Konrad is an exciting winger playing in a crowded Barcelona side. Could playing as a full-back solve both his and Barcelona’s problems?
Konrad De La Fuente recently debuted for Barcelona, after which he was singled out by coach Ronald Koeman as one youngster that especially excites him. His path is not one we see in the usual La Masia graduates. Born in Miami, Florida, Konrad moved to Barcelona with his family when he was just 10. Playing for CF Damm, Konrad caught the attention of Barcelona’s scouts just two years later. Since then, he has progressed well through the ranks of La Masia and he becomes the newest debutant at 19 years of age for the Blaugrana.
At a team like Barcelona, there is competition for every position. With additional players joining every year and the mismanagement of the youth academy, the pathway to the first team is especially tough now. Some players who are prodigies like Fati, combined with luck, make their mark early. However, the players who were heralded to be the next generation of superstars such as Alena, Puig, Oriol Busquets, Juan Miranda have found it very difficult to establish themselves as Barcelona first-team players. In such times, one way that these players can benefit is by improving their versatility the way Sergi Roberto did and try breaking into a different position. With Barcelona’s full-back problems very apparent as of now, an interesting question can be raised. Can Konrad transition into the modern full-back role and get better opportunities there?
The apparent problems
Let’s get the aspects that appear to be problems out of the way first. Konrad has not played at full-back before, neither has he played in a defensive position. He hasn’t proven himself to be a good tackler of the ball. These issues might make it seem like he clearly can’t transition into a full-back. However, there are strong counter-arguments to this.
Firstly, he hasn’t played in those positions before. Regardless of this, the number of wingers who successfully make the transition to left-back is quite large. Some world-class full-backs like Patrice Evra, David Alaba were once wingers who transitioned into the defensive role. Even Konard’s teammate at Barcelona, Jordi Alba was once a winger. Alba was unable to make a mark at Barcelona as a youngster but at Valencia, he showed his talent which made the Catalans bring him back to Camp Nou. This time, as a full-back. The transition from winger to full-back is much easier than other transitions. The pace, agility, and attacking instinct needed for a modern full-back is something that a winger like Konrad has in abundance.
Photo by MANU FERNANDEZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
One of the other aspects of defending is positioning.
“If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake.”Paolo Maldini
Building upon this quote, something that often is ignored is the fact that positional play is the important part and tackles come secondary to it. As a La Masia graduate, Konrad has been trained in the art of juego de posicion for almost a decade now. He is a very smart winger who knows how to position himself ideally. As a winger, knowing when to receive the ball and knowing where to drive forward from is very important. To complement his blistering pace, this aspect of his play makes him a very efficient dribbler. It would also help his transition into left-back significantly.
Secondly, the other problem is the fact that he isn’t the tallest player at 1.7m. The misconceptions surrounding the importance of physique are surprisingly still quite common. Though being taller can be an advantage, the low centre of gravity afforded by a height such as Konrad’s is very useful for a Barcelona full-back. We saw it with Dani Alves especially. Another player who has played both as a full-back and winger, the Brazilian is considered to be one of the best Barcelona players of all time. His height wasn’t that impressive, nor did he look the strongest. But his positional play, tactical intelligence, and pace helped him develop into one of the best full-backs in the world.
“He already stood out when he arrived in Barcelona,” “He was different because he had a very high technical level. He has great peripheral vision, amazing drive on the ball when shooting and dribbling, and is able to play at a high intensity.”Pedro marcet
Barcelona has an impressive winger who would make a case for starting for most La Liga sides. However, Konrad plays for a club with incredible standards in player quality. With Dembele, Trincao, Fati, Pedri, and sometimes even Griezmann having the ability to play as left-wingers and the right-wing spot belonging to Messi, though he has a free role mostly, Konrad might get the best chances by playing as a left wing-back.
Barcelona’s starting left-back, Jordi Alba, unfortunately, doesn’t have the quality he once did. The second left-back, Junior Firpo, is better suited to a 5-man defense and has struggled to play well for Barcelona. For a pacey, smart, aware winger like Konrad who came up through the ranks of La Masia, the left-back role might just be the way to establishing himself in the first team.
Ronald Koeman and a case of poor game-management
Ronald Koeman has had a rollercoaster of a start to life as Barcelona manager. He had an excellent opening week, claiming a thumping 4-0 home win against Villarreal as well as a 3-0 away victory at Celta Vigo, but since then, things have started derailed.
