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Three things Koeman must change at Barcelona after the international break

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

The past few weeks have been wild at Barcelona. Debates on the managerial position intensified with every passing game, as the pressure mounted on Ronald Koeman’s shoulders. The Dutchman seemed to be collapsing under the weight of expectation around his team.

His frustration soon began showing up at press conferences. Refusing to take questions, impulsive answers and excuses crept slowly into the sessions with the media, and Koeman looked to be digging his own grave.

The performances on the field did not do justice to the names on the sheet. Even without their previous captain Lionel Messi, this Barcelona team boasts of some of world football’s best talents. Yet, they dish out poor performances on a roll.

The defeat against Benfica in the UEFA Champions League seemed to be the final piece in Koeman’s sacking. However, after two weeks of discussion and deliberation, Joan Laporta has decided to give the manager one more chance to prove his calibre with a completely fit team.

The former defender’s commitment and love for the club have never been in question. However, the Dutchman has a lot to prove, particularly that he can oversee the ever-so-important rebuild at Barcelona.

Many flaws of the manager have come to the fore in the past games. To save his job, Koeman will have to work ways around some of his limitations. Here are three things Koeman needs to work on and improve during the international break.

1. Stability and solidity of approach

Just as the mind wanders at the drop of a hat, Ronald Koeman has tended to be very unstable concerning his approach to games. Every time a system seems to get close to take-off, he has rerouted the team to a new runway.

The problem with the Dutchman early in his tenure at Catalonia was his tendency to persist with a formation that did not work for too long. Now, on the other hand, he is changing the approach too often.

The best instance to demonstrate this point is Barcelona’s most recent win over Levante. At Camp Nou, Barcelona’s 4-3-1-2 formation worked like a charm. The Catalans dominated the proceedings and created chance after chance. The 3-0 result was kind on the visitors, for clinical finishing could have projected a very different scoreline.

Barcelona looked comfortable in the 4-3-1-2 setup. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Yet, with all pieces in place, Koeman decided to mix things up just three days later. The team travelled to Portugal after the dominating win and were thrown under the bus by the Dutchman’s sudden decision to play a three-at-the-back system.

Moreover, it is reported that the players did not know of the change in formation until three hours before kickoff. Despite such a big tactical change being made for the game, the training sessions continued keeping the previous formation in mind.

Just like a young robust and energetic young man needs to settle down to ultimately get on with life, Ronald Koeman must consider settling down. The team needs stability at its core, more so with so many youngsters in the side.

A firm system will keep the teenagers’ enthusiasm in order and help Barcelona function more effectively. Moreover, it will let players understand what is expected of them and facilitate development and growth.

2. Understand the strength of media and utilise it

Media is a powerhouse that will manipulate an individual if not manipulated by him directly. Instead of being a slave to the journalists and facing the music of his words, the Dutchman must learn to use the body to his advantage.

Every word spoken by the manager to the press is heard by the players and leaves a deeper impression than one can imagine. However, just as the impression inflicted is often negative, it can be manipulated to be positive by the thoughtful use of words.

Luis Enrique is a master of the press, for he utilises the media to pass strong messages to the team. His infamous words ahead of Barcelona’s clash with PSG in the Champions League still ring in one’s ears.

“If an opponent can score four goals against us, we can score six.”

It was a statement that not just passed on energy to the dressing room but showed them the confidence the manager had in the side. The result created history.

On the other hand, walking into a post-match press conference and singling out players, no less those just breaking out in the team, publicly for a defeat serves no purpose. Instead, a good manager would talk to encourage the side.

Not the best man with the mic. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

Once again quoting Lucho helps at this junction. When asked about Pau Torres’ error that led to Italy’s late goal against Spain two days ago, the Spanish coach said it was the entire team’s fault and not any individual in particular. Compare this to Koeman’s decision to publicly blame Nico for the goals conceded against Atletico Madrid. The difference is stark.

3. Smart Rotation

The intelligent use of resources available is a requisite in today’s world of football. With the endless list of fixtures, the relentless high-pressure games and relatively inexistent time to recuperate between matches, smart rotation is now more vital than ever.

Barcelona has been over-reliant on certain players in the past few seasons which did not permit adequate rotations. However, with a young team at the fore now, it becomes more vital.

Ronald Koeman has sidelined few players and provided them with little to no minutes in the campaign. At the same time, he has overburdened some youngsters and contributed to their injuries.

Pedri has become an integral part of Barcelona’s setup over the past year. However, at the tender age of 18, he requires more microscopic management than a veteran would. The same goes with the likes of Nico, Gavi, and Ansu Fati who are all yet to hit the 20-year-mark.

Pedri has suffered two back-to-back injuries recently. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

While these youngsters have been overburdened, the burning question has been the unfair treatment of Riqui Puig. The youngster had a stellar half-season under Quique Setien. However, he has been completely discarded by Koeman, despite his profile being needed desperately on the field several times.

