The seven La Masia stars who could break through at Barca this season
Barcelona‘s famed La Masia youth academy remains one of the best academies in Europe for churning out talent – and Ronald Koeman may soon have to make the most of it.
With Barca facing the very real prospect of losing Lionel Messi this summer, the club will look to their famed conveyor belt which has produced some of the brightest talents in world football in the past. Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Pique and of course the man himself, Messi, are just a few of the alumni.
Recently, the likes of 21-year-old Rique Puig and Guinea-Bissau-born forward Ansu Fati have followed in the footsteps of some of the current and former greats into the first team. Both will play a vital role under the tenure of Koeman, as the new manager seeks fresh blood, pace and flair. Carles Alena, 22, who spent the previous campaign on-loan at Real Betis, is also likely to be brought back into the fold as he looks to impress the Dutchman.
Speaking to Barca TV at his official unveiling, Koeman said: “When young players perform well enough, I think it’s time to give them a chance.”
So who else is in contention to be drafted into the first-team set-up if the former Netherlands manager turns to the club’s youth ranks?
The 17-year-old was brought to the club at the end of the 2018-19 season from Las Palmas but was instantly loaned back for the following campaign. A Barca fan through and through, the attacking midfielder has been likened to a younger Iniesta due to his technical awareness, vision for a pass, and work rate on and off the ball.
Despite being such a young age, Pedri will link up with the first-team ready for the new season and will look to stake a claim in the starting XI.
Pedri’s connection with Barca runs in the family, with his grandfather founding the Barcelona supporters club in Tenerife. In Pedri’s home, even the dinner plates have the Barcelona crest.
Another looking to catch the eye of Koeman is Uruguayan central defender Araujo. The 21-year-old has been in and around the first team and featured in the last match of the season in the 5-0 victory over Alaves.
With Clement Lenglet struggling for fitness and Samuel Umtiti expected to depart this summer, step up Araujo. Signed from Boston River in August 2018, he will look to establish himself in the first-team squad at the Nou Camp next season.
Ramon Rodriguez Jimenez known as ‘Monchu’, made his senior bow in the 3-1 victory over Napoli in the Champions League last-16 second leg as a late substitute.
Netting 10 goals in 29 games for Barça B last season, he adds stability in midfield which has been lacking of late from the first team.
The Palma-born youngster, 20, has been with the club since 2012 having signed from Mallorca, and is another looking to force his way into Koeman’s plans.
Collado is a versatile player, who is capable of playing centrally as an attacking midfielder, or also out wide. The 21-year-old has excellent vision, is a good reader of the game, but also has an eye for the perfect pass.
Making his debut back in May 2019 in a 2-0 loss to Celta Vigo, Collado is set to battle it out with new signing Francisco Trincao, who recently joined the club from Braga.
No relation to Sergio, Oriol spent the 2019-20 campaign on-loan at Twente in the Eredivisie where he made 23 appearances in all competitions.
At 21, the defensive midfielder could replace Arturo Vidal, who is expected to depart the club before the start of the new campaign. Busquets is seen as one of the most promising youngsters among Barca fans.
Joining La Masia as a 13-year-old from Villarreal, the 6ft 3 inch shot-stopper is yet to make his first-team debut.
But Barcelona’s Brazilian backup goalkeeper Neto, who made the move from Valencia last summer, is likely to head back to his former employers, meaning Pena could step-up and play understudy to Marc-Andre ter Stegen next season.
Great hands and happy to take crosses, Pena also likes to have the ball at his feet and is considered a ‘sweeper-keeper’.
Barcelona beat Liverpool to the signing of 20-year-old Reis, and Koeman is likely to hand his fellow countryman the chance to impress as he will have already run the rule over him as the Dutch coach.
Making 50 appearances in the Eredivisie for FC Groningen before his move, he caught the eye of Barca scouts who brought him to the Nou Camp.
The defensive midfielder, who can also play in a more attacking role, has been likened to Busquets due to his calmness in possession and quick decisions with the ball. Koeman’s side have been linked with Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek most recently, but Barca could well have a solution already in their ranks.
The new head coach has plans for a “fire sale” with some of the old guard making way, and he has a great deal of new blood to call on to fill the void.
By Sam May