Now that Thiago Alcantara has rejoined Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, Barcelona is left with an issue. The loss of the midfielder has left a hole in the defense that must be addressed.
But the issue is not merely replacing a midfielder: It is deeper than that. Barcelona is now seeking to replace Thiago himself, which may prove nearly impossible.
In this article, we will look at the most likely candidates to fill in the gap left by Thiago’s exit and why they may not be enough for La Blaugrana.
Note: All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com
We will begin with the most obvious choice to take over the minutes for Thiago, and that is none other than Cesc Fabregas.
Fabregas was the player who directly competed with Thiago for playing time, but it is important to note that, statistically, he is actually a more influential player than Thiago was for Barcelona.
Not only did Fabregas score seven more goals than Thiago last season, he also gave six more assists and provided more key passes per game on average.
It is also important to remember that Fabregas played in nine more matches than Thiago. When comparing the two midfielders, they boast almost identical passing ratings, and WhoScored.com even gave them both an identical 7.25 score for their overall play last campaign.
However, most Barcelona fans will agree that statistics do not tell the whole story here.
Fabregas may have a slight edge offensively, but two things are overlooked. To begin with, covering for Thiago will mean that Fabregas will be backing up both Xavi and Andres Iniesta, leaving the midfield very thin indeed.
Above all else, it is the magic of Thiago that Fabregas lacks. When Thiago would come onto the pitch for Barcelona, fans were used to seeing dazzling play and unbelievable moves.
Though Cesc may be efficient, he lacks the flair and grace that made many fall in love with Thiago. Fabregas just is not Thiago and will have too much on his plate if forced to make up for the hole in the midfield.
The second most likely choice is 21-year-old Sergi Roberto, who will be spending his first season as part of the Barcelona first team.
Roberto has been with Barcelona since 2006 and has risen through the youth ranks as a very promising midfielder that tiki-taka has come easy to. But will that be enough?
To begin with, it is important to note that Roberto is somewhat similar to Thiago in that neither midfielder was truly an offensive threat. Roberto featured in over 100 matches for Barcelona B and only managed to score seven goals.
However, as last season proved, Thiago did add an offensive dimension to his game. The former Barcelona midfielder became more direct in his play and even developed an impressive shot.
Roberto is also a distributor much like Thiago. Both La Masia graduates love to pass the ball and use their movement to create space, something the Barcelona way has drilled into them. But on the surface, it is already easy to see that Roberto is in no way capable to replace Thiago, nor should he be expected to do so.
The Catalan midfielder has a bright future, and though he will likely never be a star, he should prove to be a decent player. Sadly for Roberto, he will likely spend the next season constantly being compared to Thiago, which is not only unfair to him as a player but will prove yet again that the replacement won’t come from within La Masia.
It seems apparent that if Barcelona really wants to replace Thiago, then the club will have to look to the outside to do so.
One player who could possibly be a candidate for Barcelona is Ajax starlet Christian Eriksen. Though there have been no rumors linking the club with a move for the Denmark prodigy, it may be wise for the club to at least inquire over his availability.
Eriksen is similar to Thiago in the way of statistics; he scored 11 goals last season while providing five assists and averaging more key passes per game than Thiago and Fabregas combined.
But there is no real proof that Eriksen would fit into the Barcelona system. He has showed signs of being a wonderful prospect and likely could transition well to the Barcelona way, but at a high price, it may not be worth the gamble.
Barcelona could also look into Atletico Madrid midfielder Oliver Torres. The 18-year-old made a name for himself with his play for the Spanish U-20 side recently and would provide depth and speed, but he does not have the passing ability that Thiago boasted.
The last candidate may be outside of the club, but he is truly from within. Thiago’s brother Rafinha could possibly step in next season and take over the vacant position.
Barcelona will likely not make a move this summer. The club could be waiting to see the progression of Rafinha and other La Masia stars such as Sergi Samper.
It seems rather clear that there is truly no replacing Thiago.
Not many possess the flair and magic that Thiago has at such a young age (22), and those who do are not available to Barcelona. What the club must do is seek to fill the midfield hole rather than the player.
If fans continue to look for the next Thiago, then life will be disappointing. Barcelona is not a club used to losing players without being able to improve upon what was lost, but that is exactly what happened in this case.
Now is the time for the club to look at completely different options and look forward to what changes need to be made to get the best out of the current squad.
Most will never understand why Thiago was not given the playing time he deserved. But if this saga teaches the club anything, hopefully it will learn to never pass up on opportunities to give players a chance again.
What should Barcelona do following Thiago’s exit? What does this departure mean for the Catalan club in the long run? Leave your thoughts and comments below.