La Masía winger Konrad de la Fuente has been impressing as a substitute in the Barcelona first team preseason, but could this earn him a chance under Ronald Koeman?
19-year-old Konrad de la Fuente took just 27 minutes in the pre-season club friendly against Girona to make the Barcelona fans sit up straight in excitement, with a dazzling display of direct ball carrying and dribbling on the left wing. So much so that corners of the Barcelona fan section are already discussing the mouth-watering prospect of seeing him more frequently in the blaugrana colours for the senior team.
Konrad joined La Masia in 2013 and has gone from strength to strength, breaking into the B-team last season and putting up short yet dazzling displays for the senior team this pre-season.
Goal threat, dribbles and progressive runs
Konrad de La Fuente has played just about 419 minutes for Barcelona B in the Segunda B division, with him mostly being a member of the Juvenil A (U19) last season. His minutes in Segunda B are too small a sample to judge him completely, but he has already scored 3 goals – twice against Real Valladolid Promesas and once against AE Prat – and provided 1 assist in that limited amount of game time.
He was arguably one of the more impressive players in the play-offs for promotion to Segunda, always bringing verticality with his direct running and speed. Should he return to play for Barcelona B, he is going to be a key player for them on the wing, and one can only hope he will continue where he left off with his goal threat. While not a prolific scorer himself, his runs should open it up for his teammates to take advantage and score.
Konrad ranks very highly in progressive runs and dribbles attempted, and the 19-year-old is only expected to get better at dribbling proficiency. Barcelona has a real gem of a winger in hand, and hopefully new first-team coach Ronald Koeman is going to take special care in polishing him into a world-class winger for the club.
Konrad came on in the second half around the 60-minute mark to replace Philippe Coutinho on the left wing. The substitutions by Koeman brought on ninee youngsters to the pitch simultaneously, with only Neto and Ronald Araújo staying on from first half. The young legs immediately brought an uptick in the intensity and speed, contributed to by Konrad in no small amount.
From the very beginning, the American was willing to show for the ball in deep and middle third areas and then turn and run at the defenders. He beat the right-back of Girona a couple of times with ridiculous burst of speed and showed some silky skills to retain the ball under pressure from opponents.
A couple of smooth stepovers, quick pass-and-run, taking on defenders – Konrad did almost everything you could probably ask from a young winger. Here are his activities from the Wednesday friendly:
He had three direct runs into the box and followed up two of those with very dangerous passes into the central areas of the box. One of them was gathered by the Girona goalkeeper; the other one was a key-pass to set up youngster Pedri for a shot which the Girona keeper saved admirably. Here is a short gif of the run leading up to the key pass to Pedri:
Such impressive was his display that Ronald Koeman singled him out for praise in the post-match interviews. Quoting him: “If I had to highlight one of the youngsters, I would say Konrad, I am really happy with him. But we also have Pedri, Riqui [Puig]…We have great a future ahead of us”. Early indications sound very positive indeed.
Going ahead, this season might see Konrad getting more and more practice time and maybe a few minutes of game time with the senior team, but he is expected to play the bulk of the minutes with the B team.
What works against Konrad is that Barcelona is too stacked up front – there are just too many players ahead of him in the pecking order to accommodate. The good thing is: La Liga are still allowing five substitutions, and if the games in charge of Netherlands national team are any indication, Koeman isn’t shy of making sweeping second-half changes.
So, there might still be hope that Konrad debuts for the senior team in an official La Liga fixture. At the very least, he should be making his debut in the Copa del Rey matches. Hopefully, he keeps up his good run of form throughout the season and helps Barcelona through these tumultuous times.
Antoine Griezmann’s chance is now, or possibly never
With an injury to Philippe Coutinho, there is now a place available in the starting eleven, which also coincidentally happens to be Antoine Griezmann’s preferred position. If he is to succeed at Barcelona, now might be his chance.
