Barcelona Influencers Pick Their Top Summer Transfer Target

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2017

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 8: Marco Verratti of PSG and Rafinha of FC Barcelona in action during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Camp Nou on March 8, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The 2016/17 season is barely over, but already thoughts are turning to the next campaign and where improvements can be made—and that perhaps goes even more for Barcelona.

While the Camp Nou side won the Spanish Super Copa and defended the Copa del Rey successfully, they fell short in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, made all the worse by rivals Real Madrid winning both.

With Luis Enrique now having resigned and Ernesto Valverde in as head coach in his stead, attention will now switch toward the playing squad, as the side aim to bounce back in '17/18.

Barcelona have already been linked with a host of signings, most of them dating back into last season and having continued the rumours throughout, but who do the fans want?

We've spoken with four prominent social accounts associated with Barca to gauge exactly where the Blaugrana should be aiming their summer outlay.

     

Midfield tempo-setters

Renewal of the centre of the park has been a critical part of Barca's plans over the last few years.

The established trident of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets is long over; the legendary No. 6 has departed to Qatar, while Don Andres, though still shining sporadically, is no longer a 90-minute performer every single week.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 30:  FC Barcelona players Andres Iniesta (L) and Xavi Hernandez of FC Barcelona celebrate with the trophy after winning the Copa del Rey Final match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on May 30, 2015 in Barcelona, Sp
David Ramos/Getty Images

Even Busquets, dependable and robust, has had dips in form and fitness over the last two years, and Luis Enrique struggled to find the balance in the middle third at times—hence, in part at least, reverting to such heavy emphasis on the front three.

It's no surprise, then, that midfielders featured high on the list of requirements in conversations with fans.

One of the most prominent accounts with a big following, @YoungCules typically offers news on the B team and younger age groups—but always with an eye on who can progress to senior level, following in the footsteps of the aforementioned midfielders.

"For Barca I think the main priorities are a (real) winger and a right-back, but especially a midfielder will be necessary.

"They need someone to provide some control in the middle. Marco Verratti would probably be a dream scenario, but it's hard to assess how realistic that signing is."

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 06:  Marco Verratti of Paris Saint-Germain reacts during warmup before the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bastia at Parc des Princes on May 6, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)
Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

It's a fair shout to start with; Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti has long been linked with a Camp Nou switch, with Diario Gol (h/t the Express) suggesting he remained on the club's shortlist for this summer.

As for realistic, the player himself already indicated he wasn't considering a departure, per Goal.

It's certainly a stylistic fit, with Verratti's ability to set the tone with metronomic passing from the middle third—but he's not the only one who can do so.

     

Verratti alternative

Interestingly, it's also to Ligue 1 our next conversation leads us.

Barca news and custom clothing outlet @FCBdaily is adamant that the middle of the park must be upgraded, also believing it is lacking the incision from the days of Xavi.

The name of choice, though, has been a rival of Verratti's this past season.

"FC Barcelona needs Jean Michael Seri, of OGC Nice, because he is the midfielder that could fill the Xavi/Iniesta role that Barca has been missing for a long time.

"With Seri, Barca can reduce their dependence on Lionel Messi to create chances, who then can move back to the position he belongs: the right wing."

Clearly, that's something Lucho noticed, too; in the latter part of the '16/17 campaign, he switched to a variation of 3-4-3, pushing Messi back in the centre toward the tip of a rough, asymmetrical diamond.

It meant better creativity in the final third, with Messi's vision and execution in the pass almost unparalleled, but it caused imbalance elsewhere, particularly down the right-hand side once Rafinha had picked up an injury.

When so many have the same view, it's hard to call it mere coincidence. Speaking to @XoelCardenas, a Barca columnist with SB Nation among others, he couldn't separate two midfielders into a single chosen name.

Incredibly, they were the same two we've already heard about.

Nice's Ivorian midfielder Jean Michael Seri kicks the ball during the French L1 football match Nice vs Angers on May 14, 2017, at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, southeastern France. / AFP PHOTO / Franck PENNANT        (Photo credit should read FRANC
FRANCK PENNANT/Getty Images

"For me, it's all about the midfield. I'd go with a tie: Jean Michael Seri or Marco Verratti.

"The Italian's game appears to have 'Barca DNA' all over it, if you will. He'd bring a style of play some would compare to Iniesta's. An heir in the making? Possibly, but it would cost a fortune.

"The other option is cheaper but could be the better move. Seri had a tremendous season for Nice, and at €25-35 million to obtain his services, Barcelona could get a dynamic playmaker for a bargain."

Less of a reputation, more of a bargain. It's often the case that the biggest names aren't necessarily the smartest buys; comparing the two France-based midfielders alludes to that being the case, too.

Seven goals and nine assists for Seri, with 2.2 key passes per game, 1.1 dribbles and 90 per cent pass completion rate.

Three goals and five assists for Verratti, 1.4 key passes, 2.1 dribbles and 88 per cent completion—it's close, but it's certainly not distinctively better, yet it's the Italian who is the headline-grabber more often than not.

Smart buying is key, not just to improving the team over last term but to ensure longevity and stability in the side. Cardenas reminds us that Barca have already proven the ability to do that.

"Last summer, Barcelona made one of the buys of the transfer window via France with Samuel Umtiti. This transfer window, the midfield is the priority, and they should go back to France once again to try and get another building block for new manager Ernesto Valverde."

    

Defensive necessity

The biggest of all the social accounts we spoke with, @WeAreMessi is—as the name suggests—more focused on the No. 10 superstar online, but that certainly doesn't mean they don't look at the rest of the team on matchday.

Indeed, the opposite end of the pitch takes preference: the defence.

"Cesar Azpilicueta for sure should be one of the main targets for Barca this summer, and if I had to choose one, then Azpi would be my top priority simply because of what he can offer at the back.

"He's a talented and organised Spaniard; give him any role, play him in any formation, he'll get into any team without a doubt and give 100 per cent as we see him do at Chelsea.

"Not to forget, he loves going up the field and can pass very well to build up the play or even put in decent crosses too."

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea holds the Premier League Trophy following the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Azpilicueta has enjoyed a varied time at Chelsea, ranging from title-winner to struggling in mid-table and playing in several roles. Bought originally as a right-back, he spent more time on the opposite side of defence under Jose Mourinho.

This season, he's been a right-sided centre-back in Antonio Conte's three-man defence. At each, he has excelled. At each, his composure, technique and willingness to get on the ball shine through, as well as offering great defensive solidity.

It's a fair reminder from @WeAreMessi: for such a talented attack to flourish, they need a base to play from.

"If we have to strengthen, then it must be from the back. You can't ask for a more versatile signing than him."

The options are there for Barca this summer, and the fans have spoken. The front three might remain unchanged, but put the right building blocks in place and they could become even more effective.

     

All quotes received firsthand unless otherwise stated. Thanks to all four participants. Stats via WhoScored.

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