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Can a change in position help Oscar Mingueza at Barcelona?

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Photo via Imago

Football is a game that is played not necessarily with the best eleven available players in every position, but rather the most useful ones. Over the past decade La Masia has been at a drought of players, with a number of those coming up from the B team not necessarily making the cut to be first-team regulars, but having enough of an understanding of their roles and the team’s needs to be integrated into the team with relative ease.

Sergi Roberto falls perfectly into this category. There’s almost nothing about him that is exceptional enough to make him a regular senior squad member, as there one or more players better than him in each of the positions he takes up. Despite this, the Catalan has played an integral part in Barça’s success, and now Oscar Mingueza is following in the same footsteps. 

Roberto’s versatility is known to all. (Photo via Imago)

Barça Universal explores the Spaniard’s journey into first-team football, his versatility in the face of adversity, and finally, a possible plan in the future.

A tumultuous start to life as a first-teamer

More often than not, players like Mingueza are discarded long before they even turn 20. The likes of Eric García and Isaac Cuenca flaunt their positional dexterity and stand out defensively despite their age. While the Barca number 28 has his virtues, few, if any, saw him leap a B team in which he served as a fourth choice centre-back, to ever playing in the first team.

Mingueza has his roots set in Barcelona. (Photo via Imago)

With the cruel mistress of fate paying one too many visits in Barça’s dressing room, cursing several key players with lengthy injuries week after week, Barça needed light to shine over their dark season, and at the end of the tunnel was a sporty, enthusiastic Oscar Mingueza.

With Gerard Piqué, Clément Lenglet, and Samuel Umtiti either repeatedly injured or terribly out of form, the Masia youngster took up the reigns at CB alongside Ronald Araujo and has never looked back since. He is admittedly a man with flaws, however, beggars cannot be choosers, and Barcelona were certainly in no position financially or otherwise, to cherry-pick their best players.

Mingueza has offered a whole new dimension to the defence while keeping the core values he learnt from his days at La Masia at heart. He remains a commendable ball-playing centre-back, with many lauding his insane bravery and seemingly innate ability to play out the back. He has had some shockers, such as his games against Cadiz and Athletic Club, however bar that, he barely puts a foot wrong.

Mingueza did an impressive job covering for the underwhelming Lenglet. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

On the odd chance, one does get past him, he is more than suited to make a last-ditch tackle for the team’s betterment. This is largely thanks to his large physical build, which, is well-taken advantage of when necessary.

Versatility

As mentioned before, sometimes, football does not require the best eleven in every position, but rather the best eleven to suit the manager’s vision. Carlos Puyol could be used as an example, not one whose quality is to be lamented about, but one whose versatility and drive to succeed gave him a spot where there ideally would not be any.

At the beginning of his career, he was a right-back, and gradually evolved into his centre-back role, and Oscar Mingueza is experiencing an evolution of the same dimension, however with the roles reversed.

Given Barça’s injury crisis not only in central defence but also at right-back, Oscar Mingueza was required to supplement for an exhausted and injured Sergiño Dest, as well as Sergi Roberto for the better part of one and a half months.

Mingueza has done a more than decent job on the right flank at Barcelona. (Photo via Imago)

Like he has in central defence, Oscar has once again shown his usefulness in the squad through his differential quality. At right-back, given the fact that it is not his natural position — at least not since he was 11 —, Ronald Koeman has given him an entirely new set of brushes to paint the field with.

Unlike his American counterpart, the Barça number 28 is a far more defensive-minded addition to the right-back role. Rather than spend a majority of the next darting to both ends of the pitch, Oscar offers himself as one of a third centre-back in a makeshift back three while in an attacking phase, or a temporary midfielder in the goal of maintaining possession of the ball. This comes naturally for him, given his background as a La Masia player.

All in all, Mingueza has given a great deal of service for a club who six months ago would never even have fathomed needing him in their setups. His versatility, especially at right-back, is a heaven-sent for the Barca manager, who seems to like the idea of revolving between an inverted fullback and a classical one depending on what is required of them.

Plan going forward

Oscar Mingueza is a man of exceptional character with fervent determination to bring honour to the badge, however, this can only go so far in his case. Barcelona are hot on the trail for Eric García and have been for some months now, and given the fact that Roberto has returned to the squad, it begs the question, what next for the young man?

For this, we have to take a trip down memory lane and look at some wise words by the late Tito Vilanova. Following the 2010/11 campaign, he had this to say:

“We don’t need better players; we need complementary players that help us be better.”

