The reported interest of the Catalan giants has taken everyone by surprise, but it’s so bold and daring that it might be the perfect solution to a problem position this season..
Life comes at you quickly. So too does football, as any goalkeeper will attest. Six months ago, Victor Moses ticked West Ham United on the list of sides he’d represented in the Premier League, That number stands at five, and the question was, who would be number six?
The turnaround in fortunes, from being the talented-but-not-quite surplus to team staple has been sudden, but even though Antonio Conte insisted on having him as a part of the squad, it was not always on. As a matter of fact, Moses started none of Chelsea’s first six league games; the Blues have won every game since, and the Nigeria international has flourished in an unfamiliar wing-back role.
While he has taken his chance admirably, his rise has exploited something of a squad imbalance.
The lack of an attacking full-back at Stamford Bridge, as well as the specialist nature of the wing-back role, has allowed him learn the position without pressure.
Cesar Azpilicueta has been pressed into service as part of the back three, and has been excellent, while Branislav Ivanovic has been on the wane over the last two seasons. Ola Aina is promising, but on the evidence of their League Cup loss to West Ham in October, he is nowhere near ready for the first-team.
This makes the reported interest of Barcelona interesting.
On some level, it is tempting to be cynical and chalk it up to the machinations of the player’s agent. It is smart too: the Blaugrana also lack a specialist right-back, and have been forced to make do in that position since Daniel Alves got bored and packed off to Turin in the summer.
Midfielder Sergi Roberto has filled in for the most part, but after an initial period of promise, his discomfort has led to a significant amount of wobbling. Barca’s decision to return to their old haunt in Sevilla for another right-back has not panned out either: Aleix Vidal has not taken to Camp Nou in the manner that Alves managed, and now seems permanently consigned to the back of the closet.
Clearly, there is an opening there. The question is whether Moses is the right shape of peg.
The answer to that is, as one might guess, maybe.
There are a number of factors to consider, not least of all tactical concerns. One thing is undeniable though: with Guardiola’s Barcelona, Moses would struggle to play at full-back. Under Enrique, the five-time European champions are more direct from back to front, and require less ball retention at full-back than they once did, and that Alves provided.
Their build-up is also more based around the wide areas, as the absence of Andres Iniesta has made them easier to press centrally. This new wide focus would certainly be to Moses’ advantage, as he would not necessarily be required to pinch diagonally infield, and can concentrate on hugging the touchline like he does at Chelsea.
His physical attributes have also brought the best out of Pedro so far this season, allowing the Spaniard to play between the lines, confident in Moses’ ability to cover the flank. One could envisage a similar relationship with Lionel Messi down the right side. Alves provided more assists for the five-time Fifa Ballon d’Or winner than anyone else in his time at the club – a good working connection with Messi is the key to a long career at Camp Nou.
If the interest is indeed concrete, it is easy to appreciate in terms of his offensive attributes: Moses is quick, direct, superb with the ball at his feet and a proficient crosser of the ball. On the defensive side of the spectrum though, there requires a bit of a leap of faith.
His application to his wing-back re-education has been remarkable, of course, and Conte has praised his work rate and tenacity defensively. However, with Chelsea fielding a bach three, there has been little call for the 26-year-old to defend inside his own box, or to drop behind the defensive line to cover the back post.
These basics of full-back play do not come naturally yet – a wing-back, especially in a back three system, is not simply a full-back who attacks. The requirements for both roles are markedly different, and it is not certain that Moses will pick that up.
It is even less so that, at Barcelona, and with the pressing nature of their need, he will get the time, patience and specialised coaching needed to make this transition. As stated earlier, the conditions at Chelsea conspired rather fortuitously in his favour, but as is evident with Aleix Vidal, the pressure to perform is always high at Camp Nou.
However, it is worth noting that Alves was not always a great defender. In truth, he was viewed as something of a defensive liability early in his Barca career, and was frequently targeted by Cristiano Ronaldo during Clasicos.