Barcelona has a long season ahead, and needless to say, a tough one. While players like Gavi and Pedri are no doubt integral, preventing their burnout will be crucial. This can be achieved by balancing out their playing time with other contenders like Puig and Sergi Roberto.

The Dutchman’s discrepancies in squad management do not end there. Yusuf Demir was one of Barcelona’s standout players in the preseason. Moreover, he has made a positive impact whenever called upon.

Yet, his playing time so far does not do that hype any justice. Despite the numerous injuries in the attack, players like Phillipe Coutinho and Luuk de Jong have been preferred over the youngster.

The Catalan club’s youngsters provide a solid core. However, right from Oscar Mingueza, Eric Garcia, and Ronald Araujo in defence to Yusuf Demir and Ansu Fati, the whole side needs pinpoint and immaculate monitoring of playing time to maximise development and minimize any burnout. That will be a key area for the Dutchman to focus on.

Conclusion

As matters stand, the Barcelona manager may not even have three weeks under his belt to prove his worth. However, there are some basic changes in approach that could do a world of good in his managerial career as a whole, not just at Barcelona.

These three revamped ideas could help the Dutchman get the best out of his team. However, whether he can manage to implement it at Barcelona is a question for another day.

I’ve watched football for years, but never again felt that special tug that I experienced when I watched Barcelona play for the first time. What started off as just a little inquisitiveness on Quora, ultimately developed into a magnificent passion for writing articles. The best part: You never stop learning in football; and it never ceases to amaze you.

5 Comments

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  1. Michael

    09/10/2021 at 21:10

    Wow! What a nice write-up! I must confess, you really did a wonderful job
    with regards to those points listed above. My question is, would RK make use of this great article and save his career? I hope so.

  2. krishna Ramachandran

    10/10/2021 at 07:45

    Koeman did revert to the Levante formation in the game against Atleti and Barca still lost quite easily. I think until Aguero, Dembele and Ansu are ready to play 90 minutes and Pedri/Alba return, we can’t say Koeman had a lot of resources to play with. It’s clear koeman is not a great coach but the team is even worse especially with all the injuries. The mismanagement of Bartomeu can’t be undone in just one season. It will take a season or two to clear out all veterans and deadwood and sign decent players for every position

    • Joseph

      13/10/2021 at 21:03

      I agree with you

  3. Jinny

    12/10/2021 at 16:18

    An excellent write up. Your comments about the lack of playing time for Ricky Puig and Yusef Demur are particularly true. It is obvious that Koeman has a problem playing these youngsters but while the failures of Bartomeu will not be overturned in one season deliberately sidelining good young players and further weakening the team just does not make sense. It was interesting to note that Enrique has enough confidence in the Barca youth to play them in the national team. In my opinion (having watched Barca for many years there is the making of a fairly reasonable team in the youngsters. Why we are playing Coutinho and Lukka de Jong makes no sense at all to me as they just do not have the fight/passion to carry the team to victory which the youngsters do at least have.

  4. Steve johnson

    15/10/2021 at 13:38

    Good teams should be able to play with multiple different formations either from game to game or even within the same game. Guardiola has been trying this at Man City and Bielsa has been an advocate for some time. In a few years from now football teams will probably be playing up to a point like basketball teams where formations and tactics will change a number of times within a single game adjusting on the oponent and how the game evolves. And that does not just refer to changing from a defensive, to a transition to an attacking situatio. Insisting on formation and system stability is therefore a backward step! Of course if the players quality, versatility and characteristics does not give a manager the possibility of the above he has to compremise and choose a couple of formations that the squad can then follow even when given a short notice before the game. Mentioning a formation change 1 hr before the games is in general not a negative, the team should be drilled to play 2, or 3 or 4 formations as alternatives depending on various factors.

    Mentioning Enriues media passing messages, and in particular his ‘famous’ message as a possitive is possibly a negative rather than a positive. Any team that conceeds 4 has some issues. Then the message is reversed and one ends up with the defeat 3-0 by juventus a couple of weeks later after the 6-1 against Psg, and threafter Roma and Liverpool. While his message can galvanize players in a couple of situations and games, it does not remove the inherent problem, it is just making it temporarily. Moreover it is creating in the players mind the falacy, so what if we loose 3-0 we can then win 4-0 easy in the 2nd leg, and that creates a dangerous mentality.

    Playing with Pedri (or Gavi), Busquets and De Jong in the midfield should work, we show it partially from the games with Spain as well as Barca. Playing any other combination, like Pedri, Gavi and De Jong or Pedri,Puig and Busquets is yet to be proven as an effective combination. Therefore rotation is desirable, but within limits. And as Ferguson recently said, you play your best team! if and when possible.