Barcelona centre-back Samuel Umtiti will be spending the next five to six weeks on the sidelines with a new injury picked up while training with France during the international break just after recovering from a knee problem.
A recurring knee injury has kept the Frenchman out of action for a long time leading to fellow Frenchman Clement Lenglet displacing him in the Barcelona squad, with the latter now regarded as Gerard Pique’s first-choice partner at the heart of the defence. Umtiti has refused surgery on his knee in the past and also admitted to straining it in France’s triumphant World Cup run, which aggravated the injury.
🗨️ @samumtiti : "J’ai vraiment forcé sur mon genou pendant la coupe du monde. Mais je suis champion du monde. Dans la vie il faut faire des choix, ce choix là, je ne le regrette pas." 🏆🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/QWuWY96qEX
— Canal Football Club (@CanalFootClub) September 8, 2019
He looked to be on the path to overcoming the knee issues but with this new knock picked up by Umtiti, Ernesto Valverde is now short of options at the back as the French youngster Jean-Claire Todibo is the only other option for Valverde ahead of a gruelling schedule.
Umtiti played his best football for Barcelona in 2017/18, a season that saw him become of the world’s elite defenders, but managed just 13 games from the start in 2018/19. Lenglet stepped in when he picked up a knock last season and put in some strong performances which won the approval of fans and the club’s hierarchy.
However, the beginning of this season saw a debate – which is still ongoing – as to who should partner Pique in the heart of the defence and even though Lenglet has been impressive – his performance is analysed here – many still lean towards Umtiti. Winning the World Cup with France and putting in a strong shift in the title win is also one of the reasons people believe Umtiti should continue as Pique’s partner.
This season has not been good for Barcelona defensively as the team has not been able to secure one clean sheet this season, conceding six goals – including the two in their 5-2 rout of Valencia on Saturday – in their opening four games, and the defensive pairing of Lenglet and Pique is beginning to look suspect. However, the recurrent injuries to Umtiti are proving problematic for Valverde who has only the promising but inexperienced Todibo to fall back in case he has to switch things up at the back.
COMPARING LENGLET AND UMTITI
Barcelona’s 4-3-3 system means they always play with two centre backs who usually spread out wide as the fullbacks move into attacking positions. This means that a Barcelona defender must be very mobile and capable of one-one-one defending as they are, most times, without much backup, as analysed here.
Lenglet is a typical Barcelona defender who is as comfortable on the ball as he is handling physical attackers. The 23-year old is not the best in aerial duels but his strength on the ground is a big asset for him and Barcelona. However, Umtiti, who started his career at left-back with Olympique Lyon, is as excellent on the ground as he is in the air and this is where he beats Lenglet defensively. He also has better pace than his compatriot and can recover quicker when the opponent is breaking towards his goal. Umtiti’s ability to also play as a left-back comes in handy for Barcelona as he did a lot to cover up for Jordi Alba’s lapses in defence in the 2017/18 season, and it has been utilized on a few occasions by Barcelona when they needed to rest key players – like the match against Huesca towards the closing stages of last season.
Umtiti is also much better going forward and he is like Pique in that regard. This characteristic also helps him maintain Barcelona’s high line of defence, but when in the Barcelona half, he doesn’t attempt as many long passes as Lenglet. However, the 25-year old is better at playing passes into the final third than Lenglet is, which could be attributed to his training as a left-back.
UMTITI OR LENGLET?
Umtiti has been coveted by Manchester United in the past and the interest from other clubs is still there. Lenglet has covered excellently well for him in his recovery period, but doesn’t offer as much as Umtiti does in attack, which is an important determinant in this comparison. Umtiti should get the nod over Lenglet in the team, but his Barcelona career is currently hanging by a thread.
The 25-year old’s only option is to do all he can to recover else he may lose his starting berth permanently to Lenglet in the team.