As Ronald Koeman will face a mammoth challenge in his return to Barcelona as a manager, we present five areas the Dutchman’s profile and skills could help improve while he looks to lead the club back to former glories.
With the new season looming large and a huge mountain to climb, Barcelona legend Ronald Koeman has returned but as the manager and has been given full control over everything, but this is no romantic, social call by any means. Below we will explore what and how Koeman can do to fix such a great club.
One thing always guaranteed at a Ronald Koeman side is a solid foundation at the back. While although a bit pragmatic at first, it is necessary. With a lot of teams playing high lines with fast or slow defenders more often than not, the high line can and will be exploited by world-class attackers. It is no surprise Barcelona suffer from the same problem.
Even when they had defensive reinforcement in the 2017/2018 season, the solidity eventually disappeared. Not only is Koeman an adept organiser at the back, but he also is one of the best centre-halves to have played the game and passed on wisdom to the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and more and the rewards have been reaped.
In a league like La Liga, if you are not imaginative or reactive, you will not survive as a manager or a player. Barcelona under Quique Setién sorely lacked the ability to react to an opponent, sometimes not even bringing on any substitutes and trying the same methods used against lower clubs as well as better clubs.
As La Liga will officially allow five substitutions for the 2020/21 season, Ronald Koeman could benefit from it with his large Barça squad | Photo by Miguel Medina / AFP via Getty Images
For the Netherlands, especially in the big games, Koeman’s substitutes always have an instant impact not primarily to quality but because there is a clear plan instead of panicking. He does it for the sake of bringing youthful attacking sparks, like Donyell Malen scoring as a substitute in the 4–2 win over Germany a year ago. Although not as reactive as someone like Marcelo Bielsa, Koeman isn’t the type of person to base his entire game plan around the opponent, as he is not one who sacrifices part of the collective for another branch.
In most possession teams including Barcelona, the positioning and movement of the cogs are like an unstable liquid, which is good when on the ball but can be disastrous off of it, which is where I feel Koeman is at his peak. There’s no denying that Koeman isn’t a direct and orthodox Cruyffista, and his work at Southampton, Everton and Netherlands solidifies this.
At Southampton, there were moments he knew when he couldn’t play out of the back, especially with the personnel he had, and against some wishes, the best way to progress the ball is to stay off it and work together as a team to occupy various zones as well as on the ball. However, his team is ideally built on fixing the weaknesses while improving the strengths which has seen the likes of Dušan Tadić, Sadio Mané and Romelu Lukaku develop into world-class goal threats as well as the re-emergence of Memphis Depay for the national team.
With an ageing squad that has already won everything, it’s frank that after a humiliation that the more senior players just don’t care because they have already won the glory before in their prime. Koeman always makes his players give everything from the word go and nobody is safe. This has become evident when he booted out several deadwood in the first couple of weeks.
“I think it is the moment to give opportunities to the young players who deserve it. We are not afraid if they are can prove they are up for it. I think they have quality but it is also true that you have to have balance [between youth and experience]”Ronald Koeman, in his presentation as a Barça Manager
Although most would prefer a younger spine of the team altogether, Koeman can still get the best out of both young and old players, and can even make averagely talented players fit the system. In 2019, he said: “If I have a 30-year-old and a 22-year-old with the same performance, I would favour the 22-year-old as he is the future”. Now from this assumption, it may be wishful thinking to assume that shining youngsters in Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig will get more minutes, but if it’s true will definitely please most Barça fans.
Team chemistry – or lack thereof –, as well as a system incompatible and not knowing what to do for years, has hurt Barcelona. This may never be fixed until the next Johan Cruyff or Pep Guardiola legendary figure comes around. The squad is currently sorely lacking in width, even with the signings of Francisco Trincão and Pedri, so most opponents would often sit deep and narrow, and also benefit from Barça’s lack of dynamic midfielders.
The emergence of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig has brought back some sparks of positivity. The key to a lethal attack is a forward/s with unpredictable movement off the ball and the ability to do more than just score goals when on the ball. Koeman could bring the best out of Antoine Griezmann too, which we have seen in flashes, especially after publicly addressing he was largely played out of position.
