Barcelona's quest to strengthen their defence has led the Catalan club to target Bayern Munich centre-back Jerome Boateng, according to reports.
The German World Cup winner, whose career has gone from strength-to-strength after he left Manchester City in 2011, is earmarked as the man to partner Gerard Pique during Luis Enrique's debut season as Blaugrana boss, reported by Rafa Sahuquillo of Marca:
Jerome Boateng, the Bayern Munich defender, has become Barcelona's number one target. Although Jeremy Mathieu arrived a couple of weeks ago, the 'Azulgranas' still want to strengthen the centre of their defence with another player, and the German player has become the top mark to fill this vacancy, in a development that was first uncovered by Radio Marca.
However, Bayern boss Pep Guardiola has responded by indicating Boateng will be at the German club next season. "I do not know what the media say, I only know that Jerome Boateng will be a Bayern player next season, 100 per cent," said the manager, per Alex Fisher of Goal.com.
As mentioned above, Jeremy Mathieu's arrival goes some way to galvanising Barca's defence, but the former Valencia player doesn't offer the consistent quality needed to challenge across all fronts. A chasm remains where Carles Puyol used to stand, meaning Enrique will want to tighten his back line with a handful of signings, not place all of the pressure on one individual.
Boateng's size, pace and versatility makes him an extremely attractive prospect, despite Guardiola's willingness to keep the player.
The 25-year-old possesses the athletic ability needed to make up for errors in judgement and is sharp enough to regularly cut out danger before any lasting damage takes effect. Vitally, Boateng likes to play the ball and is someone who can start Barca's passing moves from the back.
His appearance alongside Pique would lessen the pressure on the Spaniard. Pique appears to have lost a yard of pace in recent times and is regularly caught out when high balls float over the top. As such, he could use the presence of Boateng, who can act as a sweeper type.
The Bayern star is also useful in either full-back position and would force all Barca defenders to up their game in fear of losing their starting place.
One individual who is in danger of being dropped, perhaps altogether, is Dani Alves. The Brazilian right-back has a frustrating tendency to leave both his club and country exposed with forays into the opposition's half, despite his natural ability to endlessly run the line.
Inter Milan were said to be interested in his services, but this has been vehemently denied by Piero Ausillo, the Italian club's sporting director. "Dani Alves is not in our plans," said Ausillo, reported by Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football.
Bibian Weggelaar, Alves' agent, also indicated there has been little movement around his client's future. "You should ask it to Inter, because we have never had any contact with Inter," he said, per Conn. "We don't know anything, there were no contacts and for us it is difficult to comment on these rumours.”
Enrique may be planning to deep-root a defence that has steadily lowered its quality across the past season. The new boss has already altered Barcelona's midfield and attacking options with the signings of Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez, providing a greater emphasis on battling spirit over beautiful passing play.
Boateng can provide Barcelona with both, but it appears a tall order to lure him away from Bayern. He is a Bundesliga champion, German hero and currently settled among a squad full of his international teammates.
He would be needlessly exiting his comfort zone when heading to the Camp Nou, although Barcelona could pose a challenge too great to turn down. Boateng's lack of form during his time in England suggests it may be best to remain at the Allianz Arena, where he can continue to improve in front of an adoring crowd.