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Since switching to a 3-4-3 formation last month, Barcelona have engineered one of the most incredible comebacks of all-time to knock Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League while experiencing an uptick in their domestic form.
However, though the system has helped the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar thrive in advanced areas, there are still improvements that the Blaugrana can make, one of which could see them take to the transfer market in the summer to seek a resolution.
Gerard Piqué looks at home as Barça’s sweeper at the heart of the back three, while Samuel Umtiti has been outstanding on the left, but Javier Mascherano does not appear to be a perfect fit for the system.
With the Argentinian having been converted from a defensive midfielder into a centre-back since moving to the Camp Nou is 2011, adapting to another new role looks like it might be a stretch too far for the 32-year-old.
We’ve identified five central defenders, all capable of slotting in on the right side of a back three, who Barcelona could target when the transfer window re-opens.
Victor Lindelöf – Benfica
read more: barcelona's 3-4-3 has been a success but still needs work
One of the key differences between playing as part of a central defensive duo and in one of the wide positions in a back three is the requirement to defend in one-on-one situations in the channels.
Many centre-backs are unaccustomed to operating in wide areas, and become flummoxed by the different understanding of space that is required.
Having spent time at right-back for Benfica, Swedish centre-half Victor Lindelöf would experience no such struggles.
The 22-year-old is also outstanding with the ball at his feet — something that is a requirement at the Camp Nou – able to play incisive vertical passes, instigating attacking moves and breaking the opposition’s pressing lines.
Lindelöf has made an average of 63 passes per game in the Liga NOS this term at a completion rate of 89.9 per cent. The fact that he is so willing to get involved in his side’s build-up play would bode well for a potential move to Barça.
A new contract signed earlier this month contains a whopping €50million release clause, and if Barcelona want to sign Lindelöf they’ll have to fend off strong interest from Manchester United.
César Azpilicueta – Chelsea
A full-back by trade, César Azpilicueta has been a revelation in the right side of Chelsea’s back three this season.
Again, one of the key reasons for the Spaniard’s success in his new role is the fact that he is accustomed to defending in wide areas, allowing him to provide adequate cover behind wing-back Victor Moses, who himself is learning a new position.
The Blues would be extremely reluctant to part ways with such an effective and unassuming player, but a return to his homeland with one of the biggest clubs in the world would surely appeal to Azpilicueta.
The former Marseille star’s versatility would also appeal to Barça. When Luis Enrique departs the club at the end of the season, his replacement may see fit to revert to a back four. In which case, Azpilicueta would not be a wasted acquisition thanks to his ability to play as a full-back on either side.
Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich
Although 22-year-old German international Joshua Kimmich doesn’t have any experience of playing as part of a back three, the youngster has shown an incredibly propensity for quickly adapting to the demands of a new position.
Most comfortable in central midfield, the former RB Leipzig player was deployed at centre-back by Pep Guardiola during the Catalan tactician’s final season in charge of Bayern Munich, while national team coach Joachim Löw played Kimmich at right-back during last summer’s European Championship.
The versatile German performed excellently in both roles, and has even thrived as an attacking midfielder under new Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti.
A superb passer with astounding game intelligence and maturity, Kimmich could transform into an outstanding right-sided centre-back with the right coaching.
However, any club hoping to prise Kimmich away from the Allianz Arena would have to be prepared to part with a sizeable chunk of change, as Bayern have no need or inclination to sell one of their best young players.
Andreas Christensen – Chelsea
It’s become a familiar tale in recent years: a promising young player joins the Chelsea academy, develops into a potential future star and is then farmed out on loan and forgotten about.
Christensen joined the Blues from Brøndby as a 16-year-old in 2012 and impressed in the academy and under-21 sides before making three appearances for the senior side in the 2014-15 season.
For the last two campaigns the 20-year-old has been on loan in the Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach, earning rave reviews for his performances at the heart of Die Fohlen’s defence.
The 6’2” Dane is expected to return to Stamford Bridge in the summer ahead of competing for first-team opportunities with the Blues next term. But Barça are believed to be monitoring Christensen, with rumours of a potential £20million bid for the youngster.
Also able to play in midfield if required, Christensen is a technically gifted, picking out a team-mate with 89.9 per cent of his passes this season. He also has experience playing a back three with Gladbach, although he is used to playing as the central man in a trio and would have to adapt to playing on the right of Piqué.
Marquinhos – Paris Saint-Germain
PSG’s Marquinhos has been high on Barcelona’s wish list for some time now. It seems as though the Catalan giants are linked with a big-money swoop for the 22-year-old Brazilian every transfer window.
A standout performer for Roma as a teenager, the French champions stumped up more than €30million to acquire his services in 2013.
The 17-cap Brazil international is at his best at centre-back but, like many others on this list, has spent time filling in at right-back for his club, particularly during the period in which Thiago Silva and David Luiz was the preferred partnership at the Parc des Princes.
Marquinhos has since established himself as a key figure in Paris, but that hasn’t stopped rumours of a £40million Barcelona move from circulating.
He would be a perfect fit at the Camp Nou too. Athletic and quick across the ground, he is able to recover when caught out of position, while also technically sound, completing a staggering 93.1 per cent of his passes.
Though still young, having broken into the Roma side at such an early stage of his career, Marquinhos could have the perfect blend of experience and longevity to justify such a hefty price tag.