Although Riqui Puig is ready to fight for his spot at the moment, his decision could reverse in the coming months, and him leaving could spell a world of regret for Barcelona.
Riqui Puig has not had it easy at FC Barcelona in recent months. After Quique Setien’s appointment midway through the 2019-20 campaign, the 21-year-old began enjoying significantly more game time. An undoubtedly brilliant player, loved dearly by the fans, was seemingly making headway with the first team.
Alas, disaster struck at Barcelona, with the club in utter turmoil. Following the notorious 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Setien was sacked, and Ronald Koeman was appointed to usher in change starting next campaign. What followed was a whirlwind of controversy, chaos, a gut-wrenching saga with Lionel Messi nearly departing and the eventual resignation of Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board of directors.
In the midst of all this, Koeman arrived, making strong claims regarding bringing about positivity at the club and turning things around. Claiming that he believed in the youth and that he would stay firm to this club’s roots, maintaining its philosophies while trying to succeed. Words that were music to the fans’ ears; at the time, anyway.
However, just a few days later, reports broke out that the Dutchman does not seem to have Puig in his plans. This came as a shock to everyone, considering how the Spaniard was one of the brightest points in an otherwise a disastrous season for the Catalans.
After the young midfielder was excluded from the squad against Elche, Koeman seemed to substantiate the reports, making it all but clear that Riqui Puig is not a player he prioritizes at this moment in time. Though he considers Puig in his plans, he wanted the midfielder to look for short term opportunities elsewhere.
“I’ve told Riqui that he has a future here, but it depends on the player. I’d recommend that he went out on loan. At 20 years of age, the young players have to play.”Ronald Koeman | Post-match press conference
Riqui decides to stay
The Spaniard eventually decided that he will stay and fight for a place at the club. He seemed keen on gaining Ronald Koeman’s trust.
“At all times I have said that I want to stay at Barça. At the moment, I’m not considering leaving the club and everything is going very well. I am going to stay here.”Riqui Puig | Sport via BU
This decision was an immense relief to many fans around the world. Teammate Sergi Roberto also spoke out in support, saying that he was in a similar situation, but if Puig stays and makes the most of every chance he gets, he can succeed at the club.
Puig’s impressive mental fortitude, however, continues to get tested. Despite making 12 appearances last season and dropping impeccable performances in huge games against teams like Atletico Madrid, Koeman just does not seem willing to give him a chance.
Heartbreak, heartbreak, and more heartbreak. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
In fact, the youngster has played only 3 minutes of football this season, coming off the bench in the dying moments against Getafe. And a couple of weeks ago against Deportivo Alaves, Koeman left him out of the squad altogether. He justified his decision by saying that he did not “like having that many players on the bench.”
And although he seems keen on staying and fighting for his spot, there is no way for him to do so if he never gets picked. His constant exclusions by Ronald Koeman are nothing short of puzzling. For all his claims, the Dutch manager can be quite contradictory to his own statements.
“Riqui Puig needs to improve in many ways. The rhythm of the ball, and physicality in order to compete”Ronald Koeman | L’esportiu via BarcaCentre
For someone who claims to abide by the club’s age-old philosophies, it’s rather comical how Koeman thinks Puig’s physicality is a hurdle. At the same time, several other qualities make him indispensable. What’s more confusing is that the 57-year-old continues to play Sergio Busquets in almost every fixture – a player who looks to lack rhythm with each passing minute of life.
While this is not an indictment on Busquets, it is no secret that the World Cup winner is not known for his brazen physicality. He is known for his football intellect; something Puig has aplenty. More than enough to get chances on the pitch. And let’s not forget that Riqui Puig is incredibly energetic, tenacious, and physically strong in his own way. His performances last season, particularly the one against Atletico, prove just that.
If things keep cascading the way they are, it is tough to see what is keeping Puig from leaving Barcelona. Rumours suggesting his departure as early as January are already floating around in full swing.
If those rumours were to come true, it wouldn’t be the first time a brilliant La Masia prospect, and a fan-favourite has gotten away. Thiago Alacantara’s departure in 2013 still remains one of Barcelona’s most questionable and regrettable bits of business in recent history.
Thiago’s talent was evident when he was at Barça. When he left, he kept rising majestically to the top. He racked up 7 Bundesliga titles, 4 DFB Pokal cups with Bayern Munich, establishing himself as one of the world’s best midfielders in the process. And the cherry on top of the cake was his Champions League victory in his final season in Germany. The 29-year-old was undisputedly one of the best players in the final against PSG and throughout the tournament in general.
14Barcelona MUST avoid Puig from slipping through the ranks, otherwise another Thiago situation seems inevitable. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
There is a strong possibility that this example is looming over young Puig’s head. He knows he has what it takes but in football that is not always enough. But there is not much doubt, that if Puig were to leave, Barça could be in for a world of regret. The mention of Thiago still brings a sour taste to Culés’ mouths. And the mere prospect of Puig leaving Barcelona is already very bitter sounding.
