Barcelona's Chosen 5: How Much Potential Do La Masia's New Generation Have?

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterFebruary 27, 2019

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05: Riqui Puig of FC Barcelona conducts the ball during the Copa del Rey fourth round second leg match between FC Barcelona and Cultural Leonesa at Camp Nou on December 05, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Despite guiding Barcelona to success in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup since being appointed in 2017, opposition to Ernesto Valverde's reign has always simmered. 

Far from being a universally accepted figure, his methods are questioned at certain turns, with the Camp Nou still not wholly convinced by the Barca manager.

His conservative playing style is at odds with the club's traditions; in 2017-18, Barca more or less converted to a 4-4-2 formation—unheard of in the realm of the "Cruyffian" 4-3-3—and while it came close to delivering an unbeaten domestic season, that still doesn't wash with some.

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23: Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona looks on prior to the start the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and FC Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 23, 2019 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Ge
Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Opportunities for young players have been limited despite a burgeoning, talented crop at his disposal. Carles Alena is one of several youngsters who haven't been given a particularly large role, while some would also argue he's been overly careful with Ousmane Dembele.

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And, of course, there's the Champions League collapse against AS Roma last season. That's convinced many that Valverde doesn't have what it takes to guide Barcelona to another European title.

With all of this in mind, it came as a shock to some when Barcelona extended the 55-year-old's contract on February 15. The move was immediately trounced on social media (check the replies to the announcing tweet), but in the hours that followed, some illuminating details emerged.

Per Sport, Valverde has pledged to incorporate youth more, selecting five promising talents for increased consideration in first-team matters.

Outside of Barcelona circles, the chosen ones aren't well-known, so here's a look at each player, highlighting their strengths and providing a stylistic comparison. 

             

Riqui Puig, 19, Central Midfield

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 15:  Riqui Puig of FC Barcelona looks on during the Joan Gamper Trophy match between FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors at Camp Nou on August 15, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Hands down, the most exciting of the "chosen five" is Riqui Puig, a player who resembles Andres Iniesta in the eyes of many.

Any mention of that legendary name gets the blood pumping for Barcelona fans, and fortunately for them, this comparison comes with considerable merit.

A diminutive, silky-smooth playmaker who dips, dives, twists and turns his way through midfield, it's been clear for a long time he's destined to be a star for the first team.

He's technically neat and tidy, possessing classic Barca traits on the ball, but he also has a second and third gear, where he spots space and just drives into it, leaving would-be tacklers and stray limbs in his wake. Not many can change the pace of a game like he can.

His passing is the epitome of clever, whether it's releasing a runner in behind with an inch-perfect lofted through ball, or a clever dink that takes a defender by surprise. His pass-and-move style ups the tempo of his team's midfield play and tires out opponents fast. 

In short, he's a joy to watch.

       

Oriol Busquets, 20, Defensive Midfield

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 05: Oriol Busquets of FC Barcelona looks on during the Spanish Copa del Rey second leg match between FC Barcelona and Cultural Leonesa at Camp Nou on December 05, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty I
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The "other" Busquets, Oriol, has been floating just under the radar for two years now. In 2016, B/R profiled him as he ascended to Barca's UEFA Youth League squad, and now he looks set for another step forward—this time into Valverde's group.

As his name suggests, he plays the No. 6 (holding midfield role) brilliantly, anchoring Barca's midfield and offering both defensive solidity and progressive passing. He's no relation to Sergio Busquets, though, which comes as a surprise given their frame and playing style.

Extremely comfortable on the ball to the degree of being borderline press-resistant, he distributes calmly and cleanly—even when receiving from the goalkeeper with his back to play. Short passes come easy to him, as do longer switches (his favourite type), while his line-breaking passing continues to improve.

Lanky as a teenager, he has steadily filled out, adding muscle to his frame and emerging as a physical force to be reckoned with in the centre. Stray balls are hoovered up and markers are walled off.

Don't expect him to start buccaneering upfield with the ball at his feet and beating players to open space, but do look for him to provide a solid seal at the base of midfield.

          

Juan Miranda, 19, Left-Back

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur, Juan Miranda of FC Barcelona  during the UEFA Champions League  match between FC Barcelona v Tottenham Hotspur at the Camp Nou on December 11, 2018 in Barcelona Spain (Photo by
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Few players achieve the level of decoration at youth level Juan Miranda did, and be it for Barcelona or Spain's youth teams, he's always proved to be one of the most dominant players on the pitch—despite playing left-back.

Bred like a Jordi Alba or Marcelo, he's a full-back who owns a flank and makes you play his game. Tall but mobile, strong but fast, he pushes forward relentlessly, forcing his opponents back deep into his own territory.

He seems to pass and cross with the same sort of motion, making him a serious threat in both scenarios. His eye for a long pass in behind the defence—the sort Puig would be proud of—is spectacular, while his crossing is a consistently dangerous weapon.

Mix that with his powerful forays forward, and you've got a full-back very much in the modern mould, and one both physically and technically capable of playing for Barcelona.

        

Moussa Wague, 20, Right-Back

VALENCIA, SPAIN - JANUARY 10: Moussa Wague of FC Barcelona looks on prior to the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on January 10, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Moussa Wague's FIFA World Cup redefined the phrase "breakout tournament."

He went from unknown defender playing for a mid-level Belgian side to standout Senegal performer, youngest African to score in the tournament's history and earned a move to Barcelona off the back of it all.

The goal captured the headlines, but his overall performances through three group games were worthy of merit. A force of nature at times, he roamed up and down the flank relentlessly, tackled firmly and leaped forward with the ball where possible.

An instinctive and willing runner, he's excellent in one-on-one situations—either in defence or attack. Going forward he'll often push the ball past markers and speed round them before crossing. Going the other way, he'll stay touch-tight, wrestle for it and back his recovery speed if it goes wrong.

Unable to play for the senior side during the first half of the season due to work-permit issues, he's been cleared to feature in 2019. However, with Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo ahead of him in the queue for minutes at right-back, he may have to be the most patient of the five.

            

Abel Ruiz, 19, Striker

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 18: (L-R) Abel Ruiz Ortega of FC Barcelona U19, Mees Kreekels of PSV U19  during the    match between FC Barcelona U19 v PSV U19 at the Mini Estadi on September 18, 2018 in Barcelona Spain (Photo by Aaron van Zandvoort/Soccrat
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Rather than "best till last," it's more "most intriguing till last" with Abel Ruiz.

There are times when he looks like a striker in possession of a complete skill set: strength, speed, movement, awareness, finishing, link-up play, the lot.

There are other times when he can look a little out of place in two free-flowing sides (Barcelona and Spain youth teams) and contributes little outside of a decisive penalty strike. His size and strength almost seems to hinder him in those "off" games.

You would imagine those inconsistencies iron out over time, and if they do, Ruiz could become a fierce, all-round forward. He can put himself about and produce clever flicks. He can outmuscle defenders and outpace them.

That blend of skills is rare in any player, let alone one so young. Barca have been searching for a Luis Suarez alternative for years, and Ruiz offers both familiar and unfamiliar skills in the position.

           

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All statistics via WhoScored.com.

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