Barcelona are going through their worst period ever. The Catalan giants have suffered from an institutional crisis, an injury crisis, an economic crisis and a lack of tactical awareness. For a club that was on top of Europe a decade ago, the shift in mood is gloomy, to say the least.
However, even during times of grief, there is always some light. There are no never-ending tunnels, and often, crisis leads to solutions. Some solutions are more radical, while others show their faces step by step.
To answer Barcelona’s injury problems, one that surrounded Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Ronald Araujo, one man came to Barcelona’s rescue. The absentees forced Ronald Koeman’s hand in giving Oscar Mingueza his well-deserved Barcelona debut against Dynamo Kyiv.
The defender is a tall 21-year-old who has been through every La Masia team. Ever since he turned 7, the Spaniard has been waiting for his chance, and Piqué’s horrible injury propelled him into getting his long-awaited opportunity. Away in Ukraine, the youngster showed a lot of promise. Vocal, superb with his feet and calm with his head, Mingueza was one of the best Blaugrana players on the pitch.
As captain of Barcelona B, Oscar Mingueza is one of the most experienced CBs in the youth sides. (Photo via Imago)
The situation was precarious for Barça at first. They went in with a makeshift defence and dominated the encounter. The same defence proceeded to frustrate the Ukrainians.
In truth, the La Masia graduate showed much more than just a promise, he showed a lot of character. Mingueza looked like a natural, as Jordi Alba said; like a player in his prime rather than a rookie.
Now, after catching everyone’s eyes, the debutant has to continue to mirror that display in order to become a mainstay. His display on Tuesday has given a lot of hope to Culés and could be the answer to many questions. He could become a reliable backup or, if he still shows this level of performance, become a regular. It is up to him to show if he is up for the fight.
Usually for Barcelona, when things go South, they are uncontrollable. The recent displays, along with the accumulations of injuries, have shown that when it rains, it pours at Camp Nou.
When Leo Messi goes down injured, for example, the Catalans look worried and anxious because they have no replacement. Having a big squad sometimes does not mean having a complete squad. Every team needs to know where they are headed and who will play in case of a watershed during the season. However, the giants finally have a complete squad.
Ronald Koeman left out Frenkie de Jong and Messi against Kyiv, and the Blaugranas were able to take control of the situation in their absence. The Dutch midfielder is also the usual suspect when a defender goes down injured. On Tuesday, Koeman might have discovered an alternative to de Jong at centre-back.
Indeed, Mingueza is not the finished product. He needs time to grow and cannot play every game like a veteran. He has to be embedded intelligently in the squad.
Nonetheless, in desperate times, the ball-playing centre-back looks like a great alternative. His attitude showed many signs of ripeness, and he can at least help when his club needs him. As a La Masia graduate, Mingueza will fit right in.
Also, as a youth player, the defender costs next to nothing compared to Umtiti’s salary, for example. Having a cheap alternative which has been waiting for this chance since he was a kid is the way to go. If Barcelona want to go back to their roots, they have to trust Mingueza.
📰 — Mingueza played a very good game vs Kyiv, and his great performance could earn him a starting spot alongside Lenglet against Osasuna on Sunday. [md] pic.twitter.com/bZHhWeLFiw— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 25, 2020
Finally, it is worth noting that this was one game, and so the sample size is incredibly tiny. That said, no one starts with a dominating display against Atletico Madrid right off the bat.
Would the 21-year-old have had a Man of the Match performance on Saturday if Piqué was not a starter? Is it plausible to have blind faith in a youngster after one impressive display? Surely not.
After making his debut a memorable one, Oscar Mingueza needs to come in strong against the bigger guns and help Barcelona fill in for Pique, whose void is a behemoth. He can achieve it and have a bright future at Camp Nou if he keeps his feet on the ground. It all starts with another superb performance against Osasuna this weekend.
Araujo and Mingueza: The future is bright
After years of poor squad planning, expensive signings and underperforming veterans, two young talents have, once again, shown the value of La Masia. This has come in the form of defenders Ronald Araujo and Óscar Mingueza. Both are establishing themselves as reliable and confident centre-backs with huge potentials.
