That is an impressive bit of business on several levels. Firstly it’s the right-back that Barça have needed since 2015, the true heir to Dani Alves. Secondly it’s a potential top quality player for a remarkable fee in a market that is making a habit of outlandish expenditure.
Finally, it’s a signing that Barcelona wrapped up in phenomenal time. From deciding to sign him to actually having him undergo his medical, the whole thing was done in about 48 hours which is less time than it took Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy to catch James Remar.
But just who is Nelson Semedo? How does he play and does that blend well with Barcelona? What does his signing mean for the Blaugrana going forward? Fear not, dear reader, Squawka has you covered!
If pace is one of the great weapons in football, then Nelson Semedo is like that minigun from Predator that fires about a billion rounds a second and evaporates a jungle. This man is blindingly fast. The amount of times he just kicks a ball beyond an opponent and straight-up blows them away in a sprint is breathtaking to behold.
Semedo uses his pace to cause havoc against opponents. It’s a destabilising power as he goes from standing still to flying in the blink of an eye. He also uses it to defend his team. Jordi Alba has already shown the value of pace as a defensive weapon in Catalunya, and now Nelson Semedo will offer the same amount of “wait where did he come from?!” last minute defensive interventions.
For four years now, Barcelona have had one of the fast left-flanks in football with Alba and Neymar. But their right has been comparatively slow. Well, not anymore. Semedo will prove a superb compliment to Leo Messi as he cuts infield, being a wicked outlet for his and Ivan Rakitic’s passes.
Semedo is no kick-and-rush guy, though. This man has supreme close control and dribbling skills, the kind that allow him to snake by a defender or two, or three. This is probably Semedo’s most outstanding attribute, because it’s so rare for a full-back to be this comfortable and confident with the ball at his feet.
Semedo’s dribbling is so varied, from step-overs to bodyswerves to full-on spin moves to escape danger. It’s almost ridiculous to see a full-back so willing to take those kinds of risks, but Semedo executes his dribbling moves with such prowess those risks are not risks at all.
Crucially for Barcelona, Semedo’s ability to dribble allows him to dominate the entire flank. Think back over Dani Alves’ time in Catalunya and the amount of times he was isolated 1v1 on the right-wing and then couldn’t beat his full-back from a standing start so had to pass the ball back will surprise you.
Semedo won’t have that problem. He will dominate the flank like Alves did, always being available for passing attacks and providing width on the right as Leo Messi comes infield. But when a full-back isolates him 1v1 he will have the dribbling skills to annihilate him anyway and send in a cross.
This kind of dribbling will immediately draw a second marker to him to prevent him getting open looks, and with two men already covering Neymar on the other side of the pitch, suddenly the space for Messi in the middle becomes even larger. And then you’re really looking to unleash hell.
No dilettante in defence
While attack is obviously a full-backs primary duty, especially at Barcelona, they can’t ignore their defending. Obviously there are certain liberties given to them as they play such a crucial role in attack, but they must be useful defensively especially as they will need to be able to handle themselves when Barça find themselves in a defensive phase.
Thankfully for Barcelona, Semedo is a decent defender. Alright he’s not Paolo Maldini, but his willingness to defend cannot be questioned. In the Liga NOS last season only one player won more tackles than his 70. And even though he only won 20 aerial duels he did so at a 59% success rate.
Positionally he still needs to learn a bit, sure, attacking full-backs always have a tendency to get caught out and he’ll have to perfect the balance. But his pace and willingness to “get stuck in” will cover him long enough for him to learn the nuances of defending, much as it did for Jordi Alba at left-back.
Ultimately, what Barcelona have needed since 2013 when Alves began declining was a fullback who could take over an entire flank. The likelyhood they would be able to find someone like Alves, who was a hybrid centre-mid, full-back and winger, was always unlikely – but Semedo may be the closest they’ll get.
Alright he’ll likely never offer the kind of match control Alves did. It’s absurd that a full-back could be so competent at doing the job of a central midfielder (shoutout Marcelo, David Alaba and the recently retired Philipp Lahm) but Semedo’s ability to tear up-and-down the flank with the dribbling speed and skill of a top European winger will give Barça a new string to their bow and an all-new dimension to their already awesome attack. Blaugrana business is about to pick up!