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Umtiti and Digne: Assessing Barcelona’s new defenders

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen you think about Barcelona, the names Messi, Suárez and Neymar immediately spring to mind – and for good reason.

However, regardless of how good any team’s attacking is, defence is key in the search for success.

Over recent years Barcelona have not been overly blessed with commanding defenders, with Gerard Piqué undoubtedly the team’s main enforcer since Carles Puyol’s retirement.

The Catalan powerhouses have used central midfielder Javier Mascherano in defence, slotted the versatile Sergi Roberto at right-back and at times been on their bare bones to field an international-quality back four.

This summer Luis Enrique has clearly identified his rearguard as an area to reinforce, with France international duo Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne joining the superlative Blaugrana contingent.

On first sight, both defenders have a fair amount to offer the Spanish champions.

Umtiti has been a member of a Lyon side comprising a prodigious generation of young talent, with his standing in the game steadily increasing over recent years.

The Cameroon-born centre-half was included in France’s squad for Euro 2016 this summer, but surely would not have without injuries to the likes of Raphaël Varane, Aymeric Laporte and Kurt Zouma.

As it was, Didier Deschamps preferred the more-experienced but immobile Adil Rami in Les Bleus’ early games and it was only an injury to the Sevilla defender that gave Umtiti his chance.

In the three games he played, the 22-year-old looked like a seasoned campaigner of international football, with the pace, composure and footballing intelligence that made him a star at club level on show on the biggest stage.

Lyon fans were vocal in their opinion that Umtiti should be a starter for France before Euro 2016 and his subsequent performances could well see him as a feature in the international side for the foreseeable future.

Barcelona had already conducted their scouting and listened to the defender’s building recommendations, signing Umtiti before he had starred for France.

With Mascherano getting older, Thomas Veramelen rumoured to be heading towards the exit and Jérémy Mathieu uninspiring, the new face could well partner Piqué in the heart of Barcelona’s defence this season.

Digne may well not be handed the same amount of regular first-team football at Camp Nou – not because of any fault of his own, rather due to the presence of world-class left-back Jordi Alba.

However, at 23 years old the full-back has undoubtedly got a bright future in the game and has plenty of international and Champions League football already.

Lucas DigneDigne burst onto the professional scene in France’s north, emerging from the Lille youth academy to feature in the club’s first-team.

Standout performances quickly attracted the nouveau riche Paris Saint-German, with a switch to the national capital the obvious choice in the defender’s development.

However, regular action at the Parc des Princes was never going to be a formality given the influx of international stars moving to PSG and Brazilian veteran Maxwell was more often than not given the nod ahead of Digne.

Last season the gifted full-back was brought to Roma by former Lille boss Rudi García and played a prominent role in the Giallorossi qualifying for the Champions League – both before and after the coach was sacked.

A full-back that plays on the front foot first, Digne was always an outlet to receive possession last term at Roma and quickly became an important man at the Stadio Olimpico.

The 23-year-old’s style of play is not dissimilar to the forward-thinking Alba and in that regard Digne will deliver Barcelona’s insistence that their full-backs are another attacking weapon.

Winning a starting role given the quality of the current incumbent will not be easy by any means but the Frenchman will be an asset for Enrique’s side if and when he is called upon.

Perhaps not the most glamorous signatures nor the last this summer as Barcelona look for an attacker, both Umtiti and Digne represent sensible recruits and players that can play a role in the Catalan club’s continued search for success.

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