Thomas Vermaelen is finally feeling like his old self again. For Barcelona, though, that almost makes him feel like a new signing.
After signing for the Catalan club from Arsenal in the summer of 2014, Vermaelen must have expected his Barcelona career to be fully on track by this point more than a year later. Yet the Belgian defender is only now enjoying his first run of games with the squad under manager Luis Enrique.
Injuries were to blame for the Belgian's miserable 2014-15 campaign. A recurring hamstring issue ruled him out of action for almost the entire season, with Vermaelen finally making his debut in late May.
Barcelona claimed three trophies in a memorable season, but naturally Vermaelen didn't feel fully part of the treble-winning side.
"I got a medal, but you don't feel like you have won the treble," Vermaelen told Press Association Sport (h/t Joe Wright at Goal.com). "I was very happy for the team, but it's not like I contributed a lot for the cups we won."
Fortunately for the 29-year-old, the current campaign has started on a more positive note. Vermaelen has started both of Barcelona's league matches, playing the full 90 minutes against Athletic Club before being subbed out in the closing moments against Malaga.
In the latter game, the Belgian scored his first goal for the club, slamming in a volley from 12 yards out following a rebound. It turned out to be the match-winner.
Vermaelen also appeared in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup Final against Athletic Club, a match Barcelona lost 4-0.
But while that game went poorly, he has performed well in the league. Through two league games, the defender has earned a strong 8.51 rating from WhoScored.com, averaging 4.5 interceptions and 10.5 clearances while completing 92.3 percent of his passes.
"Now I feel like a proper Barca player. Things are starting to go well for me," Vermaelen said, according to Marca. "I'm not afraid to get stuck in anymore and I'm nearing my best form."
"How the pre-season went was very important. Although the Spanish Super Cup didn't go well, I'm happy with my performances and with starting the last two games," he added.
Vermaelen's return to the squad comes at an opportune time for Barcelona, who are currently under a transfer embargo. The Catalan club did conclude deals over the summer to sign midfielder Arda Turan and defender Aleix Vidal, but because of the embargo, those players will not be available for selection until January.
Thus Vermaelen's comeback from injury gives Barcelona and Luis Enrique defensive depth exactly when the club needs it. After missing almost the entire 2014-15 campaign, the Belgian re-enters the squad feeling somewhat like a new signing.
In a pre-season analysis of the player, Bleacher Report's Jason Pettigrove compared parts of Vermaelen's playing style to that of Barcelona star Gerard Pique, later noting the possibility of a strong season for the Belgian:
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.
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.
Versatility, strength and passing accuracy could indeed make Vermaelen a valuable part of Barcelona's squad this season as the Catalans chase trophies once again on multiple fronts.
And after suffering through such a miserable debut campaign, the Belgian will have extra motivation to make his mark this time around.