Nolito a perfect signing for Barcelona in the January transfer window
With the transfer window upon us, here's a look at what to expect from Barcelona ...
Will the club be busy in the transfer market?
Not as busy as Luis Enrique might hope. The coach could do with some extra bodies to help fight for trophies on all fronts, but he is unlikely to get many.
Why? Finances. Rules laid down in Barca's statutes mean that the club's net debt cannot be any higher than 2.5 times their EBITDA (net income plus interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) in 2015-16. With the ratio currently in the region of 2.41, that leaves little room to manoeuvre when it comes to transfer fees and salaries.
The Catalans will need to get creative in order to find a way around that restriction, so free transfers and loans could play a big part in their winter business.
What do Barca need?
The minimum Enrique needs is an additional forward. Between his finishing and final pass, Pedro Rodriguez was directly involved in 24 goals for Barca last season, and replacing his quality following a summer move to Chelsea has been a struggle. The hope was that youngsters Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez could combine to fill the void, but so far it hasn't happened.
At the other end of the pitch, a Barca transfer classic is creeping back into the picture: they could use a young but decently experienced centre-back.
In principle, having five central defenders on the books seems like a decent situation to be in, but beyond the starting pair of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano there are a number of caveats to take into consideration. Thomas Vermaelen's fitness is a constant issue, Jeremy Mathieu is prone to costly lapses of concentration and Marc Bartra still hasn't pushed on to become the authoritative defender many had hoped he would be. There is little assurance that any of the three could step up sufficiently should Pique or Mascherano pick up an injury with unfortunate timing.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
Pato's parent club already sent him out on loan to Sao Paulo for the past year and a half, so making another temporary move doesn't seem unfeasible. Whether he is the right man for Barca in a sporting sense is a different question. While the Brazilian has been performing particularly well when played on the wing in his home nation, and that versatility would be useful given Barca's stretched squad, he is also injury prone and may require time to readapt to the demands of European football.
Soriano, on the other hand, fits the bill in a number of ways. The striker's breakthrough season came under Enrique at Barca B, where he scored 32 goals in the 2010-11 Liga Adelante, so he is not only well accustomed to the Blaugrana's style of play, but also the Asturian manager's methods.
The centre-forward has never played regularly in a top league, but there is decent evidence to suggest he could step up and perform at a higher level. His performances for Red Bull Salzburg in Europe make a strong case. In the 2013-14 season he scored 12 goals in 11 games across Champions League qualifying and the Europa League proper, while last season he managed eight strikes in 12 European matches. A natural finisher, the Catalan would surely do better with the chances that Munir and Sandro regularly miss. Whether Salzburg are willing to let him leave for a dream homecoming -- even temporarily -- is a different question.
There is little doubt who Barca's ideal signing would be. Nolito is Enrique's favoured target, has excelled under his guidance at two different teams (Barca B and Celta Vigo), and is in fine form in La Liga. Better still, having scored against Sevilla, Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid this season, his ability to deliver the goods against the toughest rivals is beyond question. There is only one problem however, and it's a big one: Barca can't afford him.
In order to sell their star player, Celta understandably want the €18 million stipulated in his buyout clause. With Barca unable to pay that, it looks like the ship may have sailed.
First-team exits aren't expected in winter, but one player seemingly on his way out is youth gem Alex Grimaldo. Having waited for a chance with the seniors, the B team left-back is likely to be sold in January so that Barca can earn something before his contract runs out next summer. Benfica are prime candidates, with a fee of €1m being floated. It is always a pity when one of the Barcelona academy's most promising talents feels the need to seek his fortune elsewhere, but with Enrique not including Grimaldo in his plans, who can blame him?
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter: @LeeRoden89.