Positives to Take From Barcelona’s Season So Far

This summer was probably the most tumultuous in Barcelona’s history. Their greatest ever player, Lionel Messi, did the unthinkable and handed in a transfer request. Many thought the Argentine would stay at Barcelona for his whole career. However, after numerous embarrassments in Europe and a failing sporting project, he had enough. His move was blocked by the club and he was forced to stay.

Now, Barcelona’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and the whole board have resigned. What happens to Barcelona now is anyone’s guess, but on the pitch, things have been promising. Even though results haven’t been the best, they have looked sublime at some points throughout the season. This is due to the work of Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman’s appointment was seen as a negative one but so far he has surpassed expectations.

Positives to Take From Barcelona’s Season

Barcelona’s Formation

The main thing which Koeman did was change the formation to a 4-2-3-1. This formation has helped bought out the best of several of his players. He has deployed Messi as a false nine, allowing him to focus fully on his attacking exploits. The sale of Luis Suarez has helped Barcelona defensively. With him and Messi inactive defensively, Barcelona often had to defend with nine men. With Messi as a false nine and the rest of the team working harder, this has resulted in Barcelona being stronger defensively.

It may not look like it with their results, but some of their defensive struggles so far have come from structural issues, such as Sergio Busquets being told to cover a lot of space in midfield, which is not his forte. This has led to the Blaugrana being wide open down the middle of the pitch, something Koeman could change by giving Miralem Pjanic a starting berth instead. But, as a defensive unit, Barcelona look strong and well-drilled, something which has not been said in a long time.

Second Chances

Koeman has also allowed those who previously failed to impress a second chance at the club. The most notable is Philippe Coutinho. Beforehand, the Brazilian just did not seem to fit in any role at the club and was seen as surplus to requirements. Now, under Koeman, he has been given a run as a number ten and, so far, he is thriving. He has two goals and two assists in six appearances this season. He is not forcing his play as much as he had done so beforehand, rather letting the game come to him. This has led to him playing his best football in the Barcelona shirt.

Koeman has also restored Frenkie De Jong to his best position. The Dutchman often played as the furthest advanced player in midfield under Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien. This would lead to him drifting over to the left-wing a lot, which did not allow him to show his full showcase of skills. This season he has started in a double pivot alongside Busquets and has performed excellently. His defensive work has been understated this season and he has more influence over the game than ever before. He picks the ball up deep and picks out those in higher positions and he controls the tempo of the game, picking out line-breaking passes consistently. Koeman has done well giving him the keys to the midfield and his faith has been repaid.

Barcelona’s Youth

The main thing which Koeman has done best at is giving youth a chance. Koeman has played Pedri, Francisco Trincao and Sergiño Dest this season more than people thought he would have.

The main star, though, has been Ansu Fati. The La Masia graduate broke out last season but he has started this season on fire. He already has five goals and three assists from a left-wing position. His movement in behind and ice-cold finishing is impeccable. So much so, that at the age of 17, he is already a starter for Barcelona. The sky is the limit for Fati, and Koeman recognises this and is giving the opportunity to flourish.

Koeman has also taken a liking to Pedri. The Spanish youth player scored his first goal for Barcelona in the Champions League against Ferencvaros. He has been likened to Andreas Iniesta in the way he glides on the ball and his ability to dribble past players. After a bad match in the Clasico, he redeemed himself against Juventus. All night he negated Juan Cuadrado and gave him nightmares when going forward. His notion of when to pass and keep the ball is in his DNA. This has allowed him to adapt to Barcelona’s way of playing instantaneously.

Koeman has also given a chance to Dest, giving him the starting berth against Real Madrid. He was arguably one of Barcelona’s best players, defending well against Vinicius, and his dribbling and speed going forward gave life to that right-hand side.

The strange thing about Koeman is that he has not played Riqui Puig. The starlet was one of Barcelona’s brightest lights during a horrible season last year. His ferociousness off the ball in defending was notable, alongside his immense quality on the ball. His control, press resistance and line breaking passing gave life to a stale Barcelona Midfield, but yet Koeman does not seem convinced with him. A strange evaluation of a clearly talented player.

All in all, Koeman has done well so far. He has breathed life into Barcelona’s midfield and given their minefield of young talent a chance. There is still a lot of things left to be desired, such as his in-game management and tactical variations. Yet, it has been a good start overall for him. Now, the question is can he carry on this good start for the whole season.


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