In a season that has been dominated by chaos and criticism, successful rotations deployed by Ronald Koeman have come out as a headlining positive for Barcelona.
The innumerable facets of managing a team have rightfully made it a very demanding job. A perfect manager is expected to be on point tactically, courteous in the press room, diplomatic in the dressing room, harsh on mistakes, yet not stubborn. While it is debatable as to how many of these boxed Ronald Koeman can tick, the recent games have shown that the Dutchman knows to utilise his resources efficiently.
Undoubtedly, Koeman has been harsh on a sect of the squad while rewarding a parallel-group with back to back starts. The numbers themselves refect the injustice to the likes of Riqui Puig and co.
Puig has not benefited from the rotations deployed by Koeman. (Photo via Imago)
Yet, one must commend the manager’s composure and resourcefulness whilst on a tightrope. The congested fixtures do not help the clubs situation. Players continue to fall prey to injuries one after the other, as the situation goes from bad to worse.
Setbacks are a part of every sport, yet Barcelona would feel harshly undone with the deepening injury crisis. However, this is beyond managers control. What is in the Dutchman’s hand is to rotate the players at his disposal to snatch effective performances with the sustainable use of players. As recent games reflect, he has done it in spades.
Midweek against Dynamo Kyiv, the coach decided to give Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong a complete rest. It was a situation in which a situation where the club was already without its other three captains. He trusted Oscar Mingueza when he had the option to deploy a previously tested gamble of de Jong at centre-back.
Koeman rested Antoine Griezmann to preserve him for the more important games up ahead. He instead put his faith in Martin Braithwaite. The Danish striker may not be the most aesthetically pleasing on the ball, but one cannot ask of any more dedication from a player as he provides. The fruits borne from his recent performances are indicative of the fact that he does get the job done cleanly, and everything indicates him getting another start against Ferenvaros.
Yet, the Barcelona legend has kept his options open in the front line as a whole. Messi has played almost every game, yet rested whenever necessary. Not to mention how resting Leo brought the best out of him this season, on both aspects – against Real Betis in the second half, and then against Osasuna after he did not travel to Ukraine in midweek.
Credit where credit is due; the rotations from Koeman clearly brought Messi to life. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Pedri has played in every game so far, which is one of the shortcomings of Koeman, but the youngster seems to thrive with every passing minute. It is indeed necessary to utilize the younger players conservatively. The trend from Koeman in the same regard has been positive.
Ousmane Dembele has come to the forefront since Ansu Fati’s injury and has completed games whilst maintaining his fitness. This is one of the biggest takeaways regarding Koemans efficient man-management. He may not have rewarded Trincao with many starts, yet the youngster provides regular cameo appearances off the bench to make an impact. Visibly, the manager has kept every player on their toes with defines roles.
The deputation in midfield reflects the same. Whilst Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong have been the first choice players in the pivot, Koeman has not hesitated to bend his choices.
Miralem Pjanic has got his fair share of appearances in the midfield. Recent performances from Carles Alena has seen him jump up the pecking order to possibly even ahead of the Bosnian. The game against Osasuna saw Pedri played in the pivot, and the sight of Frenkie de Jong in the defence is now common.
The situation in defence is fragile, yet the Dutchman has not openly complained at all. Being without Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo and even Samuel Umtiti, he has been brave enough to hand Oscar Mingueza starts despite the growing pressure he is under himself. The resources are very tight, yet one has the confidence that Koeman will find a way through ever in all the first-choice centre-backs are injured.
After an initial quiet spell, Junior Firpo has now seen minutes in consecutive games. Koeman has learnt from the events of the last few weeks and has begun to be more conscious with rotations. Indeed, Jordi Alba is a crucial log for the Catalans, and Barcelona cannot afford to have him out injured.
What is objectively clear is that Koeman has counted on almost all his options, and not hesitated from taking risks when necessary. Too many options can only be a positive problem for the team, and the reality of the statement is visible now. Barcelona is reeling under the piling pressure of injuries. The only way out of the mess is efficient rotation. Something one can come to expect from Koeman seeing the recent trend.
The Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s only saving grace this season
With the league out of sight, and the Champions League a distant dream, the Copa del Rey could be the saving grace Barcelona are looking for this season.
As much as it wrenches a Culés‘ heart to see the club they once witnessed conquer Europe with all it’s might now look like a pale shadow of its former self, it’s also vital to come to terms with the fact that Barça are still in the process of recovery, patching their wounds while attempting to rediscover its former glory.
Winning the Champions League and La Liga will invariably be the main motive at a club as big as Barcelona. Still, for once, the chances of contending with Europe’s elite seems immensely slim, especially with the continuous spells of inconsistencies the Azulgranas have endured this season.
Woefully, the club have also made it a customary practice to flounder against relatively bigger oppositions, cracking under pressure in amateur fashion. It’s safe to assume these old habits will once again die hard.
It might be a little too late to kickstart a challenge for the league, as Atletico Madrid do not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the league and teams like Bayern Munich and Manchester City are always major forces to reckon with in the Champions League. Not to mention, last year’s finalists – PSG – await Barça in the round of 16, who will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack over the two legs. Having a shot against established sides in one of the club’s most vulnerable states does not seem plausible in the slightest.
However, despite the chances of winning the two big trophies looking ever so minuscule, the Copa Del Rey stands in solitude, waiting to reconcile with the team that has one way or another always found itself reclaiming this esteemed trophy as it habitually dresses in the Blaugrana colours at the end of the campaign.
Having been knocked out disgracefully in the Spanish Super Cup finals, the Copa del Rey may end up being a crucial source of silverware for the Catalan giants. The prize may not be as notable as the aforementioned competitions, yet it undeniably holds value and possesses the ability to save Barcelona’s turbulent season.
Albeit there’s no guaranteeing the road to success will be a stroll in the park for the Blaugranas, it’s apparent that the situation has been made considerably easier, as the fickle finger of fate blesses Barça’s fortunes with the shocking exits of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Additionally, the fact that Sevilla square up against Valencia and Real Betis lock horns with Real Sociedad implies that two prominent teams will be forced to bid farewell to the competition in the next round, making Barça’s road to the final substantially less complicated.
While the Copa Del Rey’s primary stages are typically utilized to award youngsters and players from the B team opportunities with the first team, Ronald Koeman understandably appears to be opting for his best players in the upcoming round of 16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, who sit at 4th place in the Segunda Division.
Owing to the fact that two of Spain’s biggest teams have already departed the competition indicates that there is simply no margin for error and seeing how even the underdogs cannot be underestimated, Barca must use this as a lesson to showcase their winning mentality, even against sides from the lower divisions.
“It is an important moment of the season, we are doing well away from home. We will put up a strong line-up tomorrow. We know that the Cup is the shortest way to win something.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game press conference
For a team that has basked in silverware and has reigned supreme on the big stage for years, it’s absolutely quintessential to get back to winning ways. After a season full of turmoil, the Copa Del Rey is the least Barça should salvage. With the context perfect for victory, the acclaimed Spanish Competition could very well be Barça’s saving grace this season, and possibly sow the seeds for success.
Of course, it is too soon to write Barça off in any competition yet, but if there’s one thing the club have proven time and time again, it is that they are still a serious work in progress. That said, the Copa Del Rey would be a respectable achievement for Barcelona during these troubling times. Although it may seem as if it is simply an acceptance of mediocrity, the cup would be a great stepping stone for the future, a chance to not only lift silverware again; but also to get into the habit of winning.