Nelson Semedo seems like he’s been fighting against the tide since he arrived at Barcelona. His first days were a warning of what was to come - a riffraff with Neymar. And direct critiques measured against what Dani Alaves delivered - many right-backs would lose that war.
Sergi Roberto had also been converted into a full back but Semedo said at his presentation that he would not give up. “I never give up on anything. I don’t surrender, for me a game only ends with the referee’s whistle.”
Semedo was presented on July 14, 2017, and since then he has had to deal with the price of his signing (30 million euros) and adaptation problems.
Valverde explained that it took Semedo some time to fit. “All the players when they arrive at our club find it hard to get into the dynamic of the team. Sometimes we play with little space and this game you have to learn. Nelson, for his characteristics is a player that needs space. But he’s very fast, hard to neutralise and we love him.”
Two aspects of his play have marked the learning process. The first, his struggles with positioning at the back, the second, lack of precision in the final metres.
The sensation is that because he is so confident in his speed he’s had too much freedom. But his improvement this season has been formidable.
Semedo now seems more ordered in his play but keeps that explosively which lets him solve tricky situations. In Lyon he was fundamental in the team’s defensive work - and that’s part of a trend.
He’s also improved going forward. He’s always been able to break lines with his speed but his final delivery hasn’t been the best, lacking precision and patience, in shooting and crossing.
The numbers reflect it. Since arriving he’s had four assists and one goal, far lower numbers than the likes of Jordi Alba and Dani Alves in his day.
But beyond the cold stats, this season he’s stepped up in attack. His best minutes have coincided with the presence of Dembele on the right wing.
“We get on, both on and off the pitch, and I think that’s showing,” said Semedo in December.
When they team up on the right they are big problems for defences because of their speed and the way they find each other regularly.
For Valverde, the competition between Semedo and Sergi Roberto has been just fine. The coach picks the player he wants for the game depending on the opponent. We saw that in Lyon, with Roberto moved to midfield and Semedo at right-back.
This season he’s had 2,042 minutes, while Roberto has 1,972 (although was injured). Valverde has made no definitive decision and it seems it will stay that way until the end of the season.