Nelson Semedo: Have Barcelona finally managed to replace Dani Alves?
In the summer of 2016, Barcelona were given a Herculean task of replacing the most phenomenal wing-back of modern football, Dani Alves. The Brazilian spent eight years at Barcelona and was integral to everything Barcelona did down that right flank, hence it came as no surprise that Pep Guardiola wanted to reunite with his former player at Manchester City.
Dani Alves, along with Brazilian counterpart Marcelo, revamped the very role of a wing back in modern football and set the standards for a wing back’s role in the new age high-octane footballing culture. The former Sevilla right back left Barcelona as a free agent after a dispute with the club and went to Juventus.
He was an instant hit, taking no time whatsoever to adapt and settle into Italian football. He won a domestic double and helped Max Allegri’s side compete in the finals of the Champions League, becoming the defender with the most assists in the competition.
There is something really unique in the way Dani Alves goes about his job, something that is very difficult to produce even at the highest levels – a blend of attacking instinct combined with defensive responsibilities.
He is a very good defender but he’s always been able to produce width for his team with his swashbuckling runs from deep and added the ‘x’ factor – which says a lot because at the end of the day his primary job is to defend.
Alves was so good that in the latter stages of the Champions League he was afforded the role of a winger by Allegri while playing Barzagli at the right back spot, and he did a magnificent job by providing an assist and an absolute scorcher of a goal against Monaco in the semi final, for instance.
This is why it was very difficult to replace Dani Alves for Barcelona. He was far from a wing back, he was, for the most part, an auxiliary winger who could defend quite well.
Semedo a like for like replacement?
Barcelona were linked heavily with Hector Bellerin, a player ironically from their own youth academy who was allowed to go to England because he wanted some playing time. Bellerin is no doubt a very apt choice considering he even knows the surroundings of the club, but that never seemed convincing enough for Barcelona to meet Arsenal’s rather steep demands for the full back.
Another reason for that could also be how he completely fell off the radar last season, not even being played in a wing back role when Arsene Wenger switched to a 3-4-3 setup.
Barcelona have turned their attentions elsewhere and have finally signed Nelson Semedo after a long period of speculation. Who, without a doubt, is the most suitable right back for them as they head into a new era under Ernesto Valverde.
Nelson Semedo or ‘Nelsinho’ has had absolutely brilliant 16/17 season for SL Benfica and has been a key asset to their attack and defence alike. Very much like Bellerin, Semedo started off his career as a winger and was turned into a full back.
The Portuguese, though, managed to return some vital attacking instincts of a wide attacker and has fused them into his game during this transition.
He still has a lot to work on the defensive side of his game but his steady improvement has been there for everyone to see. He had an exciting 15/16 season, barring a damaging knee injury. The following season he was spectacular, leaving even some of the faster players in the league chasing and burning the right by-line time and time again.
Most importantly, it is the amount of attacking output the Benfica man produces during the course of a match. He has a searing pace, good control of the ball and often pulls out a feint trick out of his box to beat his man. He loves getting into attacking areas and over time, his crossing has vastly improved as well, as seen by his 6 assists last season.
He is someone who can also strike the ball well if his left-footed curler against Besiktas in the Champions League is anything to go by.
It is this kind of blend of attacking and defensive attributes that make Nelsinho a perfect fit for Barcelona. This is what they have missed since Alves left the Nou Camp and something that will really aid their cause to bring the Spanish crown back to Barcelona from the clutches of Real Madrid.
His deliveries from deep are another reason for him to come out as a more appealing option to Ernesto Valverde, who’s Athletic did use that as a major weapon with a 6-foot-4-inch Aritz Aduriz waiting in the box.
Last season, instead of even attempting to find a new replacement for Dani Alves, Luis Enrique decided to throw Sergi Roberto into that role and keep Aleix Vidal as his replacement. It was alright at first but as the season progressed, it did backfire, partially also because Roberto had no support on that flank due to Messi roaming into central areas.
Enrique engineered a 3-3-1-3 to counter this problem to great effect – but nothing suggested any permanence in that approach for all its merits.
Sergi Roberto is a good player but is a central midfielder by trade, and was never more than a square peg in a round hole at that point. It was foolish for Barcelona not to buy a replacement for Dani Alves and instead make other ill-advised purchases such as Valencia’s Paco Alcacer.
If Nelsinho can impact the team at least half of how much his Brazilian predecessor did and replicates Jordi Alba’s skill on the opposite flank, Barcelona have got themselves a bargain of the Portuguese.
Under Valverde, Barcelona are almost assured to stick to a 4-at-the-back system and they look to have finally found themselves a player who can handle the pressure. At 23 he has already shown that he is ready to take the next step, and his transfer to the Catalan giants can finally provide them with a player in the mould of the much-missed Dani Alves.