With Barcelona striker Sergio Aguero announcing his retirement from soccer on Wednesday due to heart complications, the club once again faces another setback in its pursuit, not of glory, but top-level competitiveness. Within the last handful of months Barca have lost their best player ever in Lionel Messi, crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage and failed to leave any type of impression that things are headed in the right direction as they currently languish in eighth place in La Liga.
While new manager Xavi is going to need time to build, the team needs to address its attack with Aguero's departure. It's not that the Argentine was the answer to their woes going forward, but it leaves an already thin team even thinner.
While Memphis Depay has been solid with his eight goals, he didn't score once in the Champions League group stage. Martin Braithwaite has just two goals this season, and Luuk de Jong has one. They need some big help in the final third.
Recently the club has been linked with some big names like Erling Haaland, Ferran Torres and even Raheem Sterling, but it's hard to see how the those types of moves, big ticket signing that the club has historically pursued, could happen for Barcelona without a major financial overhaul first. Let's look at some more realistic names, though even these more modest signing could be unlikely given the dire money straits Barcelona find themselves in. Nevertheless when looking to Spain to try and improve their depth in attack, here are three players that would make sense for the Catalan club. All these players have flaws, but that's just a reflection of where Barcelona are, they need to find cost effective solutions and gamble that they can find imperfect players and turn them into what they need. Here's where they should look, and why:
Maxi Gomez, Valencia
The Uruguayan has been linked with a move to Barca in the past, and this may be just the career move he needs. Once viewed as the future No. 9 of the Uruguay national team, only to have been passed by Benfica's Darwin Nunez, the potential is there for the former Celta Vigo man. He's big, he's strong, he can finish in the air, and when provided chances in front of goal, he can produce somewhat consistently.
At Valencia, his production has gone down. After scoring 11 goals in his first season, he had just seven last season and just two this season. More broadly has scoring has actually declined each season in La Liga, as he scored 17 and 13 goals with Celta Vigo before making the Valencia switch. Part of that is because things have been rough at the club, with top players being sold and not adequately replaced. You can really see that when you look at the rate at which Gomez is scoring goals. His first three La Liga seasons he scored 0.50, 0.40, and 0.42 goals per 90 minutes, but when Valencia started to struggle that number tanked to 0.23 last season and a woeful 0.19 this year.
When you watch Valencia, you can see Gomez push out wide to try and get the attack going. It's not exactly what you want from your target man, and it's a bit baffling that it continues to happen. If placed in the box and fed decent balls could become the 20-goal scorer he looked on pace to turn into when his La Liga career started? With Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay on the wing, if Gomez, who is still only 25, could find that form, he could get Barcelona into the Champions League.
Raul de Tomas, Espanyol
Boy do I love this player. A former Real Madrid man, the 27-year-old striker has broken into the Spanish national team and deservedly so. It's taken de Tomas a long time to break through in Spain, but boy has he. After producing for Real Madrid B, he never got a fair shot with the A team and went on loan to Cordoba (six goals in 27 games), Real Valladolid (15 goals in 28 games) and Rayo Vallecano (38 goals in 66 games) spending time first in Spain's second division before helping lead Vallecano to promotion and then leading the line for them in La Liga and scoring and impressive 14 goals for them. That earned him a move to Portugal, and how he didn't work out at Benfica is beyond me but six months later he was sold back to Spain at Espanyol. He's flourished there. He only managed four goals over the second half of the 2019-20 season as the team was relegated but scored 23 goals in the second division last season and eight through 16 games this year. He's an unselfish, smart and a clinical, consistent finisher.
All told, de Tomas has played parts of three first division La Liga seasons and his stats are incredibly impressive and consistent. While his goal scoring rate has bounced around from 0.45 per 90 in 2018-19 to 0.34 in 2019-20 to 0.51 this season, his underlying xG numbers are much more consistent at 0.51, 0.44, 0.47. Barcelona could really use a player who could be reasonably expected to score a goal every other game at the top of their attack.
A club like Espanyol will always be willing to sell for the right price, even to their crosstown rivals, but they have a chance to push for European spots and are just a point behind Barca. So, while there is always a price, the problem is, Barca may not even be able to pay it. Still de Tomas has performed well enough over the years that he could provide the production of a much bigger, more heralded name for a more reasonable fee.
Umar Sadiq, Almeria
The next Nigerian sensation, Sadiq has been killing it at Almeria. The Roma reject went to Partizan in Serbia and got his career back on track, and then he produced 22 goals in 43 games last season in Spain's second division. This season, he's got eight goals in 19 matches. Linked with the likes of Valencia and Newcastle, Sadiq is speedy, and full of potential. He feels like the most likely of the three to be a possible signing (mostly because he's currently plying his trade in the second division). Can you imagine the speed of an attack with Ansu Fati, Depay and Sadiq? Sadiq, of course, has already failed to successfully navigate the jump in competition required to play at the top levels of the game, there's a reason he's dominating with Almeira and hasn't settled with a midtable club somewhere in Europe's bigger leagues, but it's not impossible he could succeed with a second bite at the apple.
Of course, if Barcelona were to seriously pursue any of these three, it would take them balancing the books big time before hand. All could cost over $20 million, and it really doesn't feel like an amount Barca can't afford right now with how things have been going (let alone the price some of the bigger ticket names being tossed around would demand), especially after being bounced from the Champions League. But could they entice Valencia or Espanyol by swapping some players?
Barca have to make moves in January to stay relevant this season. Let's see how creative they can get to make something work.