“With all due respect, Griezmann isn’t a winger. He needs to play where he has his entire life, showcasing all of his qualities”Ronald koeman, after being appointed Barça manager in an interview with NOS Voetbal,
Ronald Koeman has absolutely no easy task ahead of him, but fortune favours the bold, and the task of steadying the shipwrecked boat of Barcelona is anything if not bold.
Ousmane Dembélé: Is the serious business finally about to start?
After three long campaigns plagued by injury, many hope that Ousmane Dembélé can overcome these issues in the 2020/21 season. The young Frenchman has exceptional talent and, on his day, can change the outcome of the match at any moment.
As the second most expensive player in the club’s history, Ousmane Dembélé has not lived up to his price tag yet. Having missed the majority of matches at Barcelona due to injury, it has been a frustrating time for both the player and culés.
There is no doubting the winger’s talents, but Ousmane Dembélé must prove his worth in this upcoming 2020/21 season. He has the potential to be one of the world’s best if he can stay injury-free, but will he achieve it? When he has managed to stay fit, Dembélé has been one of the most decisive players at the club, but many conditions have to be met for that to happen.
The injury problems
It is almost impossible to discuss Dembélé’s time at the Camp Nou without mentioning his injury problems. Before joining Barcelona, the pacey winger was only injured for a total of 10 days during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Then, with his move to the Spanish giants, injuries have stacked up.
According to Transfermarket, Ousmane has missed a total of 80 games due to injuries since joining in the summer of 2017. In terms of days out injured, this amounts to 512 days unavailable in just three terms. Although injuries are common in football, it is the frequency and length of Dembélé’s that are the issue. At the most important times of the season, the club has not been able to rely on him.
Questions should be asked on why the injuries started mounting up when he arrived in Barcelona. It is the same recurring injuries that are affecting the former Rennes youngster. The predominant ones are involving his hamstring and muscles. These can be serious and, without the proper treatment and recovery, can haunt a player through his full career regardless of the talent that once mesmerised the world and terrorised the opposing defences.
What Dembélé can offer
Though these injuries have been a cause of much frustration, there have been enough flashes of brilliance to convince the club to keep their faith in him. When the 23-year-old has managed to have a consistent run in the team his form continues to grow. The fake shot king can be one of the most exciting players to watch at his best. His incredible pace and dribbling can be a real asset to Barça in unlocking tight defences.
Dembélé has scored some incredible goals at the club already. His goals in the Champions League against Tottenham and his thunderbolt winner against Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup are real standouts. Being just as strong with his left foot as his right, this allows him to play on the left or right wing effectively. By April 2019 he had achieved the incredible record of having 14 goals and 14 assists with both his right foot and left foot.
So far, the Frenchman has played a total of 74 games for Barcelona, scoring 19 and assisting 16 times. It shows that he can create and score goals. Thus, ahead of the 2020/21 season, Ousmane Dembélé could be an important player for the team if he can stay fit. He could be key in taking some of the pressure from Lionel Messi in terms of having to create and score the goals for Barça.
With the likes of Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincão, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé will face tough competition this year | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
When watching Dembélé play for the Catalan side there are several impressive attributes that also stand out, apart from his pace and dribbling. One of these is his ability to drag in two or three defenders to try and contain him. This creates a lot more space for others to exploit, especially Messi. Barça have particularly struggled against teams that play a low block and Dembélé could be the player to help break these defences.
Another attribute he posses is a good connection with Messi. When Barça’s number 11 is on form, he connects well with the Argentinian. They have a good understanding of each other’s game. With Luis Suárez‘s departure from the Camp Nou, Messi will be looking for others to connect with in attack. Both are creative and can pick out difficult passes.
The 2020/21 season, already his fourth at the club, will be the most important in the Barcelona career of the still young Ousmane Dembélé. If another long-term injury strikes, then it is likely patience will run out with him. He can make basic mistakes such as misplacing simple passes, being out of position and lacking composure in front of goals. He does return from injuries rusty and the ball bounces off him or his control lets him down at times.
But the potential the winger has when he plays is endless. Dembélé is a special player and could be a generational talent if able to play regularly. If he can stay injury-free, he could be the second most important player at the club, after Messi. One of the most enjoyable players to watch on his day, Dembélé needs to perform this season and fulfil his potential.