After Barcelona missed out on Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta last summer, it was always going to leave them scrambling somewhat. That mad dash scramble led them to former La Masia youth product Hector Bellerin, who arrived on a free transfer this summer.
Bellerin was holding out for a move to Real Betis this summer, where he spent last season on loan, but after Los Verdiblancos were unable to incorporate his salary, was forced to rethink too.
He came in as the only natural right-back, allowing for Sergi Roberto. However he has been used sparingly by Xavi Hernandez since. Whenever the pair have been fit, it has been Roberto selected.
For the first stages of the season, it would often be Jules Kounde or Ronald Araujo deployed on the right before Bellerin arrived and even as he was gaining fitness, the central defenders looked to be more trusted by Xavi.
Bellerin missed half of October with a muscle strain, but when he returned, he found that another player had taken his place. Youngster Alejandro Balde was brought across to the right to cover rather than giving Bellerin a shot.
So far, he has been used just 5 times for a total of 321 minutes by Xavi. The truth is he has not set the world alight in those performances. It has led to rumours that Barcelona will not extend his contract beyond next summer and even more pressing, may jettison the right-back this winter. Fichajes.net say that Roma boss Jose Mourinho has been in touch with both Bellerin and the club, pushing hard for a move he expects to be done at the start of January.
On the one hand, any assessment of Bellerin seems unfair. The 27-year-old has been hampered by injury and did not have a normal preseason with Arsenal, knowing he would be leaving the club. Bellerin will not have been match fit for any of his appearances so far, meaning a certain rustiness is to be expected.
On the other, perhaps Xavi has already seen sufficient in order to make a decision on Bellerin. If he does not feel Bellerin up to standard, then there is little sense in retaining him. Bringing Balde, an inexperienced teenager, across the defence instead of using Bellerin is a damning indictment.
However it would leave Barcelona even shorter at right-back. It is not yet clear whether they will be able to afford a replacement for Bellerin if he does leave. Currently they would be relying on one of Balde, Roberto, Kounde or Araujo to cover at the position. As has been seen this season, Roberto’s fitness is no longer reliable and he would be the most natural option there. Playing one of the other three causes a rejig for Barcelona elsewhere on the pitch.
If the Blaugrana can find a serviceable replacement for Bellerin, then allowing him out the door would make a lot of sense. They are unlikely to miss his impact – there has been none so far – but will not want to tempt the fate of injuries in an unusual season, with the Spanish Supercup, Copa del Rey, Europa League and La Liga to contend with. If Xavi does not intend on using him one way or another, then perhaps an exit would be optimal – otherwise Barcelona would be taking an unnecessary risk