Reality finally seems to have hit Barcelona fans in the gut. They have had a week full of distress, starting with Messi turning 33, to Arthur Melo’s move to Juventus almost being confirmed. The draw with Celta de Vigo yesterday didn’t ease their emotions in any manner whatsoever. But, as the transfer of Arthur to Juventus is virtually confirmed, how should Barça use him until the season ends?
The Barcelona board continues to receive severe slander from the fans across all social media platforms for their most bizarre transfer activity. There are numerous reasons why they are disappointed with Arthur Melo leaving to Juventus, and at this point, it requires no elaboration. With the swap deal for Miralem Pjanić going through for sure, there is now a need to discuss what’s next for Barcelona.
Situation till the end of season
Losing Arthur Melo within two seasons is a massive blow, but nothing can be done about that. Instead of lamenting over spilt milk, the Catalans should aim to use the best out of him for the remaining games. The draw with Celta is a clear implication of the fact that manager Quique Setién hasn’t figured his best XI yet. Since the restart, the azulgranas have faltered twice, against Sevilla and now former Barcelona player Óscar García’s célticos.
Real Madrid is now in the driving seat, and a win against rock bottom RCD Espanyol de Barcelona will put a two-point gap between the top two. Setién’s men can’t afford to slip beyond this as it would be impossible to close a wider gap considering how well Los Blancos have been playing lately. And so, the Spanish tactician will have to resolve the various loopholes that the opposing sides have been exploiting, one of them being the midfield’s sludginess.
“He’s a valuable player to our team and he’s just as important as the others”
From a long term point of view, Arthur leaving the blaugranas is bound to hurt the club. But rather than lamenting over the unchangeable, they must now focus on the title race that’s ahead. The Brazilian is still available for Setién to use till the end of the season. A player like Arthur can always be counted on even if his future no longer remains at the Camp Nou.
Even though Setién has the option to use Arthur in the remaining games, it’s unlikely that he would play him for lengthy periods. Since Melo isn’t going to stay beyond the season’s conclusion, the manager might think it’s better to work on the future. With Riqui Puig emerging as a promising talent, he might be inclined to integrate the 20-year-old with the first team.
Instead of playing Arthur in the midfield, who possibly might no longer even have his head in the game, Setién could be thinking of altering the midfield combinations. The Brazilian came on in the 86th minute against Celta for a brief cameo. And this could be the sign of things to come. The 23-year-old could be deployed into restricted roles with limited game time. As much as it may sting, one can’t blame Setién if he doesn’t choose to play Arthur anymore because he must have an eye on the future.
Quique Setién could favour other options in midfield | Photo by Octavio Passos via Getty Images
That being said, Arthur Melo is a fantastic player who is capable of providing a calming presence in the midfield. At his best, Arthur can impose himself into the patterns of play and ensure that the game is under control. His ability to resist the opposing press and retain the ball makes him close to impossible to dispossess. There is a reason why Barça fans rate him so highly, as he has changed games on several occasions in the past.
Setién might have a selection headache in the coming days. Not using Arthur when he is tactically needed for the game might not go well with the fans. Notwithstanding, on the same lines, working on establishing a more long-term midfield combination is in no way wrong. Either way, Setién is bound to receive criticism. If he plays Arthur regularly, the fans who have an eye on the future will question his lack of farsightedness. But if he doesn’t use him at all, then he may be branded as stubborn for not bringing on a competent player like Arthur to change the game.
What should Arthur do?
At this point, it’s evident that the former Grêmio man is being pushed out by the board. Although he never thought of anything aside from succeeding at the Camp Nou, he is being discarded as unimportant. Nobody can blame him for being frustrated with the club who he considered as a “dream to play for”.
But now that his move to Juventus is nearly completed, he must look ahead to a bright future. Even if it’s not at Barcelona, Arthur possesses the qualities to succeed as a player. With a project that gives him more value, Melo can shine as a bianconerri. But before that, he might have something to prove to the current regime.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu and the fellow board members are so short-sighted that they can’t see how good of a player they’re letting go of. With the Catalans running behind immediate success, the signing of Miralem Pjanić seems to be a question mark. But prior to the Bosnian’s arrival, there is still a crucial title race and the Champions League to play for.
Arthur must keep his head up and exit on a high. If the manager trusts him till the end of the season and plays him regularly, he should repay the faith by performing well. He must give his best even though his future lies in Turin. By pitching in match-winning performances, Arthur can show the board that they are making a mistake. There is nothing better than proving the people who let you go that they are wrong, and Melo should look to do the same. If he manages to play an instrumental part in retaining the title, and also potentially winning the Champions League, then he will leave as a hero.
The fans will anyways make noise for the board’s horrendous decision. But Arthur can at least give them a parting gift by showing commitment and highlighting his love for the club that he never wanted to leave.
The ball is in Quique Setién’s court. Playing Arthur is solely his decision to make. Whether it’s a lengthy role or cameos, the number 8 should be involved at any cost because of his tactical qualities and how capable he is. It might not be easy to convince anyone but no matter what call Setién makes, he must stay firm to it. Being swayed by the Spanish media’s stone-cold criticism will only hamper his chances succeeding this season.
The plans for next season can wait for now, with more immediate activities that require tending to. In his own words, there is no margin for error, and the Catalans need to sharpen up. If they continue to get distracted by off-pitch issues, then it would only propel Real Madrid closer to the title. As challenging as it may be, all the parties involved in Arthur’s unprecedented exit must look to provide the best they can till the time to depart eventually comes.
Copa Del Rey final: Forgetting El Clasico, Supercopa Final and more
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.