This Wednesday, Barcelona will travel to Cordoba for their Super Cup semi-final clash against Real Sociedad. The competition was originally supposed to occur in Saudi Arabia as part of a three-year contract to promote Spanish football in a new format that sees four teams clash for the crown.
La Real are a formidable rival and a true contender for the title. Not to mention that Copa del Rey is also underway, making Ronald Koeman’s job of successfully rotating and managing the squad that much more difficult.
The Catalans’ team is quite thin in certain areas as it is and a much tighter schedule could push them to their limits. But even with that being said, it does seem like the Blaugranas are finally starting to click.
With victories over Huesca, Athletic Club, and Granada, Barcelona have won three games in a row, propelling themselves to third place in La Liga and actually sparking some hope among the fans.
However, this then does pose the question – is the Super Cup the chance for Koeman to finally stamp some authority or would it be wiser for the Catalans not to put too much focus on this Wednesday’s clash?
Some would say, of course, the fact that Real Madrid make the quartet along with Barcelona is reason enough to compete for the trophy with intent, in the hope of watching another El Clásico final after a long time. Others will say it has nothing to do with football and all to do with money. Be that as it may, this Super Cup clash against a strong opponent arrives in a weird mid-week slot in an already hectic schedule.
Cup games are generally frowned upon or rather, for a club like Barcelona it may very well be more of a distraction and an accident waiting to happen than a genuine opportunity to shine. But this is far from an ordinary season, and whether we’d like to admit it or not, maybe the Super Cup does represent a golden chance for Koeman’s Barça to claim some silverware this year after all.
The Champions League is a distant dream, and La Liga’s race is tougher than it was for a long, long time. This makes the argument for the Cup(s) that much more compelling, especially since the rivals Barcelona will face and are likely to face in the final are also challenging, to say the least.
Beating Sociedad in Cordoba and then locking horns with one of Real Madrid or Athletic Club would be a true test of resolve for the new coach and his developing team. When you look at the situation that way, this clash is more about improvement than it is about silverware because at the end of the day, throwing a parade for a Cup victory is not something true champions do, is it?
Not to mention that this is the time for fringe players to shine and prove their worth. While they may not be the first names on sheet week in, week out, games like the one on Wednesday could prove crucial in potentially turning the coach’s head. It also comes at the right time for Koeman to give the likes of Lionel Messi, Frenkie de Jong, and Jordi Alba some well-deserved rest.
When everything is said and done, winning the Super Cup is something we’d all like, regardless of how prestigious or not it may be. However, we should also not forget that winning it will not suddenly turn a bad season into a successful one, nor will it mean that everything is suddenly fixed.
But seeing how this team has had more downs than ups lately, maybe this could indeed be exactly what the good doctor had ordered. A competition that’s actually well within their reach offers challenges along the way and could boost morale if done properly. At this point, the crown would be the least important thing to come out of it, and that’s the best thing about this Super Cup.
It’s an opportunity that can give Barcelona a lot with minimal risk on the other side of the coin. Of course, as we’ve already alluded to, things tend to go sour in Cup games, injuries mount and frustration reaches its peak. But those things can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any given time.
If Barcelona were in a firm position to win La Liga or had big reasons to believe the Champions League was, in fact, a reality, the Super Cup would likely lose all its importance. But unfortunately, those statements are as far from the truth as they can be right now.
So using this opportunity to continue an impressive streak, boost morale, give fringe players chances, and with that some slam of confidence. Not to forget, also claim some silverware along the way.
Yes, this iteration of the Super Cup may have been made for strictly financial reasons with business in mind, not football, but that does not mean Barcelona cannot use it to learn and further improve, both their squad and their season.
For that reason, bring on Real Sociedad and bring on more challenges for this team to face.
Can the ban to Messi turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Barcelona?
Though the ban to Lionel Messi does seem terrifying news, a deeper thought suggests that it could be a blessing in disguise for Barcelona, opening up several avenues for Ronald Koeman to experiment.
