Barça Universal takes a closer look at three clubs who could latch-up fan-favourite Riqui Puig on loan this January as the youngster is in the hunt for more playing time.
For all the numerous rapid changes taking place in the world, there seems to be the one constant: Riqui Puig just can’t manage to get minutes under his belt. For all the hype built around the talented prodigy at the back end of last season, Ronald Koeman seems reluctant to budge.
Before the commencement of the season, the Dutchman asked Puig to go out on loan to get as many minutes of game time as possible. The youngster blatantly refused, confident that he would indeed get his chance to impress. Yet, more than two months into the season and the 21-year-old has only seen 11 minutes of action.
Undoubtedly, he is at the age where he needs continuous playing time to grow and develop as a footballer. There is a growing sentiment that going out on loan to continue playing and developing remains the best bet for Puig. Losing his permanently, though, would be a huge mistake. Barça Universal takes a look at three potential teams the youngster could go to in order to earn some much-needed playing time under his belt.
Nine games into the season and Unai Emery’s men find themselves trailing league leaders Real Sociedad just by the two points. Sitting proudly at second, the yellow submarines have had just the one loss so far, which came against Barcelona.
A glance at the Villareal midfield, however, provides interesting findings. Undoubtedly, Dani Parejo has been the leader in the middle of the park. Samuel Chukwueze, Gerard Moreno and Moi Gomes being the go-to options at wide midfield.
The chance to learn from Dani Parejo will be massive for Puig. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
However, apart from the 29-year-old duo Francis Coquelin and Manu Trigueros, the options seem feeble. On the occasions when Vincente Iborra has played, the team has operated in a 4-1-4-1. This too opens up another spot for a creative midfielder.
Though Villareal has averaged close to 60% possession this season, they have only scored ten goals from open play in nice games. With just over two big chances created per game, there is a need for a midfielder who can break the lines, yet fit into the plans Emery has for the club.
The midfield as a unit has failed to conjure up opportunities, reflected by the fact that the captain Mario Gaspar has created the most ‘big chances’ while playing out from the right-back position.
Riqui Puig could fill the holes in Unai Emery’s side. The youngster could comfortably slot into a role alongside Parejo and replace the likes of Coquelin or Trigueros. His high press and comfort on the ball make him an ideal candidate for the Yellow Submarines.
Additionally, Barcelona stands to gain too, with the player staying in the Spanish first division and gaining invaluable minutes. It would be a deal that works out well for the player too, as he would avoid the hassle of moving to a new country. Could this be a win-win?
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
The Leverkusen based side sit at fourth in the Bundesliga and are currently among the handful of unbeaten sides in the top five leagues. They play a similar style of possession-based, football, powered by swift attacks, much like Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. They play a very organized game in possession, with meaningful forward progression of the ball given paramount importance.
Peter Bosz’s fluid attacking style of football will easily accommodate Puig, even if the language barrier is problematic. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
Peter Bosz has exclusively fielded a 4-1-4-1 in the Bundesliga, but the 4-2-3-1 has come into the equation for the Europa League fixtures. The team aim to capitalise on short central passes by establishing a numerical superiority in the midfield and the halfspaces. Leverkusen requires its players to be tactically well versed with tremendous composure on the ball; something Puig possesses in spades.
Bosz has had to rotate among Florian Wirtz, Kerem Demirbay, and Nadiem Amiri as his creative midfielders. The departure of Kai Havertz to Chelsea has seen them lose a key component of their midfield creativity.
With €20M signing Exequiel Palacios not particularly impressing, and Paulinho out for several months after rupturing his ACL, taking in Riqui Puig on loan may prove to be a masterstroke,
The most unlikely of the three options, but the most glamorous and promising one. Manchester City has endured a tough start to the season, languishing six points behind league leaders Leicester. They have some of the most skilled midfielders, with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Rodri in their ranks.
Yet, there seems to be a void created by the departure of David Silva, which they have been unable to fill right now. City have been associated in recent years with ruthlessly thumping in goal after goal. Now, however, they stare at just nine goals from open play in seven encounters in the league.
Puig may not be a starter at Manchester City. Yet, even appearances off the bench would be an upgrade to his treatment at Barcelona. The idea of working with Pep Guardiola, who just signed a contract extension, and learning from some of the best in the business in de Bruyne would prove to be a tempting option for Puig. It is certainly the least likely of the three, yet the most exciting.
Learning from Pep Guardiola and Kevin de Bruyne, albeit on loan, is too enticing to pass up on for Puig if the chance ever arrives. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
At the age of 21, Riqui Puig cannot while away the key years of his development on the bench. It is heartbreaking that there seems no other option. Yet, given how firm Koeman seems on his decision, maybe a move-out, hopefully only on loan, would be in the best interest of both Barcelona and Riqui Puig.
