Barcelona eye new striker and centre-back

Posted by Francesc Tomas

As is tradition during the international break, the key members of the Barcelona board of directors have met with the first-team coach to decide which players to chase during the upcoming transfer window.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty ImagesJuventus' Fernando Llorente, center, will be an attractive target for Barcelona during the upcoming transfer window.

Early reports in the Catalan press are that coach Gerardo Martino, a mere 10 weeks after landing the top job at the Camp Nou, has asked for a couple of reinforce-ments: a proven, experienced striker and a young, promising central defender.

Despite the impressive start of Neymar, the return to form of Alexis Sanchez and the relative improvement of Pedro's scoring record, the constant muscle injuries suffered by Lionel Messi are an ongoing worry.

La Pulga has been available for only 70 percent of Blaugrana matches since the season began. Before then, he featured in only one of 27 games for club and country. I am aware there is no need to overdramatise La Pulga's repeated absences at this early stage, but it would be wise to add another striker if the budget allows.

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Under Martino, Barcelona have become more direct, quick in transition and eager to explore a variety of attacking options largely overlooked by predecessors Tito Vilanova and Pep Guardiola. Long passes across the park and high crosses into the area are no longer seen as an unstylish hindrance but a powerful alternative when mixed with the traditional pass-and-move philosophy.

With that in mind, it is only natural El Tata has started the search for a proven, taller, no-nonsense reference striker who would accept a role as an impact substitute whenever games turn ugly. In other words, Barcelona are turning back time and looking for a candidate to become the modern-day Julio Salinas or Henrik Larsson.

As expected, the Catalan press has already made its own short list of players who could fit the profile: Aritz Aduriz from Athletic Bilbao, Imanol Agirretxe from Real Sociedad, Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord, Artem Dzyuba from Spartak Moscow, Oscar Cardozo from Benfica ... To be honest, this initial list is endless and likely to grow on a daily basis until the final day of the winter transfer window.

I still believe that if Barcelona are truly serious about adding an alternative striker up front they should, without hesitation, do all within reach to sign Fernando Llorente from Juventus. The 6-foot-5 Spanish international has enjoyed only 163 minutes with the Italian champions and certainly fits the profile Barca are reportedly looking for.

As for the central defender role, it seems clear that the positive impact that Marc Bartra has made in recent games during the absence of Javier Mascherano and the ever-so-imminent return of eternal captain Carles Puyol will determine whether the club will actually invest to reinforce that position.

Bartra has been impressive both domestically and in European competition in recent games. The 22-year-old's confident, determined, faultless performances have helped him become a true candidate for the starting spot or, at least, a reliable alternative whenever Gerard Pique or Mascherano are unavailable or need rest.

After several weeks of training with his teammates behind the scenes, Puyol is almost ready to return to first-team action and will most probably be called up for the next Blaugrana match against Osasuna. Seeing the courageous Catalan return to action after seven months of a distressing absence, 36 career injuries and seven operations will make for a hugely emotional comeback.

Having said that, club directors and coaching staff have reportedly searched the market for candidates who could improve the squad if needed and have clearly highlighted a key name in their agendas: Eder Alvarez Balanta from River Plate.

The left-footed 20-year-old Colombian has impressed for the Millonarios thanks to his ability to play the ball on the ground from the back line, speed when tracking back and strong personality. It is predicted that, given his club's financial troubles, the transfer fee would be around 6 million euros -- an amount Barcelona should be able to afford if an agreement is reached.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been highlighting the need for a defensive reinforcement for more than two years. While I am delighted at how Bartra has grabbed his chance, I still believe having another strong alternative within the squad will spur on other, more-established players such as Pique or Mascherano. As for Puyol, I sincerely hope that he can come back to an acceptable level after such a long period on the sideline.

President Sandro Rosell and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta were disappointing during the summer transfer window. While signing Neymar can already be considered a success, he was the only reinforcement they managed to attract to the Camp Nou despite having, by their own admission, a healthy budget.

Let's hope Cules don't get disappointed again and that, once and for all, the board signs whom the coach needs to fulfill the club's high expectations.

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For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @TomasESPN and Barcablog on Facebook; 45,000 Cules have already joined.

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