With just six defenders to cover four defensive positions, Barcelona have looked increasingly vulnerable in the first few months of the 2011-12 season. Injuries to both Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué have rendered the core of the defense extremely vulnerable.
Seeing defensive midfielders Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano start together as makeshift central defenders has become a common but unnerving sight for Barcelona fans. Busquets, especially, is simply not suited for a role as a center-back. Mascherano can perform the no-nonsense tackling that is needed as a last man, but he lacks the discipline and the positional sense to play this role week in and week out.
To stay competitive until the end of this season, Barcelona must sign defensive reinforcements to plug the hole in central defense.
However, they cannot just sign anyone. As the failed signings of Dmitryo Chigrinskyi and Martin Caceres showed, Barcelona need some very particular skills in a center-back because of their high defensive line. They are:
- Above average ball control
- Ability to pick a pass from within the defense
- Excellent reading of the game
- Pace in order to cover space left behind in defense
Let us look at a few players who tick the above bullet points.
Current club: Borussia Dortmund
Stronger foot: Right
The most sought after defender in Europe bar none, Mats Hummels has attracted the attention of every big club after his outstanding 2010-11 campaign with Dortmund. His pairing with Neven Subotic has been making waves all over the continent.
Hummels is a very composed defender who can play the ball out of defense under pressure. In addition, he is incredibly good in the air and tackles very cleanly. His positioning sense and ability to read the game is quite exceptional, making him the rare blend of everything that a Barcelona center-back must be.
Unfortunately, any potential move for Hummels is littered with problems. He is cup tied for this year's Champions League campaign. Dortmund can doubtlessly demand a rather high price tag, considering his importance to the team. Barcelona also risk entering a bidding war with multiple clubs for his signature. Also, if bought, he might not appreciate being third choice behind Puyol and Piqué.
If we look beyond the problems, however, Hummels is perfectly suited for a place in Barcelona's central defense.
Current club: Werder Bremen
Stronger foot: Right
The real reason why Per Mertesacker looked so good at Werder Bremen—he had this man covering for his lack of speed.
Naldo's speed and ball control are at odds with his mind-boggling height at six foot six. Unlike many tall players, his height does not prove to be a stumbling block when it comes to playing the ball. Add to that his ability to play equally well with both feet, and we have a winner.
Naldo has been nicknamed "The Beast" by Werder Bremen fans due to his astonishing height. Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf called him "the most talented defender in Brazil."
Werder used to be regular fixtures in European club competitions until recent years. They have been displaying a sharp decline, as evidenced by their 13th place finish in the Bundesliga last season. Under such circumstances, it is conceivable that Naldo would like the chance to play in a team that is a participant in the Champions League.
Current club: Liverpool
Stronger foot: Left
The 26-year-old Dane from Liverpool is a good choice for Barcelona.
He has the pace required to play in Barcelona's high defensive line. He can control the ball well, and knows how to pick a pass, even under pressure. He also has a rocket of a left foot.
Liverpool have not qualified for the Champions League this season. However, their participation in the Europa League means Agger would be ineligible to play for Barcelona in the Champions League's latter stages. UEFA player regulations state that a player may not represent multiple teams in UEFA club competitions during the same season.
Despite this little hiccup and his history with injuries, Agger is definitely a player worth pursuing because of the talents that he brings to the table. He would be a very solid backup to the first choice center-back pairing of Puyol and Piqué.
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain (captain)
Nationality: French, Senegalese
Stronger foot: Left
Every Football Manager enthusiast will agree with this assessment—Mamadou Sakho is a beast of a defender. Sakho is the player everyone loves to buy in their first or second season in the game as a central defender who will never disappoint.
His in-game reputation is due, in no small part, to his all-round ability as a defender. He is both a no-nonsense tackler as well as an immense aerial threat. He is also a natural leader. At the age of 21, he is already the captain of PSG.
Another attribute of his that will make him a potentially excellent addition to the Barcelona setup is his profound tactical acumen and reading of the game. And, he can also play as a left back if required.
A major loophole, however, is PSG's recent acquisition by Qatar Investment Authority. It ensures that their financial condition does not necessitate a sale of such a key player. The chances of Barcelona being priced out of any potential deal are high.
Like Agger, he too will be cup-tied for the latter stages of the Champions League.
Current club: Sporting Gijon
Stronger foot: Right
Former Barcelona Atletic man Alberto Botia has been enjoying life at Sporting Gijon with a series of good performances. He was signed on a permanent deal at the start of the 2010-11 season, with a clause that Barcelona could buy him back for €2 million within the next three years.
It is time Barcelona exercised this buy back option.
The low cost of the deal means that there is hardly any risk involved in bringing Botia back to the club. In a time when defensive reinforcements are needed so desperately, such an economical deal should not be ignored by the managerial staff.
Botia has the basic skills necessary to be a successful backup at Barcelona. If bought back, he could prove to be a reliable backup that Guardiola can call on in the absence of his two defensive stalwarts.