If Culés were ever facing a dilemma whether Oscar Mingueza was truly worthy of being a regular in the first team – still unsure regarding the Spaniard’s talents –, his exceptional performances against Sevilla over the last two games must have surely been the nail in the coffin, elevating his status not only in the team; but amongst the fans well. As Mingueza proceeds to prove doubters wrong and make a name for himself in a team going through a tricky season, Barcelona appear to have unearthed a gem for the future.
During the time Sergiño Dest had been out injured this campaign, spectators were used to seeing Mingueza own the right flank, a position he is vastly unfamiliar with, but one that he gradually began to make hay with. By simply fulfilling the basics, Mingueza established himself as a reliable outlet in Ronald Koeman’s XI. It was made apparent that replacing a marauding speedster like Dest was bound to be a tough ask – given the raw speed and trickery the US international possessed – and questions were constantly raised over his offensive output as well as how it impacted his defensive concentration.
Even so, while the complaints were at times validated, catering to the number 28’s needs by placing him in a position he is far more amicable with, it’s safe to say Pimienta’s prodigy has blossomed like none other. The 3-5-2 hybrid system was an unconventional choice to begin with, yet it enabled Ronald Koeman to bring the best out of the profiles available.
Mingueza, in particular, has been tasked to start in a back 3, alongside Gerard Piqué and Clement Lenglet, where his aggression to neutralize the opposition’s plays from the right-hand side have proven to be critical. Forming a solid alliance with his partners in crime, he managed to successfully keep two clean sheets in two games against one of Spain’s most efficient sides, Sevilla.
Albeit conceding a penalty in the Copa del Rey encounter stained what could have been an unimpaired display, his ability to continuously keep the Andalusian teams’ nifty forwards at bay with aerial dominance and positional proficiency elevated Barcelona’s daring approach upfront.
With defensive duties expanded and authority to occasionally rotate roles with Dest, La Masia’s pearl was not just limited to closing down passing lanes or compress spaces; but he played a commanding high line and did not show any hesitation to burst forward, which eventually proved to suffocate Sevilla and forced them to play long balls in both encounters.
The truculent nature of Barcelona’s defence translated to the forwards, helping the side press valiantly and thriving in their build-up as neat one-touch passing would seamlessly allow the Catalans to bypass the first wave of pressure. Furthermore, an attribute that makes the young starlet a promising prospect is undoubtedly his versatility. The beaming blonde boy from Catalonia has shown on various occasions that he can comfortably break an opposition’s lines by carrying the ball up-field as well as execute well-timed tackles.
The 21-year-old made 5 tackles and won 6 ground duels in the game at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. At the Camp Nou, he had another exceptional exhibition – bar the penalty –. Still, he lacked polish at times and tended to rush into challenges, which is something he is only going to learn with time. Despite the youngster showing applaudable performances at centre-back, it is worth noting that Mingueza has invariably exceeded expectations wherever he is employed on the field.
The jack of all trades‘ limitations at right-back were made evident in various encounters, but his anticipation of opponents is simply a testament to the 21-year-old’s upbringing at La Masia. While raiding up-field his decision making may not always be ideal, his ability to cover large distances and situate himself according to different phases of play enables him to adjust into the team.
After neglecting academy graduates for years – unquestionably Barcelona’s most prized possession –, the academy has once again started to produce talents tailor-made for the Barcelona style. Oscar Mingueza is one of the many upcoming stars to have arrived at the first team, having already registered 25 matches.
A conundrum for the soon to be elected president would be the extension of Oscar Mingueza, who’s current deal lasts only till the end of this season. Despite reports suggesting that Real Betis have approached the player, the Blaugranas’ financial predicament and the spike in performances from this prodigy imply that he has warranted an extension and should continue to be relied upon. It’s becoming glaringly obvious that Mingueza has successfully surpassed the status of a fringe player.
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.