What Will Thomas Vermaelen Bring to Barcelona in 2015/16

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IJuly 27, 2015

Thomas Vermaelen is hoping to make up for lost time with Barcelona.
Thomas Vermaelen is hoping to make up for lost time with Barcelona.Terrell Lloyd/Associated Press

Thomas Vermaelen has a long way to go to win over the doubters at Barcelona. A very long way.

A season disrupted by serious injury has left the Belgian international as a bit-part player for the Blaugrana, and he is only now getting back to his optimum fitness levels.

Injury concerns were foreseen before Vermaelen signed for the club, but nothing was done. So in many respects, the player shouldn't have had to bear the ire of the club and its supporters for his lack of games.

Per Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star, Jordi Grau noted on Catalonia's Esport Club programme that the player's medical picked up an existing injury but Barcelona's sporting director at the time, Andoni Zubizarreta, preferred to press ahead with Vermaelen's signature in any event.

The player himself is acutely aware of his lack of meaningful contribution, telling Sky Sports:

"I got a medal, but you don't feel like you have won the treble. I was very happy for the team, but it's not like I contributed a lot for the cups we won."

Now fit and raring to go, Vermaelen wants to make up for lost time:  

I am very happy and very pleased to be back. There's nothing better than to feel fit.

Last year was terrible. It was a nasty injury, a very difficult one and I am very happy that the feeling in the legs is perfect again, like it should be.

I feel 100 per cent now. We just started pre-season so I am adapting still but I had 60 minutes against a good opponent so I am very pleased with that.

Although the jury is still out on exactly what the player brings to the party, it is worth remembering that, despite his injuries, Vermaelen is a high-quality exponent of the defensive art.

He served as Ajax's captain before his transfer to Arsenal, and he impressed Arsene Wenger enough to be given the same honour in north London once Robin van Persie had moved on to Manchester United.

Arsene Wenger, well respected for his judgment, saw enough in Vermaelen to make him captain.
Arsene Wenger, well respected for his judgment, saw enough in Vermaelen to make him captain.Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Wenger is respected for his judgment, so perhaps Vermaelen needs to be given the benefit of the doubt over a run of games before people make up their minds on whether he fits the Barca template or not.

During this pre-season, he has looked comfortable and assured most of the time, although a few elementary mistakes have crept in.

That's to be expected with so little game time over the last 12 months, though.

While the likelihood is that Javier Mascherano will be installed as Gerard Pique's partner of choice as soon as he returns from his extended holiday, Vermaelen's work ethic could give the manager some food for thought.

A strong and robust centre-back, his aerial prowess is a bonus for a side who conceded just twice from set plays and crosses last season—a marked improvement.

Comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and passing with accuracy, his game mirrors Pique's.

But with his injury concerns brought to the fore, aspects of his game such as his passing are often overlooked.

Vermaelen's 93 per cent pass success rate during the 2014/15 season, per WhoScored.com, cannot really be relied upon, given the little amount of time he spent on the pitch.

But look back over the last few years and you'll see that his accuracy never drops below 80 per cent. The mid-80s is the region that the Belgian normally inhabits. Perfect for Barca.

Also consider that Vermaelen is happy to take on a full-back role if required, so whether Enrique continues with a four-man defence or reverts to a three in order to utilise an extra midfielder, the Belgian can fill in as necessary and with no drop-off in quality.

That sort of versatility is priceless to a manager, and it may well win him a regular place this season.

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