Philippe Coutinho returned from his loan spell at Bayern Munich and was reassured of his importance to the team by Ronald Koeman. The manager promised to play him through the middle, where he is most comfortable, and the results were clear. The same cannot be said for Antoine Griezmann.
The Frenchman has been made to play out of position on the right and is to establish himself in his best role, in behind the striker. However, with the injury to Coutinho, this could be his chance to prove his worth in Catalonia. There is no doubting the 29-year-old’s quality, but he faces strong competition from others in the squad for a starting place in the team.
Will Griezmann get his chance?
Antoine Griezmann has found himself in an unfamiliar position both on and off the field recently. On the pitch, Griezmann has been played on the right-wing, and it has not suited him. Off the field, he has started from the bench in the last two matches. The World Cup winner is used to being one of the most important players in the squad and a guaranteed starter. However, his form has been poor this season, and his confidence plummeted.
“Griezmann no longer knows how to play football with the Barça jersey. He no longer finds his place. It’s been eighteen months, so it’s impacting his head, and the situation is really critical for him.”Lizarazu (ex-France international) | Goal
The key to getting the best out of the World Cup winner is by playing him centrally. In fact, he has gone on to publicly say that he prefers playing centrally and that Didier Deschamps knows where to play him.
He prefers the ball at feet and being able to link with others around him. Griezmann loves creating chances and can also score goals. The forward wants to be involved in the plays and dictate the game constantly. Therefore, he must convince his the manager that he is the man for the attacking midfielder position, where he can function as a second striker.
Antoine Griezmann is one of the best players in the world; but is not being treated like one. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
The former Atletico Madrid star needs to recover his form if he wishes to regain a starting position. On his day, the World Cup winner unplayable and amongst the best in the world. He could be influential in helping Barcelona win trophies this season. Furthermore, having such an expensive price tag and a huge salary means it is difficult to leave him on the bench. Therefore, it is likely that Koeman will give him opportunities to convince himself, especially against Juventus, as he is yet to find the right balance within the team.
Competiton for Griezmann
Barcelona are absolutely stacked both in the forward and midfield areas. Against Real Madrid, Koeman opted to play Lionel Messi as the attacking midfielder, after five games of being used as a false nine, previously so it will be interesting to see where he plays against Juventus on Wednesday night.
Another player that can play as in that role is Pedri. The 17-year-old already looks to be a perfect match for the Blaugranas and should be considered for the game against the Old Lady.
The former Las Palmas player has already shown positive signs and was Barcelona’s only bright spark in the 1-0 defeat to Getafe. Pedri is an all-round AM and has amazing positioning and awareness. Additionally, he boasts of some impeccable footwork, vision and is creative in the final third. Most importantly, at the age of 17, he has displayed immense confidence and is slowly becoming Koeman’s favourites, so it is likely he features in some capacity.
One player that culés have been crying out for this season is Riqui Puig. It has been disappointing to see one of Barça’s best talents accumulate just five minutes as a substitute this season. This is not a way to treat or develop such a talent. In fact, when the Spaniard has played, he has consistently been one of the Catalan side’s best performers and deserves more game time based on merit.
Options, options, options. (Photo by David Ramirez via Imago)
Finally, another La Masia graduate that has been overlooked this season in Carles Aleñá. He possesses all the right attributes to play as an attacking midfielder. Aleñá is energetic, quick at moving the ball, and can play in tight areas. As part of the La Masia for several years, he also has adept positional play, and the ability to pick out a pass. The 22-year-old is too good to remain on the bench all season and should get opportunities to prove himself on the pitch.
The injury to Philippe Coutinho is unfortunate and comes at a horrible time for the club. However, this does leave the door open for others to fight for a starting role, and impress Ronald Koeman in his absence.
Leading this competition is Antoine Griezmann, who is looking to capitalise on his favoured position becoming available. He needs to take his chance quickly, though if he is to secure it for himself. There are young talents that are desperate to play and show the manager why they should be starting. Whoever does start, the competition for places should be a strong incentive for the players to give their all.