Times are woefully bad at Barcelona. The club that was once the pinnacle of footballing class has now deteriorated into something utterly unrecognisable. The Champions League visit to Benfica was just the latest in a series of humiliatingly poor performances from Ronald Koeman’s side, with La Blaugrana well beaten. Yet, it must be said, sacking Ronald Koeman would not solve every problem.
Ronald Koeman Sacking Wouldn’t Solve Barcelona’s On-Pitch Crisis
A Result of a Shambolic Summer
La Blaugrana’s well-documented financial turmoil has ripped the soul out of the club, with a rancid cloud of desperation, embarrassment and eventual heartbreak blocking out any light during this summer’s transfer window.
The effect has been a miserable beginning to the 2021/22 campaign. A Lionel Messi-less Barcelona looks to be one without spark, cutting edge and direction.
Admittedly, Koeman’s side have lost just once in domestic action. Three wins, three draws, and one loss in their opening seven La Liga fixtures may not sound nightmarish; but this is Barcelona we’re talking about.
Draws against Athletic Blibao, Granada and most recently Cadiz have demonstrated that lack of brilliance within the squad. La Blaugrana sit ninth in the table and, without a shining beacon like Messi, their dull and largely unimaginative performances make it tough to see them push much further come the end of the season.
Their fall from grace has been exemplified none more so than their start to the 2021/22 Champions League campaign. Evident underdogs on matchday one, Barcelona were swept away by a dominant, ruthless and superior Bayern Munich, who looked as though they were playing in a training session.
Matchday two, however, was even more embarrassing. Travelling to Benfica, Koeman’s men would have expected – or at least hoped – to get their campaign off and running against a side who hadn’t beaten the Catalan giants since 1961.
What came next was another story of despondency, humiliation and disappointment. A second 3-0 loss of the group stage was well deserved.
Koeman’s side came away from the Portuguese side well beaten. Sloppy in midfield, calamitous at the back and simply horrendous in attack, Barcelona were unrecognisable from the club that have been at the summit of European football on so many prior occasions.
A Club on the Ropes
The five-time European champions were led by the likes of Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique, who were slow, haphazard and generally underwhelming – the latter of which was also hooked off after half an hour courtesy of his rashness and recklessness after having been booked.
Clumsiness and seeming disorientation were the themes in attack on the Wednesday night. While Memphis Depay showed some signs of creativity at least, Luuk de Jong once again proved the epitome of all that Barcelona aren’t.
Unable to provide the fluidity and inventiveness that has made the Spanish giants so thrilling to watch and loveable in the past, the big Dutchman was depressingly mediocre, flat and out of place in the line-up.
As a result, it was up to the youngsters to try and carry the team. 18-year-old Pedri was typically bright in parts but, on his return form injury, couldn’t inspire those around him. The likes of Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, Ronald Araujo and Ansu Fati all showed their willingness to drive Barcelona onto bigger and better things as well; but they just couldn’t.
It was symptomatic of the current on-field situation at the club. No leadership, no real belief, no passion.
Sacking Ronald Koeman: Not the Answer
While times are worryingly bad at Camp Nou, it’s a mistake to blame Koeman for all the hardship.
Since his arrival, Koeman has held the club in transition. The Dutchman has done excellently at developing young talent and integrating them into the future of the club – a strategy that is necessary given current economic troubles. Meanwhile, a Copa del Rey crown last term would suggest that all has not been too abysmal on the pitch – although Barcelona’s respectable 2020/21 season was helped in large part by the presence of Messi.
Former president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s criminal financial mismanagement has dealt the Barca boss a drastically depleted hand in relation to where the club have been in the past. It’s a squad without indescribable genius, without world-beaters in their prime and without that unmistakeably glorious Barcelona soul.
Realistically, it’s not a squad that’s ever going to win major titles – and very few managers in world football could get a harmonic tune out of such an ugly instrument. In any case, Koeman has been a rock for the club. The stability he has introduced during arguably the club’s most difficult period should not be underestimated, and should not be taken away.
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