With the departure of the legendary Sergio Busquets, FC Barcelona are faced with a quandary: how to replace him. It’s a tall task, for sure, as Busquets is arguably the greatest midfielder of his profile to ever grace the football pitch. Barça have explored several options thus far, but none seem tenable, whether it’s because of transfer fees, the will of the player, or difficulty in negotiations. Therefore, Xavi and the board have seen fit to consider another name: Girona’s Oriol Romeu.
Romeu, in my opinion, would be a good option, albeit a temporary one, to shore up our midfield. Quickly, though, let’s back up and analyze the situation that already exists in the Catalan capital, before explaining why the 31-year-old would fit well within the team dynamics.
Barcelona midfield without Romeu
Barça already have several very talented young midfielders in the squad. Pedri, Gavi, and Frenkie de Jong specifically. These three are gifted footballers, each in their own different ways, but none of them can come close to replicating the type of impact Sergio Busquets had. Specifically speaking, none of them is a pivot.
Pedri is perhaps the most exciting of the three, with the most potential. His dribbling, passing, and feel for the game are excellent, and as he grows stronger his physical traits will improve. However, he still doesn’t have the kind of defensive work rate and impact Busquets had. Pedri is the closest thing Xavi has got to an Iniesta, but Iniesta at his best was quicker and stronger than Pedri.
Speaking of Xavi, Gavi plays opposite Pedri in the spot where Xavi used to operate. However, their games couldn’t be farther apart. Gavi doesn’t have the kind of passing and dribbling ability that Xavi had. He can’t tiki-taka teams to death like Xavi did, and he doesn’t yet have the vision for the game Xavi did. This isn’t to say he’s a bad player – far from it. He is capable on the ball. His pressing and defensive tenacity would more than justify a starting spot for him for almost any team in Europe. He’ll get better as he gets older (remember, he’s only 18!).
Frenkie de Jong is perhaps the most enigmatic and divisive of the three youngsters. He’s very good, but he’s not Busquets. The Dutchman’s strengths simply aren’t the same. He’s a great progressive ball carrier, adept at dribbling into space, with tremendous vision in the passing game. But he’s not as defensively intelligent as Busquets was, and he’s often caught out of position without the ball. He doesn’t have the discipline to stay within his area of the pitch either, which can leave spaces for an opponent to counterattack. He’s a player that requires a greater level of freedom to really shine, which unfortunately means he’s not a Busquets replacement.
Possible midfield systems at Barcelona
Let’s quickly examine two possible lineups Xavi could use this coming season, first with and then without Oriol Romeu.
The Barcelona style, traditionally, has been a 3-man midfield, with a pivot and two interiors. İlkay Gündoğan has recently joined the club, and while he’s a tremendous footballer in his own right, his knack for goal would warrant his playing further up the pitch, so it wouldn’t make much sense to have him as a pivot. Frenkie de Jong hasn’t shown much success as a single pivot, for the reasons stated above. Between Pedri and Gavi, Pedri should be the first name selected. However, none of these four players would have the capacity to play as a single pivot in a 4-3-3. Gündoğan could fill in there, but you’d be wasting his goal scoring impact by playing him too deep. Pedri can’t defend well enough on his own, and Gavi doesn’t have the passing chops to play out from the back consistently. Therefore, this system currently seems untenable.
What about a 4-4-2? Xavi used this system quite a bit last season, with Gavi acting as a sort of false winger. However, the same problems show up here. Frenkie has experience playing as a double pivot for Ajax and the Dutch national team, but it’s usually with a much more defensive-minded player alongside him. Pedri and Gündoğan aren’t that.
There are many more possible systems, but I don’t see Xavi using much of those, as there’s little precedent to suggest he might. These two systems are the ones we’re most likely to see next season.
Why Romeu is a good fit for Barcelona
Oriol Romeu isn’t a direct Busquets replacement by any means; his passing and ability on the ball aren’t remotely close to the legendary Spaniard. However, I can see Romeu being an important rotation player, specifically in a 4-4-2. Allow me to explain.
Romeu and Frenkie can play as double pivots. As stated earlier, Frenkie has experience with this, and Romeu being quite a solid defender beside him would allow Frenkie to have much more freedom to do what he does best: carry the ball forward. He can rest easier knowing he’s got backup behind him if the ball is lost. Pedri and Gündoğan can then play on the left and right, respectively. Pedri can drift into more interior spaces, where he’s at his best, which would allow space for someone like Alejandro Balde to sprint down the sideline. Romeu isn’t bad on the ball either, which would make it possible for the team to play out from the back as well as being vertical; Xavi seems to enjoy mixing it up.
As much as it pains me to say it, Gavi is the odd man out in a system like this. Not to worry, though, he’ll still have a major role in the squad regardless. It depends on the match and the rival. This can be a fluid rotation of players, something which Xavi will have to manage. However, it gives Barça options. They can play more traditionally some games, more experimentally some other games.
This also gives breathing room for young Masia talents like Marc Casadó and Pau Prim to grow into that traditional pivot role without being thrust into the spotlight. Once they’re more ready, they can be given more playing time – but only when they’re ready.
That’s why Oriol Romeu is a good, relatively cheap, short-term fit.
What do you think about the possible signing of Oriol Romeu? Is it a good move or a bad move for Barcelona? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.