Too late for Barcelona to kickstart a title race in La Liga?
Ever since Lionel Messi came onto the scene, La Liga title races have been monotone. One team, usually Barcelona, dominates from start to finish and keep adding to their tally.
Whenever a team not named Barcelona wins, it looks, and feels, like an anomaly. However, this season, Barcelona winning the league would be the anomaly. The giants’ start to the season was lacklustre, and they are only finding form in January after losing several points due to errors and less-than-adequate lineups.
In their first 15 games of the season, Barcelona lost four times while drawing the same number of games. Players like Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho, Clément Lenglet, and Lionel Messi were severely underperforming, while others continued to have their ups and downs. The Catalans made four errors leading to goals to end 2020, one each from Ronald Araujo, Lenglet, Neto, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. All these errors were unprovoked, amateur mistakes and that should never happen with Barcelona.
In fact, Barcelona ended the year the same way they opened it by drawing. This time, Eibar, a team that usually gets a thumping loss at Camp Nou, won their first point away to Barça. Ronald Araujo was on the end of a rookie error, and the hosts had to be rescued by Ousmane Dembele who came on as a substitute.
However, in 2021, Barcelona look like a different team. A lot has changed since Messi’s interview with Jordi Évole.
First, the captain himself feels happier, as he claimed, and the team looks set to revolve around him again. Then, the team looks way more composed, as if leaving 2020 relieved them of a heavy burden.
For example, against Granada on Saturday, Frenkie de Jong made a mistake in the opening five minutes of the game. Marc-André Ter Stegen parried the shot that followed the Dutchman’s weak pass, and almost forgetting all about it, de Jong had a top-notch display.
All in all, 2021 has started well for Barça. Three away wins in a week, and the Catalans were two points off Madrid following their 4-0 victory at Estadio Los Carmenes. And after an unbeaten run of eight games in the league, and just one loss in 2021 so far, Culés might want to entertain the thought that they can disrupt both Atlético and Real Madrid and win the league, or at least come close.
However, as it stands, it all seems like a distant dream. The recent displays might have shown Culés that Barça can play well, but often require a reality check to get going in front of goal. The last three opponents the Blaugranas faced were rock-bottom Huesca, Athletic Club with Marcelino managing his first game and a decent Granada.
Playing against Granada and Bilbao away from home is far from a simple task. Last season, Barça lost to both sides without scoring. However, these are the games that define a season. If Ronald Koeman could not win against those sides, the fans would call for his head.
Not to mention Atlético are still first in La Liga, and seem to be running away with the title. Los Colchoneros were meant to play against Athletic Club before the Granada-Barcelona game, but a snowstorm got in the way and postponed it. After Atletico’s win over Sevilla and Eibar, though, they are ten points clear off Barcelona and four clear off Real Madrid, with two games in hand.
Assuming Atléti win those two games, they will have a 16-point lead on Barça. This margin looks too big for Barça, or any team, to leapfrog Diego Simeone’s men. Nonetheless, Luis Suarez’s teammates have never been in the La Liga driving seat. This means that the pressure could still get to their head and they might lose many points soon.
Atlético already lost against Cornella in the Cup, Real Madrid in December and Bayern Munich back in October. Barcelona could destabilise the current leaders by beating them at Camp Nou in May, especially if Koeman’s tactics persist.
The sudden change to a 4-3-3 by Koeman came after five months of stubbornly trying to fit four attackers in a 4-2-3-1. The 4-3-3 revitalised the side and propelled Messi’s teammates towards a comeback against Athletic Club and demolition of Diego Martinez’s Granada. Clearly, this lineup fits everyone better than the unbalanced 4-2-3-1.
Ousmane Dembélé, de Jong, Pedri, Messi, and Griezmann all found form in the 4-3-3, and they do not look like stopping anytime soon. Even when one or all of them have less-pleasing performances, the others come and help them get through their rough patch, because the 4-3-3 is much more balances, and allows every individual enough room to create and slaughter.
For example, Dembélé had a bad display against Granada but still registered an assist thanks to Griezmann’s brilliant off the ball run. Even against Cornella, Pedri was able to come into the lineup seamlessly and rescued the game giving two assists.
This is what champions do. When one player falls, others help him get back on his feet. This is how Atlético won their last two games in the league. With Suarez, everyone thought Atlético could win the league because they had a proven winner through their ranks. Well, Barcelona have Messi and a few other champions in their side.
Whenever champions fall, they only need a few games to get back up. Barcelona fell really hard against Bayern in August, and it took five months for them to get over the humiliation. This week might prove crucial to their chances of being in a title race. Until then, let’s hope Barcelona can keep their excellent form and end the campaign in better shape than the last one.