From no goal against and seven for in his first two to six apiece over his last four matches, the Catalan side seems to be crumbling under the immense pressure being placed on their shoulders. The cherry on this miserable cake was his poor game-management against Real Madrid as Barcelona chased the game for the last 30 minutes, eventually succumbing to a 3-1 loss.
The starting line up
Dest – Pique – Lenglet – Jordi Alba
Busquets – F. De Jong
Pedri – Lionel Messi – Coutinho
On paper, this is one of the best starting line ups that Koeman could have played against Real Madrid. Sergiño Dest was finally playing in his rightful position, Jordi Alba was back from injury, Sergio Busquets was there to provide defensive aid to de Jong and Pedri, a 17-year-old in phenomenal form was deservedly called up to play. Normally, this should have been a good game given the perfect blend of the zeal and zest that comes with youth and the calmness and composure that comes from the experience; however, it was anything but.
Busquets has seen far better nights in his time as a Blaugrana. In the game, he was often poorly positioned, lost possession countless times and was simply incapable of playing through the pressure imposed on him by the defending champions.
Pedri meanwhile made little to no impact. This was to be expected given the fact that he is most influential when playing down the middle but Koeman decided to use him as an out and out winger instead with no explanation.
Pedri was no by means poor; but was a lot less influential than what he can be. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Perhaps due to his injury, and the fact that he was completely out of position, Philippe Coutinho wasn’t as effective as he has or could have been. Jordi Alba had a rather good first half and easily could have had two assists, but his influence decreased as both the game and his legs wore on.
Real Madrid were forced into making their first change early on, but unlike his counterpart, Zinedine Zidane made a tactical change at a time when the player in question had adequate time to make an impact. Given the fact that Pedri, Coutinho, Busquets and Alba simply weren’t having their day, and that Koeman had five substitutions at his disposal, he should have taken them off well before the 82nd minute, when his first change was made.
Keeping in mind the strength in depth that the hosts had on the bench, Koeman should have made like for like changes in the team to both add some of the much-needed dynamism in play as well as maintain a structured shape when in possession of the ball. Instead, he opted for the following:
- Antoine Griezmann for Fati
- Ousmane Dembele for Busquets
- Fransisco Trincão for Pedri
- Martin Braithwaite for Alba
These substitutes served to worsen the team’s functionality in possession, as no one was anywhere where they could actually make an impact on proceedings. The formation essentially went from what was a fairly balanced 4-2-3-1 to a 3-1-6 and with no clear plan for how the six forward players were to position themselves.
Subbing off Alba for a striker seemed like a bizarre decision. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Even with Junior Firpo and Miralem Pjanic at his disposal, players who would help in ball circulation while maintaining a reasonable offensive shape, Koeman decided to patch up the holes he saw in the team by adding more attacking players but this inadvertently made them bigger.
The Dutchman made the same mistakes against Getafe, bringing on Riqui Puig for Sergi Roberto in the dying minutes of the game. Not to mention he subbed on Braithwaite for Frenkie de Jong which crumbled the team structure.
What does this tell us about Koeman?
Sergio Ramos scored the penalty that put the visitors in the lead in the 64th minute. There was more than enough time, for Koeman to think of the changes that he could make which would — at the very least — last 25 minutes.
While the sample size is rather small, thus far we could say that he doesn’t seem to have a plan B whenever the team is in a losing position and that his fear of defeat impedes his judgment. Koeman had an abundance of quality on the bench but has made deplorable use of it. This stems from either out of a complete lack of trust in his players’ suitability in the team or distrust in his own tactics.
As a result, the players on the pitch, such as Griezmann – who made just a single touch in his short cameo role – were just as clueless, if not more than their manager.
Where do the improvements lie?
There is obviously an improvement in the football that the team is playing thus far in La Liga. As Jose Bordalas said, Barcelona is more direct than they were in previous seasons but this exuberance can only last so long, especially with players like Busquets who are on the wrong end of thirty. In games like this or the one against Getafe, the manager needs to have a clear and concise plan in mind on what to do whenever the team is trailing.
Bartomeu is gone, and Koeman’s fate lies in the hand of the new president. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
While he could be forgiven for a shaky start to the campaign, he will not be given a lot of time, not as much as Ernesto Valverde got, especially given a change in administration due very soon. Xavi is a clear target for most of the presidential candidates and if Koeman wants to keep his job beyond this season, then he needs to work on his squad management. This can come by shaking up the setup from time to time and showing some more faith in what is one of the best, most complete squads Barcelona has had in years.