Barcelona have never truly replaced Seydou Keita but Blaise Matuidi could fit the bill rather than Paulinho

There has been a good bit of chuckling around the idea that Barcelona were moving for ex-Tottenham flop Paulinho, bringing the Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder back to Europe by paying his €40million release clause.

Such scoffing is understandable given Paulinho's unhappy time in the Premier League, even with his pretty impressive return to international action with Brazil more recently. The move still looks very unlikely to go through, in part due to changes in the Chinese Super League's transfer regulations, but there is actually perhaps some method to the apparent madness.

Last season showed that Barca badly need midfield reinforcements. Their steady pursuing of Paris Saint Germain’s Marco Verratti makes a lot of sense in this respect, as the Italy international is about as close as the market provides to a typical 'Barca DNA' playmaker. However that might not be exactly what they need most at the moment.

There will never be a new Xavi Hernandez, and trying to find a like for like Andres Iniesta replacement is a futile task. The blaugrana midfield from the heady days of Pep Guardiola’s period in charge at the Camp Nou is certainly impossible to recreate. It seems unlikely that new first team coach Ernesto Valverde, a pragmatic thinker about the game, is even going to try.

There is one former Barca midfielder whose departure has left a gaping hole in the squad however, and who should be relatively easier to replace. What is really needed at the Camp Nou is a new Seydou Keita. Keita made a huge contribution to Barca during the Guardiola glory days, regularly starting big games in midfield, with Iniesta pushed out wide, and if not then coming on in the second half to help shore things up and see out victories.

The Mali international was Guardiola’s first signing on taking over in 2008, at a cost of €14million from Sevilla; the much higher profile Dani Alves made the same journey that summer. Generally reserved off the pitch, he was often overshadowed by his teammates, but he was a forceful character who made an unmistakable impact as he won a pretty phenomenal 14 trophies in four years at the club.

Even the highly idealistic Pep realised that his team often needed extra physicality in midfield, someone who could cover every blade of grass, put his foot in, help out defending set-pieces, while also being excellent on the ball and capable of chipping in with the odd goal. Although widely seen as the squad’s ‘twelfth player’, Keita scored 20 times in 173 games for Barca, while doing whatever job was most needed. He has never really been replaced since his characteristically low-key exit in 2014.

In the years since Barca have signed plenty of midfielders, but nobody to fill the gap left by Keita. Arda Turan and Denis Suarez are gifted if unreliable on the ball, but neither offer anything closer to the security or industry needed alongside [or sometimes in place of] Sergio Busquets in the centre. Andre Gomes has the physical gifts to play that kind of role, but the Portugal international has not looked like any kind of solution yet. The less said about Alex Song in all this the better.

Of the reported targets this summer, Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez would have been an absolutely outstanding signing for Barca, but confirmation of his new contract and bumper pay-rise has kiboshed that one. Ander Herrera gets stuck in for sure, but he is not the biggest. You can see how Paulinho has come into the thinking, although his pricetag looks prohibitive for someone who will not start every game. 

Maybe the best fit would be another PSG midfielder in Blaise Matuidi. Matuidi has the physical gifts and technical ability to fit nicely at the Camp Nou, and is also apparently available having just 12 months left on his current contract.

The France international has a huge amount of international and Champions League experience, and under Laurent Blanc played in a 4-3-3 system which could be similar to that Valverde will employ. And of course he and Verratti know each other inside out and fit well together.

Aged 30, Matuidi is not really one for the future, but he still has enough about him for both Manchester United and Arsenal to be reportedly keen to take him on this summer. That Juventus are also said to be interested counts as another positive in his favour, given their excellent record of picking up experienced bargains in recent years. It seems likely that the lure of the Camp Nou, even if he has had some painful experiences there in recent years, would be very attractive. 

Paulinho to the Camp Nou never really looked a goer, but it maybe shows the blaugrana board [or more likely Valverde] might finally be thinking of replacing Keita in the squad. Matuidi would make a lot of sense, and Barca should go for him whether or not they succeed in getting Verratti too.