With Ansu Fati’s injury interrupting his rapid rise, Barcelona will have to find alternatives to fill the young starlet’s boots.
Ansu Fati has fast become an undisputed starter at Barcelona, and Ronald Koeman is clearly impressed by the 18-year-old’s irrefutable quality. Fati has started eight out of ten games for Barça in all competitions so far. Netting five goals and notching two assists, the youngster has been enjoying some incredible performances of late.
In Saturday’s 5-2 win over Real Betis however, the forward seemed to have some discomfort in the process of winning the penalty, which meant he was taken off at halftime.
“Fati had some discomfort in the first half, and we replaced him at half-time so as not to take risks.”Ronald Koeman | Post-match Presser
Tests later revealed that he had sustained damage to the meniscus of his left knee. Barcelona announced in a club statement that Fati would undergo surgery for the injury. Once the procedure is complete, there will be another announcement about the duration of the injury layoff, estimated to be around 3-4 months.
This comes as unfortunate news for the club and its fans, as Ansu Fati had been a major positive amid all the inconsistencies since the season began. Now, the Blaugrana must find other options to count on in the Guinea-Bissau born forward’s absence.
Barcelona does have a few solid alternatives, and therefore combinations at his disposal when it comes to selecting wide men, even in the absence of Ansu Fati.
The permutations to deal with Fati’s injury
There are three main candidates who will most certainly see a lot more game time during the Fati’s injury layoff. Namely, Pedri Gonzalez, Ousmane Dembele and Francisco Trincao. Considering Koeman’s lineups so far, however, it is all but guaranteed that he will rotate a lot between the three.
Koeman does not have a lack of quantity for wingers in the team. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Pedri has been lighting up the pitch for the Catalans. He seems to be adjusting very well to the club and Koeman’s ideas. As a result, he has started four of Barça’s last five games. His ability on the ball has seen him being deployed out wide a few times already.
Dembele’s return to action after constant injury troubles has also been auspicious. The Frenchman is slowly regaining sharpness and has netted thrice already in all competitions. And while Trincao is yet to score for his new club, he has shown some encouraging signs. Now might well be his time to shine.
1. Pedri and Dembele
Albeit Pedri has started off on the right a few times so far, he might be very useful on the left as well. He would be able to cut infield on his favoured right foot and dictate play. Additionally, he was superb against Juventus every time he received the ball on the left. This would mean Dembele starts on the right, able to wreak havoc in his natural position.
2. Pedri and Trincao
With Pedri again operating on the left, Trincao could come in on the right. The Portuguese winger has already shown glimpses of promise. With his intelligent link-up play and close control, he could be a real asset for players like Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann in the centre to play off of.
3.Dembele and Trincao
One of Ousmane Dembele’s biggest assets is his ambidexterity. The 23-year-old can as frightening on the left, as he is on the right. And having already played on the left a few times before, the position isn’t completely alien to him.
A Dembele-Trincao combination is interesting in many ways. Since Trincao was accustomed to playing anywhere across the frontline during his time at Braga, either one of him and Dembele can play on either flank or keeping motoring to switch. This will create unpredictability in the process, making them laborious to mark.
The Messi-Coutinho conundrum
Of course, when you talk about wide men, you have to put Leo Messi’s name into the mix. Messi, of course, is an obvious option to start on the right. However, in Koeman’s current setup, him operating behind Griezmann seems to be really beneficial in terms of cohesion and chance creation. Additionally, it allows for more opportunities for youngsters.
Phillipe Coutinho however, will pose an interesting question after returning to the team. The Brazilian is currently recovering from a hamstring injury and is scheduled to return to action by early December, depending on the progress of his recovery. Once Coutinho is fit, he will feature a lot more as well, either on the left or in an advanced central role, which could mean Messi moves back out to the right.
However, if the setups with Messi and Griezmann continue to thrive with the youngsters’ support out wide, there will be a lot of healthy competition when everyone is fit. For now, it is time for them to prove their mettle, hopefully, while Ansu Fati’s injury heals as soon as possible.
From what we have seen so far, none of the wingers apart from Fati have provided serious stronghold on the starting spot. Stemming from that, Koeman has had to mix-up his options on the wing, deploying all of his forwards on either wing at least once.
This can be traced back to Coutinho on the left, Pedri on the right, and left, Messi on the left against Dynamo Kyiv, and of course, Griezmann on the left during the initial phase of the season.
Dembele should be a nailed-on forward at this point. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
At 23, is it crucial that Dembele gets playing time, not only because he is the most similar to Fati, but all because his dynamic range on the ball make him a threat on either side.
Ideally, on form, Pedri should partner the Frenchman. Given his age and Koeman’s mismanagement of young assets, the combination of Fransisco Trincao on the left, with Ousmane Dembele on the right would benefit the team the most.
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.