Ranking the Players Who Are More or Less Important to Barcelona Than 1 Year Ago

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2017

(L-R) Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona, Javier Mascherano of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Olympiacos on October 18, 2017  at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Barcelona, as a club, have had a time of upheaval of late; while rivals Real Madrid revelled in lifting silverware at home and abroad, the Catalan side were busy changing manager, selling a star name for a world-record fee, trying to switch formation and making up for a largely terrible summer in the transfer market in 2016.

The on-pitch transition has been good, with Ernesto Valverde leading the club to top spot in La Liga, changing around playing personnel and positions as he attempts to put his own stamp on the club.

It means there has been an element of change within the squad in terms of the players who are most trusted and most important—not in every position but in the natural evolution of a team under a new boss.

Looking at the side, it's clear there are some players who have grown in prominence compared to a year ago, while others have had to take a step back. Here we look at the four in each category who have seen the greatest swings in importance over the past 12 months.

           

More Important: 4. Lionel Messi

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 04: Lionel Andres Messi of FC Barcelona in action during the La Liga 2017-18 match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at Camp Nou on November 04 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

It might seem strange to suggest Lionel Messi, already Barcelona's most important player in any campaign, is even more vital this term—but that's how it has transpired in the early days of Valverde's reign.

We're not just talking about impressive performances here, either. Yes, Messi has been scintillating, and his goal return is pretty spectacular once more. But in terms of pure importance to the team, he hasn't been found wanting.

First, there's Neymar's departure to consider.

The Brazilian's sale left a hole in the team and would have done regardless of which player they signed to replace him; Neymar was a goalscorer and a creator of dozens of chances, and there are few players in football who are immediately ready to be as accomplished and consistent as he was.

Second, Neymar's replacement, Ousmane Dembele, picked up an injury that has left him sidelined since September.

Barcelona lost a lot of pace, an out-ball down the channels, a high-profile attacker to scare defences with and a source of goals when the former BVB man went down. And while numerous players have filled that role in a tactical sense, it has only been Messi who has risen above even his own usual standards to provide a goal return to make up for the Neymar-Dembele deficit.

The biggest boost for Barcelona is that when other players exceed expectations, they can help change a game or two; when Messi exceeds expectations, he's nearly unstoppable.

             

More Important: 3. Sergi Roberto

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 21:  Sergi Roberto of FC Barcelona plays the ball during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Malaga at Camp Nou on October 21, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

The case of Sergi Roberto is a little strange. In terms of game time, there's not much difference. By this time last season, he had only missed out on three league games and one UEFA Champions League fixture, and those numbers are repeated precisely in 2017/18. Last season, though, he was rotated out of the side; this year, Valverde has only not played the versatile Spaniard when he has been injured.

It's also about perception and the role Roberto is playing.

Under Valverde, Roberto fills an important tactical role, either dovetailing down the right side with Aleix Vidal in the altered four-man midfield system or playing centrally, covering for Sergio Busquets when required.

There's more competition at right-back and in midfield this term, yet Roberto is called upon every week.

His displays have been consistent and impressive, whereas last season—to an unwarranted level at times—he was heavily criticised for not being Dani Alves. Sure, he made errors and was partly in the team because there was no other alternative, with Vidal a long-term absentee.

But this season has been another step forward. He has shown he can be a big asset to this team, and until his recent absence through a hamstring injury, Valverde turned to him with frequency.

Just how highly Valverde rates Roberto will become apparent once summer signing Nelson Semedo is fully integrated and Dembele has returned from injury. Those two could form a devastating right-flank tandem, but there's every chance the Spaniard will still clock up his game time in one position or another.

            

More Important: 2. Marc-Andre ter Stegen

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 04:  Ter Stegen of Barcelona celebrates the second goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Sevilla at Camp Nou on November 4, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

This selection is all about the monstrous upward curve in performance, maturity and reliability.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been Barcelona's first-choice goalkeeper since August 2016. But while he was competing with Jasper Cillessen for game time last term, returning from a knee injury and beginning to show why Barca backed him over Claudio Bravo, this year the German is on another level.

In fact, during the course of the calendar year, Ter Stegen has not just been one of Barcelona's best players but has established himself as an elite goalkeeper around the same level as the likes of Jan Oblak, Manuel Neuer and David De Gea.

The German has gone from being an error-prone but spectacular goalkeeper to one who is near-perfect in his all-around game: assured with the ball at his feet, commanding in dealing with aerial balls around his six-yard box, possessed of lightning reflexes and so incredibly consistent he is a fantastic last line of defence.

Barcelona are still working out the kinks in their reorganised tactical approach, and when teams manage to get behind the back line or create chances around the box, Ter Stegen is repeatedly a one-man wall, producing the sublime and the standard in equal measure to keep the opposing scoreline at zero.

There are few 'keepers around as consistent as him, and given Neuer's injury status, on the international scene, he has a great chance to stake his claim as an alternative without dropping the standard.

          

More Important: 1. Samuel Umtiti

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 21: Samuel Umtiti of FC Barcelona in action during the La Liga 2017-18 match between FC Barcelona and Malaga CF at Camp Nou on 21 October 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

Barcelona signed Samuel Umtiti in the summer of 2016. As is normal for a reasonably young centre-back, he took a few games to get into the swing of things.

There was nothing wrong with his performances early on, but the established pairing of Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique had won multiple titles. There was no real reason to break them up. By December 2016, Umtiti had only played six league games—partly down to a couple of injuries, but mostly because he simply wasn't first choice.

