeline at La Masia. If there are any keepers they think are only a year or two away, they could take a shot at the 30-year-old Reina. If not, a hard move at Courtois would definitely seem logical—although neither move would likely be made until the summer.
A Raid on Serie A?
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Napoli is currently in the awkward position of trying to figure out whether they are a big club or a middle-sized one, and players like Zuniga may have to be sold if the team is to, as president Aurelio De Laurentiis repeatedly insists, keep striker Edinson Cavani.
Able to play on both flanks as well as centrally and even up front on occasion, Zuniga's versatility could be valuable to the blaugrana, and his prowess out wide could help to cover for the increasingly inconsistent Dani Alves.
Quintero (pictured) is a bit more of a project, and if he was bought he'd be coming into a crowded situation in Barcelona's midfield.
He'd have the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, and a host of others to beat out in order to break into the squad—a daunting task for a 20-year-old who has never played in a European top-flight league until this season when the delfini snapped him up out of Columbia as a replacement for the departed Marco Verratti.
Quintero is a bright prospect, but if he moves it's unlikely that the Colombian international will do so until the summer. Pescara is currently 17th in Serie A—and they would be in the drop zone if it weren't for the six-point penalty that Siena was assessed before the season due to the calcioscommesse scandal.
Zuniga may move more readily, although with Napoli's own punishment stemming from Italy's latest betting scandal—a two-point deduction—has just been reversed on appeal, leaving them tied for second with Lazio just five points behind leaders Juventus. They may want to keep him on and try to challenge for the scudetto before they move him.
Few Big Sales
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With the possible exception of Villa, you can probably categorically rule out any big-name sales in the next ten days.
Midfielder Thiago Alcantara has recently had to quell speculation that he was heading to Bayern Munich after former Barca boss Pep Guardiola announced he would be taking over in Bavaria come the beginning of next season. Expect the Camp Nou to have to quell a lot of "former players following Pep" rumors over the coming months.
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In sum, the answer to the question "What should we expect of Barcelona in the remainder of the transfer window?" is relatively little.
With Villa now making an official request to leave, it may now turn out that the Spanish legend will be sold before the month is out. Other than that, there won't be any high-profile sales coming out of the Camp Nou. Valdes' situation will likely prompt a sale, but that—and it's accompanying move to replace him—will almost certainly happen during the summer.
Any other moves for prospects are likewise to be made in the summertime, as most of the targets' clubs will have something to play for between now and May—whether that be on the top of the table or the bottom.
Expect a quiet 10 days to end this transfer window. The summer is when Barca will have to make its important decisions.