Barcelona struggled to a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou in the first fixture between the two sides. Ronald Koeman arguably started his strongest XI in this game. In the return leg, the manager selected an almost unrecognisable team with many fringe players being given the opportunity to impress along with two debutants.
In the first half, Barça showed a lot of intent. The tempo and energy from the away side was excellent as they moved the ball around quickly and pressed relentlessly. Both full-backs offered a lot going forward and allowed the wingers to cut inside. The double-pivot positioned themselves well to recover possession and be available for their teammates. Only a goal was missing from a promising first-half display.
It did not take long for the goals to finally start coming as the Spanish giants showed their class. Their levels never dropped during the second period, and everyone worked hard on and off the ball. Every player that featured showed Koeman that they deserve a place in the lineup.
Marc-André ter Stegen: 6.5
The German shot-stopper had a relatively uneventful evening and was rarely tested throughout the match. The captain had to make a couple of half-decent saves, but nothing he could not handle. He distributed the ball well and found his targets with his usual accuracy. A clean sheet away from home in the UEFA Champions League should always give a team confidence.
Sergiño Dest: 8.5
Sergino Dest with a finish centre-forwards dream of. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
Sergiño Dest had another awe-inspiring display for Barcelona. His attacking output was phenomenal, and he continuously bombarded down the right flank and got in behind the Dynamo Kyiv defence. His timing was spot on, and his positioning was almost faultless. He defended well when called into action and never looked uncomfortable. For years Barcelona have searched for a natural right-back that can deliver performances like this; someone who can fill in the behemoth void left by Dani Alves.
Dest opened the scoring for the Catalans with a beautiful finish across the keeper and into the far side of the goal. The former Ajax player seems to have already adapted to life at the Camp Nou. He has everything to succeed at Barça as he looks to cement his place in the starting line-up.
Óscar Mingueza: 8
As Barcelona struggle for fit centre backs, Óscar Mingueza certainly showed that he is capable of stepping up. The Spaniard put in a commanding display and was eager to impress. The defender was a bit rough around the edges, committing to challenges too forcefully at times. With that said, Mingueza was one of many highlights from the game.
He showed how well he reads the game and has great anticipation. The debutant was full of confidence and seemed to show up at the right place at the right time on more than one occasion. He distributed the ball efficiently and completed 92.5% of his passes. Moreover, he looked like a real leader at the back, something that has been missing for a while. The cherry on top came as Mingueza assisted the second goal after his flick-on at the near post allowed Martin Braithwaite an easy tap in.
🗣 — Koeman: “Mingueza could play more matches as a centre-back. Today he proved himself.”— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 24, 2020
Clément Lenglet: 6.5
Clément Lenglet had a slightly quieter night than his central defensive partner. The Frenchman was caught out on a couple of occasions but did fairly well to cover up. He allowed very little to test ter Stegen and organised the defence.
His left foot is such an asset for the team, and his range of passing allows him to break through the opponent’s press. The ever-dependable defender will have to be the leader in the back four now as Gerard Piqué will be side-lined for some time.
Junior Firpo: 7
The almost forgotten man finally made a rare start at left-back for Barcelona. Junior Firpo showed why Barça bought him in the first place with an impressive attacking display. The former Real Betis man attacked well down the left side of the pitch and linked with his teammates. Considering how little the Spaniard has played since his move to Catalonia, this was a solid display.
Firpo showed that offloading him without more opportunities will be a wrong decision for Barcelona. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
In the second half, Firpo was moved to centre-back alongside Óscar Mingueza to form one of the strangest centre-back partnerships for the Blaugrana in a long time. However, the Ukrainian side hardly troubled them as the visitors dominated possession. It was certainly a positive display from Junior Firpo.
Miralem Pjanić: 6.5
Another solid performance from Pjanic who worked hard to maintain the intensity of the team. He produced his usual accuracy in the possession and kept the game flowing. The Bosnian has always been one of the best with his range of passing and set pieces.
Where he could maybe improve is his defensive contribution. As part of a double pivot, he is expected to distribute the ball and provide defensive cover. He reads the game well to make interceptions but can sometimes be too passive in winning the ball back. However, against Dynamo Kyiv he worked hard off the ball and pressed with a lot of intensity. Pjanić has clearly been working on this to try and secure more game time.
Carles Aleñá: 8
The return of Carles Aleñá did not disappoint and was long overdue. The talented midfielder showed the manager why fans have been so frustrated with his lack of chances. From the first minute to the last, Aleñá dominated the ball and ran the show for the Blaugrana. It was an impressive performance and surely warrants the midfielder a lot more minutes.
📸 — Aleñá’s pass map against Kyiv tonight.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 24, 2020
Not a back-passer at all. pic.twitter.com/Ah5QrsgW3N
One of the highlights from the game, the Spaniard completed 106 out of an attempted 107 passes in Ukraine. Having hardly played at all this season, producing a performance of that quality shows just how good a player Aleñá is. This should convince Ronald Koeman to stop ignoring La Masia’s brightest talents and to give them a chance.