Lionel Messi has made a name for breaking records for fun. Be it goals or assists or dribbles, he has the accolades decorating the walls of his quiet haven in Barcelona. On Sunday the Argentine found himself breaking yet another record, however, not one he would have relished too much.
The six-time Ballon d’Or award winner was sent off for the very first time in Barcelona’s famous Garnet and Blue. An unarguable offence involving a violent swing of the arm at Asier Villalibre was the incident that saw him earn the same. Consequently, a ban awarded will see Messi missing action in the upcoming two fixtures – namely against UE Cornella and Elche.
Though it does seem terrifying news, to begin with, a deeper thought suggests that it could indeed be a blessing in disguise for Ronald Koeman’s side. Temporarily so, though. Moreover, it could benefit both parties involved: the player and the team.
Sparing a scenario where he participates in Barcelona’s second-round fixture in the Copa del Rey, Leo will return to action once again against the side he received his marching orders against. The speculated return date is the 31st of January against Athletic Bilbao.
Having just come back from a muscle injury he picked up against Granada, the Argentine was far from his best in the Super Cup final. A red card was a miserable end to a painful night for him. It was evident that he was not ready to play. He pulled on through the night, almost till the very end before his patience caved in.
A fit and ready Lionel Messi is one of the key cogs in Barcelona’s engine. Rushing the captain back from injury would not be wise either for the team or the player. Messi, at 33, needs to be managed efficiently yet cautiously. This includes embracing the fact that regaining rhythm after injuries will require a longer window. Bearing that in mind, a forced two-game hiatus could be exactly what he requires to return raging.
However, the absence of the La Liga top scorer will put more burden on the shoulders of €100 million club players Antoine Greizmann and Ousmane Dembele. The French duo can see this as the perfect opportunity to step up. It is the perfect chance to prove why exactly they do have a bright future at the club. The talisman’s absence provides Griezmann with exactly the position he considers his own, and enable him to take up the baton of scoring. It will be the ideal stage for him to dictate the play between the lines and orchestrate the proceedings.
Meanwhile, for a certain Dembele, it almost guarantees successive starts. The youngster is just beginning to find his rhythm at Catalonia, and he will be looking forward to making up for the absence of his captain.
The games Leo is set to miss are relatively low-pressure on paper. This could now tempt Koeman to push in youngsters and experiment with the forward line. The Copa del Rey fixture against Cornella could well see young Alex Collado and Konrad get deserved minutes.
While Collado has constantly been superb for the B team, Konrad has been patient on the bench for many games. The La Masia graduates deserve a chance in the top flight, and Messi’s suspension could give them a chance. Either way, both have made it to the squad list for the Kings’ Cup fixture.
Similarly, the opening up of a spot on the right-wing, an infrequent occurrence, could see chances given to Fransisco Trincao. The youngster has hardly got a sniff of a start so far, and the opening up of a spot in his natural position could be what it takes for him to earn a start.
Moreover, there is a certain aspect of this on the team as a whole. Coming back after a defeat poses its own range of challenges. Nonetheless, bouncing back after a defeat in the final of an event requires suturing of a much deeper and painful wound. Having Leo on the side is always a reassurance to his teammates on the field. However, his absence following a major defeat will be a real test of the sides resilience.
An individual effort will not suffice in the coming games. With the captain on the sidelines and the hounds of the traumatizing defeat set loose on them, the players will have to be on their toes. It will be a test for the coach, and one that examines the drive in the players. What could that be in the eyes of a true fan, if not a blessing in disguise.
The team is in dire need for motivation, and for a sense of confidence. Victories in two games without their talisman can provide the biggest boost in morale for all the players alike. As for his return, Messi will be looking to come back with a bang against Bilbao next week once his ban calls curtains
It is no secret that the club-captain’s presence would lift the spirits and confidence of all personnel involved. However, the ban to Messi benefits multiple parties in the given situation, himself included. It also provides the chance for the likes of other players to step up and take responsibility on the pitch when, namely the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, among others. Alternatively, an empty spot in the team might force Ronald Koeman’s hand to give minutes to Konrad de la Fuente, Fransisco Trincao, and even Alex Collado. Will the side be able to cross the line? One really hopes so.