This campaign is crucial for Barcelona. The club has been on a gradual decline for several seasons and, in that time, faced some of the worst defeats in its 121 years of existence. As Ronald Koeman has stated so himself, this truly is a transitional season for the Blaugrana.
The team was in desperate need of new blood and rejuvenation in the squad. Though this was partially completed, Barça found themselves short in some positions. This was particularly the case when Gerard Piqué sustained a long-term injury against Atletico Madrid. The Catalan side found themselves without any experienced right-sided centre-backs. On top of this, Samuel Umtiti has rarely been fit enough to start, and Clément Lenglet’s form has dipped this season.
However, from this concerning position, it has allowed others to thrive. Araújo and Minguea have both played nine matches in La Liga this season and are taking their chances. The Uruguayan has impressed with his imposing figure and defensive capabilities, while Mingueza has shown his versatility and confidence on the ball.
Being forced to rely on La Masia has meant both Araújo and Mingueza have been given first-team chances. The youth academy has been underappreciated and young talents have not been handled correctly. With the young defenders performing so admirably, surely these are the signs that Barcelona will show more faith in their homegrown players again.
Having played most of his youth career in Uruguay, Ronald Araujo joined Barcelona in 2018. The 21-year-old did not need long to gain first-team minutes. He appeared six times for the Blaugrana in La Liga during the 2019/20 season. After a slow start to the current campaign, Araújo looks to be establishing himself as the heir to Gerard Piqué.
The Uruguayan defender has the brains and the brawn to go with it at such a young age. Araujo is positionally aware and shows great anticipation and awareness of danger. This sense, combined with his pace and strength, means he is almost impossible to get past.
Having that pace is important as he is able to stop counter-attacks against quick oppositions. The La Masia graduate displayed this against Iñaki Williams in the Super Cup final as he limited his chances of getting in behind the defence.
Another one of the defender’s strengths is his ability to recover and make important challenges. On several occasions already, Araujoo has shown how quickly he can track back and stop strikers getting the chance to score. It is a useful trait as Barcelona play with a high line that can be exploited by opponents getting in behind the defence.
The big Uruguayan is not the finished product yet though. There are some areas where he could improve to become the ideal Barça centre-back. The most notable weakness is his passing, with Araujo not always looking the most comfortable on the ball. He struggles to find progressive passes into the midfield and break the lines of the opposition’s press. This is an important aspect of any Barcelona centre-back, but one he can develop.
Against Athletic Club, Araujo showed his aerial dominance winning five out of six aerial duels. Though his side conceded three goals, the young centre-back continues to show his leadership qualities on the pitch. The defeat will be a difficult one to take, but Araújo has a promising future at the club.
Óscar Mingueza is another young defender who is stating his claim for a starting position. At one point, he was considered the fourth-choice centre-back for the Barcelona B team. Now, Mingueza is playing regularly for the first team and is showing he is capable of performing at this level.
The Spaniard is a determined defender and is ready for a physical battle. He is fearless like club legend and former captain, Carles Puyol, and commits to every challenge. Though the number 28 has a long way to go to be compared to club legend Puyol, there are some signs. The 21-year-old times his tackles well and is confident in one on one situations with attackers.
Mingueza is versatile and has proven he can play as a centre-back and a full-back. Similarly, Carles Puyol began his career as a right-back and eventually transitioned to a central defender. This versatility has been an asset to Barcelona this season with injuries in both positions leaving the Spanish giants short of options.
In contrast to his teammate, Ronald Araújo, Mingueza is excellent on the ball and comfortable in passing. This is more natural to the Spaniard as he has spent more years in the Barça youth system. The two defenders complement each other well and are both fast, strong and committed.
Though the number 28 did not start for the Blaugrana in the Super Cup final, he came on at half-time to replace Sergiño Dest. In a difficult contest, Mingueza performed well and showed a great work ethic. He should continue to get regular minutes and develop with the first team. There is no doubting his quality and his future also looks encouraging at Barcelona.
With Eric Garcia’s signing in the summer almost inevitable at this point, it is safe to say that he will come to his hometown to face more competition than he would have expected. Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza’s rise to the first-team is proof that La Masia can still be trusted. Or rather, should be. The season is long and hectic, but there is littl to no doubt that Araujo and Mingueza will keep shining.