Francisco Trincão: 6.5
On of the new arrivals this season, Francisco Trincão has not started many games so far. Usually the winger comes on as a substitute and does not get to influence the match as much. His inclusion in the starting line-up was a good call by the manager. The Portuguese forward was determined to impress and played his heart out until he was substituted in the 83rd minute.
There were some mistakes in his performance, but he also showed some fantastic skill and touches. Trincão has a bright future ahead of him and will only get better, especially if he shows the determination and commitment he did on Tuesday evening.
Young Pedri is living the dream at the moment. He is a regular in the starting 11 and seems to be Ronald Koeman’s favourite at just 18 years old. Last season, he was playing in the second tier of Spain and now he is playing in the UEFA Champions League. Pedri returned to a more natural central position on the pitch and looked more comfortable.
It was not his most dazzling display for Barcelona, but the youngster did well to link the play. There might be the factor of being overplayed recently as Koeman has given Pedri a lot of intense minutes. Resting him should be considered to allow him to physically and mentally recover from this demanding fixture schedule. However, he is such a talent and it is exciting to watch his development.
Philippe Coutinho: 7
Philippe Coutinho returned to the starting line-up after an injury had sidelined him for several weeks. It was an overall positive display as Coutinho showed his quality on the ball. He worked hard even though he was placed on the wing again, which is not his best position. However, the Brazilian fought for the team and looked a threat when he had the ball. He drifted inside a lot and this possibly crowded out the centre of the pitch too much in the first half.
His attitude is the biggest improvement since his return from his loan spell at Bayern Munich. The 28-year-old’s head does not drop, and he works harder defensively for the team. If the manager wants the best out of Coutinho, then he should play him centrally and not on the wings.
Martin Braithwaite: 8
What a dream performance for Martin Braithwaite. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
Barcelona finally played with a natural number 9, and it certainly paid off. Having a player that constantly pinned back the opponent’s central defenders and stretched the defence made such a difference. It created space for others and gave the Catalan side more options going forward. Though not being a perfect game from Braithwaite, he has shown Ronald Koeman just how useful he can be.
The striker pressed the home side and even chased lost causes. He worked hard and made runs off the ball for his teammates. His work ethic was rewarded with two goals in the second-half. The first showed his striker’s instinct as he tapped in at the far post from a corner. His second goal came after the Dane himself won a penalty and confidently smashed it into the net. An all-round brilliant performance from Braithwaite and Culés should be expecting to see more of him.
Riqui Puig: 6.5
Finally, the man that every Barcelona fan has been crying out for this season was given around 30 minutes to impress. It has been so disappointing to see one of the club’s best talents so badly mistreated by another manager. Riqui Puig came on and instantly sprang to life. He lifts the whole team with his energy and passion. Barça need a midfielder in their team like the Spaniard and his quality was on show on Tuesday evening.
Puig was confident and comfortable on the ball, even with having hardly played this season. The 21-year-old made some bursting runs from midfield and looked almost unstoppable. It was a joy to watch the midfielder return to the pitch, and surely he has done enough to earn more game time.
Antoine Griezmann: 7
A lot of media attention had surrounded the Frenchman over the last week or so, which caused Antoine Griezmann to speak out and set the record straight. It seemed like this did not deter him as he produced a better cameo against Dynamo Kyiv. He was livelier, and it looked like he is starting to regain a bit of confidence.
Griezmann finally spoke up, now it is time for him to show his class on the pitch. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
This showed as he took his goal well in stoppage time with a great finish to the far post. Having that natural number nine allowed Griezmann more freedom and space just in behind the striker where he thrives. Barcelona used this well, especially in the second half as they stretched the game. The visitors exploited spaces well and played with a lot more enjoyment – how Barcelona should play.
Jordi Alba: 6.5
Jordi Alba was introduced alongside Antoine Griezmann and Riqui Puig in the 66th minute. Alba resumed his usual role as the left-back and was a constant threat going forward. There are not many better, if at all, at timing that overlapping run from deep and finding a cut-back than the veteran defender. This was evident on Tuesday as the former Valencia player got an assist after he found Griezmann in the box.
Matheus Fernandes: 6
Another one of those strange signings from Josep Maria Bartomeu, Matheus Fernandes’ quality has been questioned by many. The Brazilian had a decent cameo completing all 14 of his passes. However, he did not look like a typical technically gifted Barcelona player when in possession.
It will be interesting to see if Ronald Koeman gives him more game time or if that was just a one off appearance. With so many midfielders ahead of him at the club, it seems difficult for the 22-year-old to realistically get many more minutes.
Konrad de la Fuente: 6
It was a short cameo for the American teenager. In saying this, it is obvious to see just how talented Konrad de la Fuente is. He is a quick and dynamic player that can easily dribble past defenders. The winger loves to be direct and definitely has a bright future at Barcelona. It is a strong possibility that one day Barça will have an all American right-hand side with Sergiño Dest and de la Fuente with both having what it takes to be starters for the Blaugrana.
3 lessons learned from the Barcelona 2-3 Athletic game
The Spanish Super Cup final was another bitter reminder that Barcelona are a team in transition; a team wanting to reach for the skies but still failing to grasp the very basics of the beautiful game. Still, while getting beaten in the final is not a pleasant feeling, it’s the lessons that ultimately count. If you can learn from them, that is.
