Right-back has been a problem position for Barcelona since Dani Alves left in 2017. Nélson Semedo‘s arrival the same summer was meant to make the transition fairly smooth but the Portuguese hasn’t fully convinced.
In fact, Semedo hasn’t ever been Barça’s first-choice right-back, sharing the role with midfielder Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal. Now, the 26-year-old is one of several players who are deemed expendable by the Camp Nou hierarchy this summer.
But Semedo isn’t short of suitors in his own right. Far from it. According to Mundo Deportivo, Manchester City, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Internazionale and Paris Saint-Germain are all keen.
What sort of player is Semedo?
A strong, quick and tenacious full-back who can play on either side, the former Benfica prodigy has all the attributes required of a modern full-back.
As is evident from his heat map (below), Semedo does a lot of work in advanced areas for Barcelona. He is always looking to get forward and provide the width in Barça’s typical 4-3-3 system.
Semedo’s powerful and aggressive running style makes it hard to knock him off the ball. As such, he gets into advanced areas regularly.
Among right-backs in LaLiga who have played in at least 20 per cent of available minutes, Semedo ranks third for passes completed per 90 with 52.35.
The visualisation above shows how Semedo receives and progresses the ball. The majority of the passes he collects come from goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, Barça’s centre-backs, or their pivot. He then carries the ball infield to flood the midfield.
However, despite playing in such a possession-heavy side, Semedo ranks only 14th among right-backs in LaLiga for forward passes. That’s partially down to his progressive dribbling and the fact he regularly gets into positions where he either checks back or knocks the ball inside.
However, none of his defensive peers in Spain’s top-flight can match his 1.95 completed take-ons (per 90). That is something which probably wouldn’t endear him to Pep Guardiola, given his focus on passing.
So why do all the clubs linked want Semedo?
Full-back is such an integral part of Guardiola’s tactical blueprint. Yet it’s a position which has caused the Catalan genius more issues than most during his Etihad Stadium tenure.
Last summer the capture of João Cancelo was meant to secure City’s right-back options for the future. But the Portuguese has been underwhelming since his move from Juventus – a deal which saw another right-back, Danilo, head to Turin.
Kyle Walker has gradually fallen out of favour at City. His alleged ‘sex party’ during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown will hardly have done him any favours either.
There has been talk of the Citizens swapping Cancelo with Barcelona for Semedo. As both clubs need a right-back in the event of losing one, this could be a win-win.
The question remains whether Semedo is a good enough user of the ball to thrive in a Guardiola side.
The Bianconeri are another team who have had a rotating cast of right-backs since Alves left for PSG after a single season. Mattia De Sciglio arrived from Milan in 2017 but has failed to make the spot his own.
Summer signing Danilo has not played regularly either and if his time at City and Real Madrid taught us anything, it’s that he isn’t to be trusted defensively.
That has meant winger Juan Cuadrado playing at full-back more often than either of the aforementioned players. De Sciglio could be on the move this summer anyway – an ambitious swap deal with Barça for Semedo has been mooted as the Catalans look to raise the cash to sign Martínez.
Like Guardiola, Juve boss Maurizio Sarri preaches passing above all else. Would Semedo be a good fit? It’s tricky to imagine.
Bayern only made a right-back signing in January, taking Real Madrid youngster Álvaro Odriozola on loan until the end of the campaign. But the Spaniard is only a stop-gap and won’t join permanently.
Die Bayern have one of the best young full-backs in world football in Joshua Kimmich. But the German’s tactical intelligence and versatility mean he often gets moved into midfield, or even centre-back.
Benjamin Pavard can fill in there too but the Frenchman has been required at centre-half, where injuries and Jérôme Boateng’s decline have left Bayern short.
Antonio Conte might get his wish to sign Semedo but it will come at a price. Barça have been aggressively pursuing Inter striker Martínez as a long-term heir to Luis Suárez.
However, the Italians could use this to their advantage and secure a deal for Vidal – someone Conte has long admired and previously worked with at Juve.
Inter play a back three with wing-backs but Conte’s current options are underwhelming. Danilo D’Ambrosio is solid, if unspectacular, while Victor Moses is only on loan from Chelsea. The Blues want £10.75million to make his deal permanent, a price Inter won’t pay as things stand.
Antonio Candreva is the best of the bunch but Semedo would give the Italian international competition. From Barça’s point of view, the Nerazzurri have something they want, too.
Regular No.2 Thomas Meunier will leave the Parc des Princes when his contract expires this summer. Thilo Kehrer is among those who has filled in, but a specialist will be required moving forward.
PSG are loathe to spend big on unglamorous positions, preferring to put their money into signings like Neymar or Kylian Mbappé. As such, they tend to carry a squad which is short-handed everywhere except in attack.
However, as Belgian international Meunier is the only natural right-back at the club, they’ll be forced to sign someone. Could a cash plus player deal pave the way for Neymar to return to Catalonia?