Barcelona hosted a depleted Dynamo Kyiv team who had seen their squad suffer from injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak. However, the away side played admirably and caused the Spanish giants a lot more problems than most people expected.
An empty Camp Nou hosted Dynamos Kyiv, yet another fixture without any fans. It is strange to see Europe’s largest stadium lacking such an atmosphere. Usually, it towers above the pitch, packed with excited Culés willing their team on to produce entertaining football. The iconic stadium has become accustomed to seeing spectacular football and many memorable moments of magic. However, it was almost lifeless as only the occasional shouts from the bench could be heard.
The same can be said about the team as well. Yes, there were some decent moments, but overall the team was lethargic. At times, Barça were too static and sat off the fearless Ukrainian side, who continuously took the game to the Catalans. It was by no means the worst performance the Camp Nou has witnessed over the last couple of seasons, but neither was it a memorable one.
Barcelona started the game with enthusiasm and created several clear chances in the first 20 minutes. After this, the performance levels started to drop, and Dynamo Kyiv grew into the match. Though the Blaugrana managed to take all three points, they will need to drastically improve if they wish to go deep into the competition.
1. Still no open play goal for Lionel Messi
Penalties have been Messi’s friend this season, as opposed to the last few campaigns. )Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
It has been a difficult start to the season for Lionel Messi. After a turbulent summer, he was forced to stay at his beloved team by an authoritarian president. Messi has clearly not been happy at the club for a while now as the sporting project has been unconvincing.
The Argentine has played every minute of competitive football under new manager Ronald Koeman – nine games in total. He has still produced some match-winning performances but seems to be missing that spark that always separated him from the rest.
Barcelona’s captain still dictates most of the team’s plays and his dribbling and vision has certainly not deserted him. The slight cause for concern is that his usual goal-scoring touch has dried up for now.
In the six games in La Liga, and three in the UEFA Champions League, the forward is yet to score from open play. He still has four goals this season but they have all come from the penalty spot. The 33-year-old has been getting chances to score, but has been unable to take them. It has been a recurring theme throughout the squad as others could be criticised for missing big chances.
“We started the game well, but we did not take advantage of the chances we had.”Ronald Koeman | Post-game Presser
Whatever the case may be, it is unlikely that this open play goal drought will continue for much longer. However, this does highlight how dependent the squad still are on Messi’s goals, as their 12th place position in the league suggests.
2. Ter-Stegen is back to save the defence
Firstly, the elephant in the room should be addressed here. This was Marc-André ter Stegen’s first game back since the humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. Being a goalkeeper is often a thankless job. One mistake and it can cost a team the game.
Many top-class keepers have struggled with their form and seen their confidence levels drop. Prime examples of this are Kepa Arrizabalaga, David de Gea, Thibaut Courtois, and even the great Manuel Neuer.
Therefore, Ronald Koeman probably thought he could ease the German goalkeeper back into the starting line-up against a weakened Dynamo Kyiv side. This assumption proved to be wrong as the shot-stopper rescued his team on several occasions with important saves.
The great German wall. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Ter Stegen showed how mentally strong he is by stepping up when his team needed him on the night. The Barcelona goalkeeper pulled off some fantastic 1v1 saves during the match. It is not the first time he has earned his team points in recent seasons with his shot-stopping abilities. This does highlight the defensive frailties of the team as the Catalan side were cut open far too easily.
While the German goalkeeper’s replacement, Neto, filled in well for the injured 28-year-old, Culés will be delighted to see ter Stegen return to the starting 11.
3. Should Pjanić and Dembélé be starters?
Miralem Pjanić put in another impressive display in the UEFA Champions League for Barcelona. The Bosnian was one of the best players against his former side Juventus in Barça’s last fixture in this tournament.
He then mirrored that with a solid outing against Kyiv, keeping the tempo of the game flowing. Pjanić played progressive passes, breaking opponents lines of defence and was always quick to release passes, keeping the speed of the game alive.
The number 8 has certainly made a positive impact since signing. He has injected the midfield with quicker passing and is heavily involved in the build-up play. There are some areas where he could improve, and his fitness needs to be worked on, but he has the makings of a successful first-team Barça player.
Another impressive cameo for Dembele — needs to find consistent ground in the team now. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Similarly, Ousmane Dembélé was introduced and changed the game. As the home side were struggling to find the rhythm, the Frenchman gave some much-needed energy to a tired-looking Barcelona side.
The World Cup has the ability to open the game up with just a few touches and looked determined to show Ronald Koeman why he should be starting more often. He was unlucky not to score as he had a thunderbolt of a shot saved by an incredible keeper on the night.
The 24-year-old must continue to put in consistent performances and stay focused. It normally takes Dembélé a good run in the team to get to his very best level, but he is starting to regain his form. He could be key in helping the Spanish giants salvage what looks to be another disappointing campaign.