Tita Vilanova, 2011

By virtue of his versatility and background as a Barcelona youth ranks graduate, Ronald Koeman could benefit from trying him out as a central defensive midfielder. The idea at first glance seems far fetched, with Miralem Pjanić still in the squad though day by day it seems all the more likely that Ronald Koeman does not fancy him all that much. The Spaniard, though, ticks many of the necessary boxes needed in the central defensive midfield, despite not even playing there yet.

An expert of the all too infamous tactical foul, Oscar Mingueza can hold up this susceptible position in the team, acting as a false centre-back in possession, moving slightly upwards to maintain ball circulation. His passing has already been moulded by the careful hands of the craftsmen at La Masia, and so too his positional sense.

Mingueza does not shy away from a tackle. (Photo via Imago)

Unlike Sergio Busquets, Mingueza’s background as a centre-back as paired with his athletic build make for a rather decent match, as on occasions where he has been dribbled past, he is quick enough to make up for lost ground, is more than capable of contesting second balls when the need arises and can do the necessary dirty work, intervening where needed through a foul, tackle or interception.

He already shows an immense capacity to grow, the desire to learn and given his duration at the club, he certainly would want to stay here longer. This would mean evolving his game to whatever the manager might require of him, be it as a rotational asset, or a versatile one to maintain relevance in the squad and provide aid wherever deemed necessary.

The beautiful game brings to all who enjoy it a plethora of emotions and my way of giving back to it is through my writing. I am here not only to share my insight on the club I hold closest to my heart but also to gain knowledge from my fellow writers.

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Copa Del Rey final: Forgetting El Clasico, Supercopa Final and more

Darren Looney

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Photo via Imago

What seemed very unlikely at one stage in Barcelona’s season is now just one game away from a trophy. Saturday sees Ronald Koeman’s men contest this season’s Copa del Rey final against a familiar foe in Marcelino and his Athletic Club side at the Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville, the scene of the Athletics’ manager’s most recent cup final triumph over the Catalan side. 

The pair met in the Supercopa de España final back in January, with Athletic Club coming away from the tie as 3-2 winners after extra time. The defeat was a demoralising moment for Barça, as the Catalan side were just a minute away from victory until Asier Villalibre equalised.  

Going into the final, Barcelona find themselves in another disheartening moment of the season after coming up short to bitter rivals Real Madrid in a 2-1 defeat in El Clasico, a result that could prove crucial in this season’s title race

Barcelona were unable to cope with Madrid’s counter attacking display. (Photo via Imago)

The potential of the season collapsing looms over the Catalan side, with doubt creeping into some of the players’ minds, with Jordi Alba being the first to express it. 

Marcelino could not have asked for a better result to face Barcelona off the back of, as the Spaniard has a history of punishing dejected Barça sides. For Koeman’s men, the Clasico result must be swept aside because the manager in opposition dugout on Saturday provides a subtle reminder of what can happen if they fail to do so, the 18/19 season. 

Forgetting El Clasico 

“I don’t know, eh,” Jordi Alba’s words to Gerard Pique after Barcelona’s defeat to Real Madrid are simple, but those that know the place they are coming from know that they have the weight of fear and trauma behind them. 

The conversation between the pair started with Pique stating “Relax, we will win [the cup final]” with the fullback replying “I don’t know, eh.” Unable to hear the centre back responds with “What?” before Barça’s fullback states again, “I don’t know [if we will win it].” 

Alba is known to crumble in big games, under pressure. (Photo via Imago)

Alba’s doubt most likely casts back to the defeat in the Supercopa final, but in those words, “I don’t know” are the results of Anfield, the Valencia cup final, Bayern Munich and all the other setbacks the club have experienced in the last few seasons.

The 32-year-old knows the importance of El Clasico and the knock-on effect defeat can have in the weeks after, especially considering the importance of the latest chapter of the fixture. 

Ronald Koeman cannot allow this psychological doubt to creep back into his team after doing phenomenally well to banish it over the last four months. There are positives to take from the weekend’s events, and it is here where the Dutchman can start to reaffirm the confidence shown throughout the Blaugranas’ 19 games unbeaten run. 

Although the defeat was a setback in Barcelona’s pursuit of La Liga, focussing on the game itself, the difference between the sides was not that great. 

It was a classic tale of two halves, with Real dominating the first with their counter attacks and Barça the second with their high positioning and possession. Koeman should find solace in the second-half performance, as his team came within the width of the crossbar of rescuing a point despite the added battle of monsoon-like conditions. 

The match was somewhat ideal preparation for the final, as Athletic Club are also fantastic in transitions and are specifically very effective on both flanks of the pitch, areas of space that were exploited by Real. However, they are themselves in a sour spot, having already lost the Copa del Rey final 2020, against Real Sociedad, which was played no more than 2 weeks back.

