Barcelona are hoping to finalise a loan move for Joao Cancelo. Xavi has pinpointed the player as somebody who can add some significant additional attacking threat to his team. As long as the Catalan club can find a way to finance the deal, Barcelona could soon be lining up with Cancelo in their team.
La Liga’s salary restrictions have again made it tough for Barça to get deals done and players registered this summer. Despite the €50m sale of Ousmane Dembele amongst other departures, the €3.4m signing of Girona’s Oriol Romeu remains the only transfer fee they’ve paid out this window.
Fresh departures are likely over the coming days which should help the club get this deal over the line with Joao Cancelo’s move to the Catalan capital expected to be an initial season long loan with an option to buy for a reported fee of €25m.
How could Barcelona line up with Joao Cancelo?
Cancelo at right back
The most natural fit for Joao Cancelo in this Barcelona team is at right back which has been something of a problem position for the club for a number of years. Jules Kounde did well in the role last season but the Frenchman is a centre back by trade and is keen to feature more regularly in central defence.
While excellent defensively in La Liga last season, Barcelona only scored 70 goals, by far their worst goal tally in a title winning season this century. At a club where it’s not just about whether you win, but how you win, adding a bit more flair and dynamism to their attacking play should help Xavi answer a few of his critics who have often voiced concerns about the style of play.
Barcelona have already laboured to a 0-0 draw at Getafe this season and they needed 82 minutes to break down Cadiz in their opening home game. Xavi will be hoping that adding Cancelo provides that extra outlet which can make a difference in tight games against defensive opponents.
The addition of Cancelo would serve up one fresh dilemma for the Barça boss however. He’d then have three strong central defensive options with Kounde hoping to break up the pairing of Andreas Christensen and Ronald Araujo who both excelled last term.
Cancelo as a right wing back
One way around that particular problem would be for Barcelona to utilise Cancelo as a right wing back and play with a back three. They tried the system in the recent victory over Cadiz and it would give the Portuguese international even greater freedom to bomb forwards and provide service for the likes of Robert Lewawndowski in attack.
This is something we may see more of, as it’s also a system that would potentially allow central midfielders Pedri, Gavi, Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gündogan to all feature in the same team, something that’s unlikely using last season’s 4-3-3 system.
Dembele’s exit does mean Barça now look quite light in terms of wingers, although 16 year old Lamine Yamal has emerged as an exciting new option. Utilising the qualities of Cancelo and Alejandro Balde as wing-backs and packing the midfield in a 3-4-2-1 formation is certainly something Xavi will be considering.
Cancelo at left back
Joao Cancelo could also be used at left back and he is very comfortable on that side of the pitch and has plenty of experience of playing there for his previous clubs. It’s unlikely to be a serious consideration unless Balde is unavailable or in need of a rest, but with the youngster currently struggling with an ankle issue, it’s possible that the first time we see Cancelo in Barça colours, it could be as a left back.
The arrival of Cancelo and his versatility could also result in Marcos Alonso leaving the club. The Spaniard has been linked with a return to the Premier League and Barcelona are likely to be very open to offers for the player now with the 32 year old’s potential departure also helping to free up room under the club’s salary limit.
Depending on how highly Xavi rates Cancelo who excelled at times in a Manchester City shirt, the Barcelona boss may opt to initially stick with last season’s back four which was solid defensively in a domestic setting. In that case, the Portuguese international could be used as a strong back-up option at both left-back and right-back and he could be frequently used off the bench to run at tiring defences in the Second Half of games.