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The Curious Case of Ronald Koeman and Substitutions

Lewis Shankie




Before the Getafe game, Ronald Koeman had given Culés some hope for the upcoming season, starting the season strongly with the new system flourishing. However, against Marea Azul, Barcelona played poorly, and some tactical decisions and substitutions need to be questioned.

The match at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez was always going to be a tough fixture for Barcelona. Getafe are a physical side and difficult to break down, something Barça have struggled against in recent seasons. Furthermore, most of the first team players had just come back from a busy international break. Therefore, the manager made a couple of changes to the starting eleven, which did not work with only Pedri having an impact on the game. Other players looked fatigued as they have hardly rested since the season began. Koeman will need to make better use of his squad if he hopes to win trophies this season.

The line-up against Getafe

There were two changes in the defence from the game against Sevilla. Clément Lenglet returned from suspension, and Sergiño Dest replaced the injured Jordi Alba at left-back. The double-pivot remained the same with Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets retaining their spots. Once again, this midfield pairing struggled to control the game and had limited influence on helping the attack and yesterday, even the defence.

Ousmane Dembele returned to the starting XI after 325 days, but failed to make a reasonable impact. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Several changes were made in the attacking line-up. Lionel Messi continued in a free role for the Catalan side. Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri found themselves starting with Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho given a much-needed rest. Antoine Griezmann was allowed to play centrally as a false-nine but failed to take this chance.

Pedri was the stand-out performer, creating the best opportunity for Barcelona to score in the match. On the other hand, Dembélé looked lively but was wasteful in possession and his runs did not amount to much. Messi did not have his usual say on the game and faded in the second half. The demanding fixture schedule must be tiring him out and it does not get any easier with the Champions League starting.

“Messi has been playing a very tight schedule for many years. I want my line-up to be the best possible in each game. Leo is a player who gets even more tired if he doesn’t play. He is a winner.”

Ronald koeman

The Substitutions

Ronald Koeman did not hesitate to make substitutions in the second half. Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati came on for a like-for-like swap for Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri. The formation stayed the same, and the decision to take the Frenchman off was unquestionable.

However, with Barcelona still behind in the 80th minute, Griezmann was replaced by Francisco Trincão and De Jong was swapped for Martin Braithwaite. It was a strange time to give Braithwaite his first appearance of the season and the Dane could only do so much in that situation.

Trincao has the potential to be a future great, but needs better chances – both in terms of quality and quantity. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Busquets ended up as the only midfielder while Barça overcrowded the final third of the pitch with five attackers. Gerard Piqué was pushed up into a striker role too. It looked like a panic move, and at that moment, Koeman let go of all tactics.

The last of the five substitutions by Koeman was another mystery. Riqui Puig was brought on for Sergi Roberto who was playing at right-back. Puig obviously assumed the midfield role, but this left Barcelona’s defence in disarray. A huge gap was exposed behind the backline, and Cucho Hernandez had several opportunities to finish Barça off. With Piqué pushing forward, Clément Lenglet and Sergiño Dest were the only defenders back, with Busquets sometimes joining them. In Riqui’s short cameo, he was isolated in midfield while Messi and Coutinho were crowded out sharing the attacking midfielder role.

How can Koeman fix this?

The issue of substitutions and team selection seems to have carried on to Ronald Koeman from managers in the past, especially Ernesto Valverde in his last season and Quique Setien. Both failed to use their bench enough, subsequently resulting in burnout for the core players. The team was then left shattered during the important matches in the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey at the end of the season.

With Koeman, he does seem confident in making use of his bench, but he could be criticised for overusing some players already. The Dutchman has one of the best Barcelona squads in recent years so he must utilise it. This could mean that his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation might not always be the best. The manager needs to be flexible to get the best out of the team.

It is difficult to watch as another coach overlooks talents like Riqui Puig and Carles Aleña. The former did not feature at all in the first three games and was given five minutes in a hapless situation against Getafe, while the latter is yet to make an appearance. Players like Puig are the future of Barcelona and based on merit, should be one of the first names on the team sheet every week. Koeman must use this excellent squad to the best of its heights through rotations and substitutions, if he wants to survive the length of this season and beyond.

“Barça’s future relies on young players who are growing like Ansu, Riqui, Aleñá, Pedri, etc. They are very important to the future of this club.”

ronald koeman


Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.



Detailed Analysis: Elche CF 0-2 FC Barcelona

Anurag Agate



Photo by JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images

In this tactical analysis, we take a look at the tactics observed in the matchup between Elche and FC Barcelona, as the visitors registered a 2-0 win.