Barcelona have shown time and time again they seem to prefer learning the hard way and this time, that mistake has most likely cost them the only piece of silverware they were able to snatch this year. Of course, a lot can happen in football and there’s still time to turn their fortune around but the early signs suggest it’s going to be another long and dry season for the Catalan giants.
But even with that being said, there are certainly things Ronald Koeman should take away from this big defeat.
So here are three lessons Barcelona should learn from yesterday’s clash.
1. Squad depth (and rotation) is key
This may not come as a big surprise to many but it’s nigh impossible to battle on all front with a team that’s lacking any real squad depth. But the main problem here is not exactly the lack of personnel but the coach’s ability (or willingness?) to use them.
When you’re a team like Barcelona who will have to fight for the league, the Champions League and Copa del Rey, it’s inevitable your players get tired somewhere along the way. Soon, games will be pouring in mid-week every week and every couple of days even. What happens when Koeman’s favourite pieces are barely standing on their feet? Is he going to rotate then?
The Dutchman has been rather stubborn when it comes to his selection. Most of the surprises in the lineup have risen from the urgency and lack of options rather than purely giving some players a well-deserved chance or resting the others.
A great example is someone like Pedri – an 18-year-old prodigy who’s been playing so well he’s been impossible to drop. From that perspective, it’s understandable you’d want him on the pitch from the get-go for a Cup final but if he’s visibly exhausted and barely moving, you substitute him off and bring on fresh legs.
Barcelona have a thin squad in some compartments and maybe lack quality in others but playing 240 minutes in the span of a couple of days with the same squad is too much even for the fittest team out there. And the Azulgranas are far from that in the first place.
For that reason, it feels like proper – or maybe better – man management is needed from Koeman for the remainder of the season.
2. Shades of Anfield
What hurts the most about this final is that not only did Barcelona play extremely poorly throughout the 120 minutes, they were in the lead two times and still managed to lose the game. Unfortunately, once Athletic Club equalised for the second time, in the 90th minute no less, we already knew it was all over.
Even though we are still talking about a team full of superstars and even veterans of the game, the Catalans’ mental fortitude is non-existent. Lapses in concentration could be felt for the vast majority of the clash and that in a final of all events!
A team that wants to be the best in the world, or rather a team that has been the best in the world, cannot be of such fragile mentality. The same thing has happened before, first against Juventus in Turin, then in Rome and finally at Anfield against Liverpool.
Barcelona crumble under pressure and as soon as the other team shows heart and signs of life, they will retreat into their happy place, never to be seen again. And yes this may sound harsh – and may even be harsh – but until this issue is resolved, there’ll be no moving forward.
You can’t score a goal and then let one slip through the cracks the very next attack because your head is still in the clouds. And you can’t have such a poor marking structure in the final minutes of the game, allowing the opposition to secure extra-time and then overturn the deficit altogether.
There’s not much any of them could’ve done about Iñaki Williams’ sensational strike – one worthy of securing the crown – but the battle was lost long before that moment. As soon as Athletic Club equalised, it was game over for Barcelona.
We knew it, they knew it and Koeman knew it.
That needs to change. Fast.
3. A big Messi-sized problem
Let’s get one thing straight right away – Messi is a club legend and arguably the best player in the history of the game but there is no way he should’ve been allowed to play last night. He’s so competitive that Koeman’s hands were tied and, frankly, he doesn’t have the power to say no to the Argentine.
That in itself is a big problem as well but also a topic for another time. Back to the issue at hand, however, if Messi is not at 100%, he should not be starting that game in the first place. Of course, the club will argue that the only reason he was on that pitch is because he was healthy enough to be there. But was he fit enough to play in such a physically demanding game and a final at that?
Messi may be superhuman but he is also 33, has just returned from injury and was about to face a compact, organised and physically imposing team. Whoever thought that was a good idea didn’t really do their homework properly.
And then we come to the other big problem and that’s Barcelona’s in-game management of Messi himself. Playing for 90 minutes fresh from injury is one thing but playing the full 120 is a completely different story, a far worse one at that.
We can all understand Messi hates being substituted off and he is the difference-maker when Barcelona are in trouble but it was clear the goal wasn’t coming, not even from him at those latter points in the game.
Koeman may or may not have the authority to manage this squad entirely the way he wants to. That statement may or may not be true as well but the fact is, his in-game man-management was sub-par last night once again.
Koeman: "Messi knows when to play and when not to. He said he was ready, and he gave everything tonight."— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 17, 2021
It may be the time to dose Messi throughout the season and give this team a chance to see how it’s like without him on the pitch. Step by step, they have to be adapted to a situation that is inevitably approaching, regardless whether Leo is leaving in the summer or not.
It is, however, a Cup final and having Messi on the pitch can only be a plus. But not if he’s unfit to play or simply not at his 100%, and that was visible yesterday.
One way or the other, we are bound to learn at least something from this game and hopefully, Koeman does too.
It’s the only way to move forward.