3 lessons learned from Barcelona 3-0 Sevilla — Back from the brink
Everything may have seemed lost just a week ago, but now, it feels like Barcelona are not done just yet. Ronald Koeman has somehow instilled new life into this team, and they’re on an incredible run of form. Beating Sevilla two times in the span of a couple of days, and doing it rather convincingly, is a huge achievement and should be praised.
Yesterday’s triumph, however, also ensured Barcelona will play in their 10th Copa del Rey final in 13 seasons, which is a historic accomplishment if there ever was one. But it goes beyond that.
The victory itself was huge, both for the morale and their season as a whole, but also for the fans. Games like these build character, unison and camaraderie, and those are all things Barcelona were missing for years.
So what lessons have we learned from yesterday’s clash?
1. Koeman’s new system works
The sample is still tiny, and this definitely has to be taken into account. However, the test subjects for Koeman’s new system were Sevilla, after all, and Julen Lopetegui’s troops are nothing to sneeze at. Of course, formations are just numbers on a sheet of paper – by itself, a formation means nothing.
However, the whole structure and the roles within the system seem to be getting the best out of Barcelona’s key players. The defence is more stable with three centre-backs, and so is Sergio Busquets ahead of them. The wingbacks are much freer to attack and be a continuous threat for the opposition while Ousmane Dembélé’s central role puts him in excellent positions to burst behind the rival’s backline.
Not to mention the team as a whole seems more structured, interconnected and just more secure in possession. There’s more to it than just the formation, as we’ve mentioned, but Koeman’s change has undoubtedly sparked this turn of events and is continuing to bring impressive results.
There are still a couple of unanswered questions that remain, however. For instance, how does Antoine Griezmann fit the whole narrative? The Frenchman was quite good following his entry on the pitch, but that doesn’t change the fact this was his third appearance off the bench in a row. Surely a player of such calibre would aspire for a bigger role at Barcelona.
The same can be said for the likes of Miralem Pjanić and Riqui Puig, who have taken little to no part in this new and reborn team. Still, the fact that Koeman has found his preferred lineup that actually works is a big win for everyone.
Now it’s just about fine-tuning it to perfection.
2. The underrated brilliance of Óscar Mingueza
Don’t let the penalty mistake fool you; Óscar Mingueza was among Barcelona’s best performers last night. Of course, the whole team was excellent, and their displays across the board were praise-worthy. However, the young defender deserves to be mentioned as he stood out from the rest.
His mistake to grant Sevilla a chance to end the contest was a result of his inexperience, but overall, Mingueza didn’t put a foot wrong the whole night. Not only that, but he is the sole reason why Barcelona were able to sustain their pressure on the Andalusians.
The youngster’s aggressive exits from the backline resulted in numerous recoveries, and his well-timed tackles stopped Sevilla’s attackers in their tracks. Seeing how this is exactly what he’s been criticised for, it’s safe to say the 21-year-old is improving with each passing day.
And then there’s the attacking contribution. The new system with the three in the back gives him a more defensive role, but he is often the more adventurous of the centre-backs, pushing forward and engaging his man. After all, that’s why Koeman often puts him out wide since the youngster can pose a threat through his runs and crosses.
But there is no doubt in our mind – Mingueza was massive on the night, and that bodes well for his future at the club.
Appreciation tweet for Oscar Mingueza. So good! pic.twitter.com/SwFFyjkQzV— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 4, 2021
3. The foundations are set
Koeman’s tenure has been a mixed bag so far. From a perfect start to a shaky middle of the campaign and then to hope once again, the Dutchman is surely experiencing all the thrills of being a Barcelona coach. But regardless of what happens next, it is beautiful to see this team actually acting as a team.
Yesterday, we saw a fire in their eyes that was gone for far too long. Before that, Barcelona felt like a team devoid of all and any passion, a squad going through the motions rather than striving for perfection, which is their legacy.
No one is entitled to greatness, but Barcelona’s history, power and heritage demand it. No one expects us to suddenly flip a switch and beat everyone in front of us, Paris Saint-Germain included. Defeats happen, and no one can win all the time, not even the mighty Azulgranas.
But at the same time, we don’t ask for perfection, we ask for passion for the badge. If the team is giving their all and they go down swinging, it will hurt a lot less than being passive and rolling over for the opposition.
For years, we’ve been getting the latter, but now, this finally feels different. If that team we saw yesterday can show up week in, week out and offer blood, sweat and tears on that pitch, the fans will be more than happy. Win, lose or draw, it doesn’t matter as long as we do it our way.
Of course, winning is still a priority because our heritage demands it. But this is a step in the right direction, and we don’t expect to change overnight. No one does.
Koeman, however, may finally be onto something here. Could this be the turning point for the Catalans? Could this really be the moment that kick-starts their rebirth?
Only time will tell but allow us to dream for once and say – yes, yes it is.