Bilbao will be hoping to win at least one of the Copa del Reys. (Photo via Imago)

Koeman will need to address this throughout the week, and it would not be a surprise if the Dutchman opted for four at the back for the cup final.  

Another positive for Koeman is the timing of this cup final, as a result on each side of the coin could have an enormous effect on Barça’s season. Although defeat has the potential to ruin the Catalan sides season, there is no better way to bounce back from a defeat to Real Madrid than lifting a trophy, and it could be a springboard towards doing the double. 

The problem for Koeman with addressing the doubts of Alba and others is not only the uncertainty left by the Clasico but the final of the Supercopa de España as well. 

Expelling the Memories of the Supercopa Final

January seems a lifetime ago in terms of how Ronald Koeman’s team has developed over the months since. The formation has changed, Barcelona started winning big games, and a winning mentality has been firmly instilled in the squad. The Catalan club as a whole are moving in the right direction, and winning a trophy will somewhat symbolise this.   

The Copa del Rey final will be the fourth time this season Barca have faced Athletic Club, winning two out of the three previous meetings. 

Despite this, it is that single loss that has the potential to cause problems in the minds of the players on Saturday. The final of the Supercopa de España was the match that got away and reminded everyone in the squad of the embarrassing moments the club has experienced over the last three seasons. 

Barça were one minute away from securing their first trophy since lifting La Liga in May 2019 until Asier Villalibre equalised to take the final to extra time. Iñaki William put Athletic Club’s name on the trophy with a wonderful strike leaving Koeman’s men dejected. 

Inaki splashed water on Barcelona’s dreams. (Photo via Imago)

Jordi Alba’s doubts regarding this season’s Copa del Rey final most likely stems from this game, and if the full-back is thinking this way, there could be others as well. 

Going into the final, Koeman must focus on the two wins the Catalan side have had over Marcelino’s men. The last time the sides met, Barcelona won the match 2-1 at the Camp Nou and performed brilliantly with the scoreline flattering the Basque side. Barca exploited Athletic Club on the wings and created multiple chances to score goals, with the winner coming from an Oscar Mingueza cross down the right. 

Koeman can also turn to Athletic Club’s form for inspiration, with the Basque side winning only 4 of their last 14 matches. Within this run was a defeat in last years edition of the Copa del Rey final, in which Marcelino’s side lost to local rivals Real Sociedad 1-0.

At present, Barcelona are a much better side than Athletic Club. Form, head-to-head meetings, and the quality of players all fall in the favour of the Catalan side but having mentioned all this doubt, and how Koeman can address it, the fact is that there might still be some thanks to a recent encounter with the Basque side’s manager Marcelino. 

The Ghost of the 2019 Final

In the 18/19 season, a Lionel Messi inspired Barca side were charging towards an unexpected treble at the start of May. With the league already wrapped up, two fixtures stood out within the final month of the season, a trip to Liverpool and the Copa del Rey final.

The result away to Liverpool left Barcelona dejected. (Photo via Imago)

On the 7th of May, the infamous night at Anfield occurred, where Barcelona let a 3-0 lead from the first leg slip and failed to reach the Champions League final. The experience was confidence shattering and was not ideal with the cup final around the corner. 

The 2019 Copa del Rey final was contested between Barcelona, and a Marcelino led Valencia. The Southeastern outfit won the tie 2-1 thanks to two first-half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo. As a stand only fixture, there is nothing special about this tie. However, the significance of this final to current events lies in the weeks that lead up to the final. 

In the 17 days between Anfield and Andalucía, that one match would consistently nag away at the Barca players. Gerard Pique recently called that night the worst defeat of his career and previously stated that he believed that if they won that night, they would have claimed the Copa del Rey as well. 

Fast forward to now, and the similarities are present. Barça go into a cup final against a Marcelino led side after a disheartening defeat in an important El Clasico

Luckily for Ronald Koeman, things are much different. The Dutchman’s team is certainly a better one who have been in fantastic form of late, the defeat in El Clasico did not end Barca’s hopes of winning La Liga, and despite Jordi Alba’s doubts, the player’s confidence will not have taken the same level of a confidence hit the Anfield defeat brought.  

However, it is still a memory that remains and Marcelino will only remind them of that.

Ruining Barcelona’s party. (Photo via Imago)

The 2021 Copa del Rey final is nicely poised for fans of Spanish football. For Barca fans, it will ultimately show whether this team has overcome their psychological traumas of the past. The signs in the previous rounds seem to suggest that they have, but with Barcelona, you never know. 

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