Ronald Koeman must trust him. Puig is not only good enough, but he is also ready to show the world what he’s capable of. For the fans’ sake and for the player’s sake, Puig needs to be stopped from leaving Barcelona. And most importantly, for the club’s sake, he must be held on to — for Riqui Puig is indispensable in the long run.
How should Barcelona lineup against Osasuna?
Four wins in four games. Barcelona are cruising in their Champions League group, as they do every year. A second-string Blaugrana side, one that did not feature any of the four captains, was enough to tear down Dynamo Kyiv. The game midweek was not just important for the result in the Champions League but so many players on an individual level.
Carles Alena bossed the midfield with impeccable accuracy. A promising debut from the underrated Oscar Mingueza, desperately needed minutes for Riqui Puig. A performance from Martin Braithwaite and Sergino Dest that found them in the UCL Team of the Week!
Yet, the season seems to be sinking. The league seems to have slipped away even before its midway point. Injuries continue to damage even the existing fine line of hope. The bleeding must stop, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.
What to expect from Osasuna?
Los Rojillos sit level with Barcelona on points, having played nine games so far to the Catalans’ eight. Three wins, two draws and four losses see them sit at 14th, just one place below the hosts.
Arrasate will hope to mirror his Camp Nou exploits from last season. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
The last time the two sides met at the Camp Nou was the only scar in Barcelona’s otherwise unbeaten home streak. It is a game that one remembers vividly. A last-minute goal from Kike Barja helped the visitors run away with three points, and put at end to Barcelona’s misery in the title race. If anything, it is a reason for Jagoba Arrasate to be enthusiastic for his return to the Catalan capital.
Arrasate has largely deployed a 4-4-2 for Osasuna this season, with Ante Budimir and Enric Gallego the usual starters in the attack. In defence, however, they have played a 5-3-2, echoing the side that played Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season.
Jon Moncayola has played as the deep midfielder, often slotting in between the centre-backs to assist in defensive responsibilities. One immediately associates Osasuna with their sturdy mid-block. They do not unnecessarily commit men forward for attack nor pressing.
Instead, Los Rojillos outnumber the opposition attack in their own half, and the five-man line leaves no spaces for the opposition to exploit. When this forces the attacking side to commit more men forward, Osasuna strike on the counter. In particular, advanced fullbacks easily fall prey to their ploys with large spaces left vacant behind them to be exploited.
Arrasate’s side thereafter looks to capitalise by their potent switches in play, and dangerous cutbacks from the wings. Indeed, it is a style of play that Barcelona have struggled to deal with in past years. With so many injuries in defence, it will be an uphill task for the Barcelona backline to hold off the rampant counters.
How should Barcelona line-up?
After being handed the captain’s band midweek, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be back in goal at the Camp Nou.
In defence, however, Koeman surely has his reasons to panic. Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto and Ronald Araujo are not available owing to injuries, and the Dutchman finds himself in a fix.
Frenkie is expected to start, even if it means playing as a centre-back. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
In central defence, Clement Lenglet will likely partner Frenkie de Jong. The dutch-protege enjoyed a day off on Tuesday as Koeman did not call his up to the squad. It will be a tricky pairing, but one tried and tested in recent weeks.
Given Sergi Roberto’s injury and Dest unlikely involvement in Sunday’s clash, Oscar Mingueza might start at Right-back. Unquestionably, it will be a new challenge for the youngster. Yet, not one beyond his capability.
At left-back, One expects Jordi Alba to return to his starting position after being rested against Kyiv.
Sergio Busquets is expected ahead of the clash, yet it may not be wise to let him start immediately. A performance like the one against Kyiv demands a follow up for Carles Alena. The La Masia graduate could start alongside Miralem Pjanic on the night.
The wingers will likely continue to be the same as the Champions League clash. Ousmane Dembele could get yet another start in his natural position-right wing. Pedri, whose stocks are rising by the day, could start on the left side in combination with Jordi Alba. The newly-turned 18-year-old’s vision and composure on the ball will be crucial to breakdown Osasuna’s air-tight defence.
As the no. 10, in between, the two wingers would likely be Lionel Messi. After getting a much-deserved rest against Kyiv, one hopes that the talisman finds his magic back. It has been a tough 48 hours for Leo, and he will be itching to put up a tribute performance in honour of his legendary national team icon — Diego Maradona
One can expect Messi to give a tribute to the late Diego Maradona today. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
In attack, Antoine Griezmann is the natural option after being rested in the last game. However, the Frenchman needs to up his game, because Martin Braithwaite is knocking at the doors as a potential starter as centre-forward.
Pedri · Messi · Dembele
Aleña · Pjanic
Alba · Lenglet · de Jong · Mingueza