Coming into this match, Barcelona were in good form statistically with only one loss and two draws in the last 12 games. Elche, a team with a sub-par record to say the least against Barcelona, had only two wins in the last 10 games. Barcelona were the favourites, but despite this, the performance wasn’t without hiccups for the Catalans.

Barcelona’s system

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 4-3-3 as expected. The game plan remained the same as always; maintaining possession, attacking consistently, and playing a game that emphasized passing and hence, bringing out the best in a team that was technically much superior to the opposition was the philosophy. The full-backs were key to this. Jordi Alba and Oscar Mingueza would regularly move up the field.

To facilitate this, Sergio Busquets would stay back on the attack, and a very high defensive line was employed. The wingers would stay wide, with Antoine Griezmann down the middle. The Frenchman would be seen dropping back to even out the numbers in midfield, while linking-up the play.

When building up, Busquets would often drop back to receive the ball. Considering Elche’s system, playing centrally was a problem. Hence, the ball would often be passed to the wings. The alternative included a staggering of midfield. Staggering is especially effective when the players are marked very tightly by the opposition.

Here, we have an example of the same. As the ball is with Samuel Umtiti, the Elche midfielder would appropriately step forward and prevent the centre-back from progressing with the ball. This would create a small window of opportunity when another midfielder would be moving to mark Pedri, seen in the circle on the far side, and space would be formed between the defensive lines. Frenkie De Jong is closer to Busquets as we see, which complemented his dynamic ball-progression. However, both interiors would regularly try to get into the box as seen in the 4-3-3 employed by Koeman this season, which led to both of Barcelona’s goals.

Elche’s System

Jorge Almiron’s Elche side lined up in a 4-5-1. Their aim was to defend with organization, prevent Barcelona from finding space centrally, and attack through quick combinations and long-balls. The four-man defence was the core of Elche’s setup. As we see in the image below, the team was in a well defined 4-5-1. Lucas Boye, the sole striker, would look to press Barcelona’s defenders depending on who had the ball. However, with a major numerical superiority in the build-up phase, the Catalans had few problems getting the ball to midfield.

Another aspect of the team that we can see from the image above is the structure of the midfield line. Victor Rodriguez and Ivan Marcone are man-marking Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets here. The middle-three of the five midfielders had an important job. Depending on Barcelona’s players, they would have to change the player they were marking while making sure not to give space through central areas.

When building up from the back, Elche would have one player very close to the goalkeeper. The central-defenders would stay in the box with the full-backs occupying the field higher up as the image below shows us. The midfield would completely split during this phase. Firstly, Marcone would drop back into defence. Secondly, the wide-midfielders, Emiliano Rigoni and Josan would move further up the field and look to occupy Barcelona’s full-backs. Raul Guti and Victor Rodriguez would be the two players remaining in midfield as we see here.

Almiron’s side should theoretically have done much better in progressing the ball. Once the ball was launched over to the full-backs, they would form triangles on either side with the wide-midfielders up the field, and the central midfielders laterally. The problem was of technical quality. Many times, the intention behind the combinational play was admirable, but the execution would go haywire.

Deciding factors

When Elche had the ball, Barcelona would immediately counter-press. Due to this, there were times when Elche lost the ball in Barcelona’s half with many players committed forward. Following this, Barcelona would find a lot of space to progress. As we see in the image below, Barcelona have just won possession in their own half. Elche have five players in the opposition’s half, and Barcelona have five, including Busquets, ready to attack. This was a recurring theme.

The problem with this was Elche’s full-backs failing to fall back in time. As we can see, Ousmane Dembele is completely free to make a run behind the defence. Though organized when without the ball, Elche’s defensive line was chaotic when caught on the counter. This led to Barcelona getting many chances on the counter. However, a combination of individual errors from Barcelona’s players and Elche’s willingness to absorb pressure, the Catalans lacked the final, decisive pass.

In the image below, we see another important aspect of Elche’s game plan. They would always look to force Barcelona wide and attempt nullifying the threat. Forcing a technically astute side to play down the wings can often be a good way to cope with them, but Elche failed to be solid enough in defence as both the goals showed.


Barcelona look to be finding their rhythm, after a slow start to the season. This victory was a step in the right direction for the Catalans, while Miguel Almiron’s side was a model example of a team’s technical limitations hindering the tactics. Elche have much work to do as this matchup clearly reinforced. However, this matchup could have easily gone the other way if not for a great save by Ter Stegen to keep Barcelona 0-1 up. Either way, an important three points, and a crucial first goal for Riqui Puig.

The Blaugrana are on their way to becoming greater than the sum of their parts but are yet to prove themselves against stronger opposition.

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