2021 has been nothing short of a fairytale for FC Barcelona. Well, apart from the horrid performance against Paris Saint-Germain. And the display against Huesca yesternight proved it again.
For a side whose side seemed to be nothing but the deepest shade of black, the current scenario is like a page right from the middle of Walt Disney’s diary. Even now, thoughts of the pre-season situation send shivers down one’s spine.
Lionel Messi seemed to be done with the club, and an exit seemed imminent. Josep Maria Bartomeu continued his reign of terror as off the field tensions ramped up and began to show in the dressing room. The toxic environment was beginning to have conspicuous effects on all the players.
Even a matter of just months ago, Barcelona’s league hopes seemed to be a lost cause. The side had lost embarrassingly to Juventus in the Champions League, and not to mention, threw away silverware in the final of the Supercopa de Espana. Injuries had plagues Ronald Koeman’s first season in charge, and it seemed doors closed for the dutchman too.
Fast forward to March, and the Catalans are the only domestically unbeaten side in Europe in 2021. With just the one draw so far, 2021 has been heaven indeed. Components are coming together, and beginning to gel. Players are now rewarded with call ups to the national side, the ultimate indicator of a good season. Here are three takeaways from Barcelona’s great run of form
Ronald Koeman: A master in the shadows
With Ronald Koeman coming in the summer, Cúles were prepared for a manager who may not be the best tactically. Koeman was never a tactical genius. His legendary status as a Blaugrana however was expected to bring the dressing room on its feet and keep them in check.
The Dutchman delivered on what was expected, and more. To begin with, the side really backs Ronald Koeman as is evident from both on-pitch performances and interviews alike. The players are now taking responsibility for themselves, both in the ups and downs. The rumours of dressing room heavyweights having an upper hand no longer seem to exist.
Yet, Koeman has also evolved from his side. That stubborn presence on the sidelines that couldn’t see past a 4-2-3-1 formation no longer exists. Credit where it is due, Koeman has got his tactics bang-on in recent clashes. Changes are tailor-made for every opposition, an invaluable asset.
Moreover, it is almost impossible to judge the formation of the side even after the lineup drops these days! Such is the versatility of players under the Dutchman, and so deep is the understanding of the coach as to the capabilities of his artillery. The new five-man midfield system has received no solid reply from the opposition, and truly brings out the best of Barcelona.
The veterans’ shine, while the youngsters shine brighter
The biggest issue faced by the recent managers of Barcelona has been finding the right balance between youth and experience. Trusting the youth is as important as counting on the experience and is the key to any successful side.
One must truly applaud the manager for trusting youth the way he has. The success stories of youngsters at Barcelona this season is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Pedri, in a matter of months, has jumped straight into the Spanish National team. Oscar Mingueza has grown and matured tremendously with every passing game, as recognised and appreciated by the legendary Carles Puyol himself.
Ilaix Moriba in a matter of games, has won over hearts across the world with his prodigal feet. Sergino Dest is slowly but surely returning to his attacking best. Ronald Araujo has now become Barcelona’s most important defender, something one couldn’t even fathom at the end of last season.
At the same time, the veterans have proved exactly why their experience is so heavily valued. The new system has brought out the vintage Sergio Busquets, who is well and truly at his best. Jordi Alba has had a phenomenal season, not just in assists but even in goals. The Spaniard who was mocked for his weak mentality is now the major force in every Barcelona comeback win so far. In fact, his season has been so tremendous that even Luis Enrique was forced to call him back up for international duty!
Speaking of veterans and not mentioning Lionel Messi would be a crime. The Argentine has been on a different level compared to mortals. The goals just keep flowing like water. Left, right, centre, you name it. The new fashion of scoring long-range bangers for timepass seems to have settled well with the maestro. A happy Messi is a happy Barcelona. However, if Lionel Messi is now happy after all the occurrences in the recent past, it means something is seriously going right for the Catalan club.
The Psychological punch
The major takeaway from the past month has been the incredible rise in the psychological aspect of the performance. Barcelona have been historically weak in high-pressure games in recent years, a large part of which was attributed to the lack of belief in themselves.
What we see now is a resurgence. Right from the dramatic comeback against Granada, to the gritty win over Sevilla at the Camp Nou, Barcelona now exudes confidence. The return fixture in Paris brought out some of the most scintillating football that we have seen this season, in an away game! The radical change is unbelievable, one could say.
If Barcelona were to walk into a game with the scoreline against them, one could comfortably put their money on a comeback. The days of fear of bottling the big games seem to be over. While that does not imply that the side have no flaws, one knows that all the players will put in nothing less than a hundred per cent when on the field.