Marco Verratti to Barcelona is a move that seems destined to happen. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder once again spoke of his high regard for the Catalan club ahead of the sides' Champions League tie in February and has been touted by some as the ideal successor for Xavi. Praise indeed.
Barca have long admired the Italian international and in 2015 the player admitted he was flattered by the Catalans' interest as he told Goal: "It is up to the people at Barcelona to decide [if I would fit in], but it is true that I like their style."
And in the build-up to the Champions League clash between Barca and PSG in Paris, he said: "Even though I am currently in a good project and I feel at home, any player would play for Barcelona."
He added: "They have the three best players in attack, and [Andres] Iniesta too. Iniesta, [Lionel] Messi and Neymar create a move in a second."
That is indeed true, but Barcelona are now a team very much known and feared for the quality of their trident in attack — Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Gone, however, are the days when the club's midfield was widely considered not only best around, but also the best ever.
That is partly due to the departure of Xavi, who left Camp Nou in 2015 to see out his career in Qatar. "Xavi is the best midfielder in history," Verratti said earlier this year. "The loss of a player like him is tough and many things have changed."
Nevertheless, Luis Enrique also altered Barca's style and the Catalans have moved away from the positional play utilised by Pep Guardiola in favour of a more direct philosophy with faster transitions, more aggressiveness and even counter-attacking football.
Xavi has claimed that he continues to enjoy watching his former club, yet he has also spoken in glowing terms of the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder and said in December 2015: "I love Verratti. I like his vision of the game. He never loses the ball. He would fit well in the Barca game. I'd like to see him at Barcelona."
So would many fans, and although PSG are adamant their player is not for sale at any price, the 24-year-old is one the Catalan club's top transfer targets for the summer window. And after losing out to Barca in the Champions League despite a 4-0 first-leg win and then the disappointment of finishing second to Monaco in Ligue 1, Verratti appears ready to swap PSG for a new challenge.
Barca, meanwhile, are in need of renewal after falling at the quarter-final stage in Europe and losing La Liga to Real Madrid. Iniesta just turned 33 and will need to be replaced at some stage, yet the Spain midfielder has shown with his performances this season that he is still one of the world's very best players, and the signing of Verratti would be the closest thing Barca could have to another Xavi at Camp Nou.
"Barcelona’s midfield has not been the same because there are players of such quality that can not be replaced. Like Xavi, he's irreplaceable," French coach Raynald Denoueix told Goal in February. "Or maybe, more precisely, the substitute of Xavi is on the other side, it's Verratti. He has really the same style."
A move would certainly be fascinating. And if the Italian were to sign, he would likely be used in the Rakitic role on the right side of midfield, although the Croatian could still be an option in other positions under new coach Ernesto Valverde.
With Luis Enrique now gone, Valverde may decide on a different approach, with the idea of returning Barca's once-peerless midfield to its former glory in a move back to Guardiola's juego de posición. And if so, Verratti could be just the man to bring about the change.