Messi Is As Vital As Ever, But It’s Sergi Roberto Who Deserves The Early Acclaim

Sergi Roberto has gone from surplus to requirements to Barcelona’s standout performer.

This is dumb, but in some ways, Sergi Roberto is simply too good. He’s too intelligent, too tactically aware and too adaptable. The likes of Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde never complained, but it’s also made the 25-year-old something of an unknown quality outside of those who watch FC Barcelona play week in, week out.

Roberto began his career at La Masia as an attacking midfielder. He was singled out by Guardiola as one of the academy’s greatest midfield talents in years, but he never emerged with the first team squad until being converted into a right back by Enrique.

“Luis Enrique initially suggested the change to right back casually during the summer [of 2015] and then put me in this new position while we were on our tour,” recalls Roberto. “He told me how he was signed as a striker and ended up playing full back, midfield and just about everywhere else. Previously, I was always an attacking midfielder for Barca and had never played full back in my life.”

Roberto began featuring regularly for Barca at right back, as well as providing cover for Sergio Busquets in the holding midfield position and for Ivan Rakitic on the right-hand side of Barca’s midfield. He’s also more than capable of being deployed as a winger on the right side.

“Sergio Roberto is a player who I had with Barca B. I know what a top-quality player he is,” said Enrique. This quality is thoroughly evident in Roberto’s play. While he boasts all the qualities you’d expect from a La Masia graduate — technical ability, tactical discipline, mesmerizing short passing — it’s his hyper-intelligent driving runs to create space and open gaps that probably have Pep Guardiola sipping on his champagne flute in Manchester in a fit of mental ecstasy.

 

When teams pack it in against Barca, it’s traditionally the divine attributes of Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi that work to unlock and unbalance the defensive lines. In Roberto, the Blaugrana have another player capable of disrupting even the most well-drilled defensive units. 

He’s obviously not a dribbling wizard on the level of Iniesta or Messi, but his powerful runs from deep are almost always administered at the right time. Case in point: Messi’s match-winning goal and resulting legendary celebration against Real Madrid. That was pretty much all down to Roberto.

After Barca’s troubling summer and calamitous defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, many expected a difficult year of transition for the club.  They’ve since played 13 matches in all competitions, winning 12 and drawing one (an important point away to Atletico Madrid). Apart from Lionel Messi (something that always has to be said), you could argue that Roberto has been Barca’s best player this season. 

Here are highlights from this campaign alone.

Once widely thought to be a surplus to requirements at the club, the native of Catalonia is now one of the team’s most vital players.

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