FC Barcelona have made it fairly clear that they are in the market for a central defender during the next transfer window; a ball playing centre-back who is young enough to still have years ahead of him, but old enough to have had decent experience at the highest level.
Two names that keep cropping up in dispatches are Everton’s John Stones and Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte. Both youngsters are darlings of their respective clubs, loved by their own and admired from afar by their opponents.
It’s not too difficult to understand why the Catalans might be interested in their services. Services that would start at around the £50 million mark at a conservative estimate. So what would Luis Enrique be getting for his spend?
Well, the first thing to note is that both potential signings are international class, and it will be interesting to see how each fares in the upcoming European Championships.
Barca like to have their centre-backs on the ball as much as possible so therefore anyone fulfilling that role needs to be confident in possession and distribution.
In an Everton side that isn’t necessarily noted for its accuracy in the pass, Stones excels with an 89 percent completion stat. Laporte by comparison is way behind on 79 percent. Quite a marked difference, and unexpected to be truthful.
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Just 11 minutes on the pitch separate the pair over the course of 21/22 games in 2015/16 so to have a 10 percent drop off is quite significant. In their primary role of defending, Laporte has made just one solitary error whilst Stones has a not unsatisfactory three.
Forty interceptions from Stones is a fine return until you see that Laporte has been the far busier of the two with 56 with both having completed 28 tackles successfully. The Everton man is better on the ground than his contemporary and another stat that stands out is the card count.
Stones just has one for bad tackles whilst Laporte has an astonishing seven. Twenty-two blocks to 14 also fall in the Englishman’s favour.
The Frenchman is known for his aerial prowess and convincingly wins that particular battle as he does at the other end of the pitch. Three goals to his name compare favourably with a big fat zero for Stones and Barcelona do like their tall defenders to support the attack whenever possible.
It’s a side to Laporte’s game that shouldn’t be overlooked. Luis Enrique does like to polish rough diamonds and certain aspects of the Bilbao mans game still need refining.
Stones appears there or thereabouts in many respects already, but crucially has no experience in La Liga, and the nuance of that particular brand of football might not be to his taste.
Both parent clubs are asking an awful lot of money for players that are of a high standard but are not yet the finished article.
Perhaps the question Barca should really be asking at this stage is not “Who’s better?” but “Is our money better spent elsewhere?”