Barcelona’s aging defense needed some major overhauling in the offseason, something that was tricky to do with the team’s need to unload players due to financial issues. But, despite their troubles, Barcelona managed to acquire a boatload of talent thanks to some creative financial management, adding talent everywhere on the pitch. Robert Lewandowski might have been the biggest name, which garnered the most headlines and he’ll surely make noise in front of goal, but at the other end of the pitch, snapping up Jules Kounde at center back from Sevilla has paid off instantly.
The French defender, who joined for $55 million, had to wait until Aug. 28 to make his La Liga debut for the club. It came a full two weeks after the season began as the club struggled to comply with La Liga financial rules in order to register him. Kounde has since played two games for Barca, both dominant wins. A 4-0 victory over Real Valladolid saw him go the full 90 minutes, completing 93.1% of his passes while creating two assists. In defense, he won 75% of his duels, 100% of his aerial challenges and recovered the ball five times. Then this past weekend, facing his former club, all he did was recover the ball six times and record two assists.
He’s been so impressive to start that manager Xavi has heaped some humongous praise on him. “When we talk about Kounde, we’re speaking about a player that can mark an era at Barca,” Xavi said after the win at Sevilla. “He can do everything, play out from the back, has personality, leadership, can play in any defensive position. We’ve made a great signing.”
Kounde figures to start on Wednesday when Barca open their Champions League campaign against Viktoria Plzen, a team they are expected to easily beat at home. Kounde spoke to the press ahead of the match, saying the reason he is involved in the sport is for games like these.
“We know we have a great chance of qualifying from the group. But it’ll be very competitive and difficult because there are some good teams,” Kounde said. “But I’m excited. I play football for games like these.
“We have a big squad, with a lot of talent and we can create a lot of danger. I’m sure a lot of teams are looking at us and taking us seriously. But the squad can progress even further with the ideas that Xavi is getting across. There’s quality and we want to compete hard in this Champions League.”
Kounde may be a natural center back but he also has the ability to play right back. That versatility will be welcomed for a team that got rid of an unreliable Sergino Dest but brought in Hector Bellerin before the transfer window closed.
So far, he’s looked like a fantastic signing that adds instant credibility to a sometimes flawed backline. But if these early minutes are a sign of things to come, Barca very well could end up being UCL contenders much earlier than expected.
How to watch and odds
- Date: Wednesday, Sept. 7 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
- Location: Camp Nou — Barcelona, Spain
- Live stream: Paramount+
- Odds: Barcelona -1600; Draw +1100; Viktoria +3600 (via Caesars Sportsbook)