2020/21 was never going to be a straightforward season for any team, but more so for Barcelona. Before they even kicked the ball, controversies started hitting the team like bullet trains into walls in a Marvel movie.
Club captain Lionel Messi no longer wanted to stay at the club, shade never left the sight of Josep Bartomeu, and the responsibilities of the team were handed to an experienced manager in the form of Ronald Koeman. All this while fans had not even managed to recover from the 8-2 withering at the hands of Bayern Munich.
For years, it has been easy to pass on the blame on managers, be it the short-term solutions from Luis Enrique, the bed-ridden side of Ernesto Valverde, or the bizarre wingless (literally) side of Quique Setien. Despite going through all those respective teams, each boasting of different problems, Barcelona fans were in for a surprise when Koeman arrived at the helm. Surely, things could not get worse…right?
Alas. Even a poll among the most pessimistic of fans would not have predicted that the team would be stuck three points above the relegation zone after ten gameweeks. That is exactly where the team is right now, though — in 7th place, three adrift of 18th placed Osasuna. For context, they are 12 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who have played as many games as them.
The current Barça, led by Koeman have lost more games (4) in their last seven Liga matches than Quique Setien did in his time in charge, of 20 games (3). Given how big a disaster the appointment of the Spaniard turned out to be, this stat tells the story in a handful of words.
Even when fans try to hide and run away from Spain, looking at the UEFA Champions League, they are hit with a brick wall, one that has Juventus, Roma, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich graffitied over it.
Antoine Griezmann seems to have rediscovered himself, Lionel Messi, slowly, but surely is getting back to his best, and new signings like Sergino Dest, Pedri, and Miralem Pjanic seem to be working out for the team. And for what it is worth, even Martin Braithwaite seems to be performing at a level nobody expected him to.
There are obviously some gaping cracks in the team, both in terms of personnel and tactics, all of which spirals down to one man, the one with the puffy jacket on the sidelines. Ronald Koeman’s stubbornness will end the season for Barcelona.
He returned to Catalonia with a polished plan, which caused some excitement at the club, but has also been the primary source of all his shortcomings. Barcelona’s team is not built for a 4-2-3-1, even though that is possibly the only formation where Koeman can fit in the team’s plethora of attack. It does, however, come at the cost of sacrificing the midfield, which is often left stranded, and easily run over.
Oh, to be sitting on the touchlines during a Barcelona game, worrying about your job. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Moreover, Koeman has little to no regard for several individuals in the team, even though they have constantly shown their ability on the pitch. Of course, this is in reference to Riqui Puig and Carles Aleña. Both of these players are absolute fan-favourites but have hardly seen game-time this season, even though the midfield is crying out for more energy, and for players like the Spanish duo. Not to mention, the only reason Dest is getting to start game after game is because Sergi Roberto is injured.
This seems to stem from a place to protect the starting position of some players in the XI, something Barcelona fans thought was definitely going to change with Ronald Koeman, who seemed like a bold manager.
The same causality can also be applied to his need to play players out of position, in an attempt to fit them into the lineup. Proof of the same was visible in the early parts of the season when Antoine Griezmann was deployed as a right-winger and Lionel Messi as a striker.
The trend never stopped repeating itself, as a matter of fact. Coutinho – a man who stayed at Barcelona on the special request of Koeman himself, finds him in a troublesome spot. He has already been deployed as a left-midfielder, left-winger, attacking midfielder, central midfielder, and for a brief period against Real Madrid, as a defensive midfielder.
Yet, he continues to start every game even though he has failed to go past a spell of two decent games for the club this season, only because Koeman is obliged to do so after forcing him to stay. For example, against Cadiz, the Brazilian was played on the left-wing but was barely visible.
In fact, this season has been so utterly disastrous, Barcelona have endured their worst start to the La Liga season since the three-point per-win format was introduced in 1988. You will not see a better stat than this, and a worse performance than the one the Blaugranas put up today.
A disastrous end to a repetitive, underwhelming performance. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
Sure, the goals resulted from individual mistakes, but what happened on the other end of the pitch comes down to the decisions taken by Koeman. Decisions that involved playing Coutinho out of position, not starting Dembele, leaving Dest alone in the final third, among so much more.
However, he seemed unfazed as he appeared before the media, only to repeat what he has said in every press conference yet, with a twist this time: “We still want to compete for La Liga.” Not “we can compete for La Liga.”
The Dutchman seems to be coming to terms with what is happening, and that if push comes to shove, he might not last very long at the club — a popular which is already growing among the fanbase, as the election edge ever-so-close.