With 2017 drawing to an end, Barcelona are already looking to the New Year. Ernesto Valverde’s side are unbeaten since the Spanish Supercopa and lead La Liga after a remarkable run on the pitch. But now they hope the right transfers in January can make them even stronger for the second half of the season.
The winter window opens on January 1 and Barca mean business, especially given that their activity in the summer was not entirely satisfactory.
Ousmane Dembele was brought in back then after Neymar’s shock exit, but the France winger has missed most of the season so far after picking up an injury. Nevertheless, Barca have coped thanks to Valverde’s astute coaching and the fine form of several stars – notably Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Umtiti is currently out injured, however, and over a long season, Barcelona will need more strength in depth. And with Javier Mascherano keen to leave in January in order to see out his career as a starter and not on the Barca bench, a centre-back is priority in January.
Valverde had hoped to bring in a player with experience in Europe, but it looks like that will now be difficult and it will be Palmeiras’ Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina (23) who signs for the Blaugrana in January for a fee in the region of €12m.
If that deal is completed, Mascherano will be allowed to leave Barca and the Catalan club will look to bring in another centre-back in the summer, with 18-year-old Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt their top target to provide back-up to Gerard Pique and Umtiti.
Lazio’s Stefan de Vrij, who is 25 and also Dutch, is another possibility as Barca seek to strengthen their back line. But January deals are notoriously difficult to complete and Valverde is therefore set to make do with Pique, Umtiti, Mina and the revitalised Thomas Vermaelen until the end of the season.
Meanwhile, the Catalans will be back in for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, their top target along with Dembele last summer. If Barca offer €200 million for the Brazil midfielder, a fee they claimed the Reds had demanded, a deal could be struck. However, it seems unlikely that the Blaugrana will have that kind of cash available in January and they can only offer €80m plus €30m in variables at this stage.
That is unlikely to tempt Liverpool into a sale and the Reds will be loath to losing their player for the second part of the season as they look to compete at the top end of the Premier League and also in the Champions League.
From a Barca point of view, meanwhile, paying huge money for Coutinho in the winter also makes little sense because he would be cup-tied for the Champions League. So the Blaugrana are likely to return with more money in the summer when a deal would better suit all parties.
Gremio midfielder Arthur (who is currently injured and played no part in the Club World Cup out in Abu Dhabi) met recently with Barca officials in Brazil and was photographed in a shirt gifted to him by club directors, although he was later forced to clarify that a move was not imminent after the picture was leaked.
This week, a director at the Brazilian club then told Goal that Real Madrid are also in for the talented 21-year-old , who has a €50m release clause but could be available for a slightly lower fee than that.
Finally, Barca have looked at Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, who is out of contract in the summer but would still be an expensive signing in January, and Schalke’s Leon Goretzka, who is also a free agent in June and could be available for around €10-15m in the winter window.
At just 22, however, Goretzka will be keen on a move to further his career and may see his path to first-team football blocked at Barcelona. Several other of Europe’s elite clubs are also keeping tabs on the Germany midfielder.
Along with Mascherano, meanwhile, Arda Turan is set to depart after failing to play a single minute for the Catalan club so far in 2017-18, with a return to Turkey and Galatasaray the most likely option for the 30-year-old former Atletico midfielder.
Andre Gomes is another who could move on, although the Portugal midfielder would only leave if the Blaugrana can bring in another player in that position and even then he could stay until the summer.
Whatever happens, 2018 looks set to bring with it a new Barcelona – and January could be a very big month for the Catalan club.