As the season went on, that changed. Umtiti went from promising defender to the best signing of the season and a fan favourite. And now he's even beyond that.

The Frenchman is Barcelona's most consistent defender and the most well-rounded one too: he has pace, aggression, the ability to step out with the ball and he's good in the air. There's little he can't do on a technical level, and all types of forwards struggle to get the best of him on a match-to-match basis.

Umtiti hasn't missed a minute in the Champions League this season, and his only two rests in La Liga have come against Eibar and Las Palmas, both home games against bottom-half opposition.

He has continued his development into an elite talent at the Camp Nou, and he's comfortably the player who has most progressed most over the past year in terms of importance to the first team.

              

Less Important: 4. Javier Mascherano

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 21: Javier Alejandro Mascherano of FC Barcelona in action during the La Liga 2017-18 match between FC Barcelona and Malaga CF at Camp Nou on 21 October 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

Where some have improved their standing at the club, however, some have slid in the opposite direction. With veteran Argentinian Mascherano, his diminishing game time and importance for Barca are a consequence of Umtiti's success.

Now 33, it's natural he's phased out of the team gradually to allow for new blood to come through, but Mascherano is still called upon when needed—he's not simply a backup.

His tenacity, aggression and leadership are all valuable skills, but Valverde picks and chooses the games in which to employ them. He's also an option off the bench for Barca to shut down matches late on or try to rest players in games that are pretty much wrapped up.

It's a far cry, though, from the past few seasons, when Mascherano has been an immovable part of the side and one of the most important members of Barca's starting XI.

To emphasise the point, from the big matches against Juventus (twice), Espanyol, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla this season, Mascherano tallied just one minute of action off the bench.

There has been a big drop in his importance in terms of his week-to-week influence on the side, but there's no doubt Mascherano will still play a part across the course of the season.

            

Less Important: 3. Rafinha

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 19:  Rafinha of Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou Stadium on March 19, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

It's hard to feel anything but sorry for Rafinha; every time he gets fit and wins a place in the team, he looks the real deal, capable of contributing in a big way and having a regular starting spot. And then injury strikes again.

Last term, he started off by proving his fitness after the Olympic Games, making an impact with five goals by October and playing regularly as a right-sided option for Luis Enrique but later suffered Achilles problems and a broken nose. Once back, he again showed good end product when given a starting spot, but he suffered a knee injury in April that ended his campaign.

For Luis Enrique, Rafinha was, at the very least, a candidate to start matches, a regular impact player in the final third and perhaps one of the first subs for either midfield or the forward line.

Under Valverde, he has done nothing but watch his team from the physio room as he tries to battle back to fitness once again.

Sport reported in September that Rafinha had suffered setbacks in trying to return to action. As such, there's no first appearance under the new boss in sight. It's the Brazilian's bad luck that he misses out while Dembele is absent; it's a fair bet he would have been given plenty of opportunities to shine in the right-sided role if fit. But once again, he will be starting from zero.

              

Less Important: 2. Andre Gomes

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Andre Filipe Tavares Gomes of FC Barcelona in action during the La Liga 2017-18 match between FC Barcelona and Las Palmas at Camp Nou on 01 October 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

One of Barcelona's poorest signings in recent seasons, both coaches have tried to give Andre Gomes the platform to succeed at the Camp Nou, but the midfielder remains ill-suited to the side, both tactically and stylistically.

After an initial £29.3 million move from Valencia in July 2016, Luis Enrique made sure Gomes was a regular part of the team; he played in most of their Champions League group-stage matches, and he was in the XI or off the bench in La Liga pretty much every week he was fit up until December.

It wasn't that Gomes was shining or had a great position of strength from his displays but rather that the coaches believed in him and tried to shoehorn him in—but neither as the deepest midfielder nor as one of the more advanced central midfielders did he deliver.

This term, Valverde has had much less patience with the Portuguese schemer.

He has played under 400 minutes in all competitions, never managing more than 15 minutes in Europe and mostly asked to feature as one of the interior players in the four-man midfield, playing in from out through the channels and largely failing to impress.

A flop of an addition who simply hasn't found a way to fit into the team, Gomes is also out injured—it's hard to see him getting another chance.

             

Less Important: 1. Arda Turan

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JULY 29: Arda Turan of FC Barcelona during the International Champions Cup 2017 match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at Hard Rock Stadium on July 29, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The biggest drop of all, however, comes in the form of Turkish attacking midfielder Arda Turan.

At the start of last season, Turan was a first choice for Luis Enrique. Admittedly, this was partly from necessity, but he still took his opportunity well. With Neymar out of action, Lucho opted for Turan as his left-sided forward, and the response was impressive: three goals and three assists by September. That led to a regular run of games until the end of October.

An injury then curtailed Turan's involvement, but he was in and out of the side up until February, with an undoubted highlight being a hat-trick in the Champions League demolition of Borussia Monchengladbach.

His Barcelona career has taken a nosedive since.

Turan was injured again in February and played just twice more in La Liga during the rest of the season—yet even that was better than how he has fared under Valverde.

Barcelona's No. 7 was left out of the Spainsh Super Cup squads against Real Madrid for both legs, named as an unused substitute on the opening day of the season against Real Betis and has not been seen since.

He was reported as injured at the time of the Copa del Rey match against Real Murcia, when he may have featured, but it's fair to say Valverde does not count on the Turk in the slightest.

A move seems probable in January, but his plight is an incredible fall from grace just 12 months after his former boss turned to him as the immediate replacement for Neymar.

          

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