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Time to introduce Konrad de la Fuente?

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Photo via Imago

There is little to no doubt about this, but Ansu Fati has inarguably been Barcelona this season, contributing in multiple altitudes, surpassing the sphere of just direct goal contributions. At the age of just 18, Fati has kept his head above the waters of complacency, with an eye on goal – both literally and figuratively. So much so, the Spaniard managed to win the La Liga Player of the Month in September, breaking records and expectations in the process.

However, while at a developing age, there are little to no reasons for him to be burdened with the pressure bestowed upon him by the manager and fans alike. He was overplayed to a dangerous extent, much like Pedri, and as fans feared, it resulted in an injury – a long one at that. Obviously, anyone would have fallen to the tackle by Aissa Mandi, but the intersection of the situation plays against Koeman here.

Notwithstanding that, with Fati out for nearly four months, Barcelona are left with two natural wingers in their squad in the form of Fransisco Trincāo and Ousmane Dembele. Yes, Pedri can be added to the mix as he has very clearly excelled on the left. But, now is the time that Koeman learned from his mistakes. It might be finally time for Barcelona to bring out Konrad de la Fuente on the pitch.

Barcelona snapped up Konrad at the age of 12 after his phenomenal rise to hype with Damm, and his progression with the Catalan giants has been nothing short of meteoric since.

He was destined to take over Barcelona’s left wing, only to miss out by none other than Ansu Fati himself, who took over Konrad’s starting spot in the B team, which meant that the American had to be deployed on the right. With Fati out now, Konrad will be hoping to convince Koeman for a run in the team.

For the most part, Konrad brings a lot of dynamism to the wing, much like most modern day wingers. He is a fast-paced dribbler, who boasts of quick feet and a strong passing and positional sense. Doesn’t that resemble Fati himself, and to some extent Dembele? Well, of course it does, but that is the point.

Koeman has come at Barça with a clear plan of action – how he wants his team to set up, how he wants the wingers to play, and where he wants to use Frenkie de Jong, and Lionel Messi, more specifically. Fati was best home in this setup on the left, playing as a modern winger, cutting onto his right foot before making a decision to shoot or pass.

Koeman has come at Barça with a clear plan of action – how he wants his team to set up, how he wants the wingers to play, and where he wants to use Frenkie de Jong, and Lionel Messi, more specifically. Fati was best home in this setup on the left, playing as a modern winger, cutting onto his right foot before making a decision to shoot or pass.

Either way, in theory, that is something that can be replicated, and Konrad would probably do it best. On technical ability alone, the 19-year-old is more hardworking than Fati and Dembele and likes to carry the ball from deep, running along the touchline after a turnover. Moreover, what he has over other wingers in the team is motivation to make the left-wing his home.

He does not quite possess the intricate finishing in tight spaces which Fati has, but to be fair, without a chance to play among the big boys, he might never get the chance to develop it either.

If push comes to shove, he might as well be tried on the right, where he could combine with compatriot Sergiño Dest. His work ethic without the ball is commendable as well, and he could help out Dest with tracking back. That should be reason alone for him to warrant a chance given Barcelona’s defensive woes.

Konrad de la Fuente USA

Despite praising him in pre-season, Koeman has failed to provide Konrad with the minutes he probably thought he would get. (Photo via Imago)

In fact, watching Konrad in pre-season against Girona, Koeman had high praise for him, singling him out of all youngsters on the pitch. Since that, the Dutch manager has spoken highly about him in pubic again, following his inclusion with the US Men’s National Team. Despite that, he has failed to make a single appearance and was left out of the squad altogether as well on a few occasions.

It is a congested season, and fans should not be surprised if more injuries follow. Real Madrid are already down three right-backs, one centre-back, two midfielders, one striker, and a winger due to injury and sickness.

Koeman should not think twice before allowing Konrad to run riot on the wing; he might hit two birds with one stone with the decision. Place him on the left, with Dembele on the right, and watch the attack create havoc.

Simple guy, who enjoys the simple things in life: music, football, cooking, and dogs. Part-time violinist, full time Barcelona faithful.

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  1. Avatar

    Lawal Nasir

    10/11/2020 at 12:03

    Brilliant write up Theo, it’s simple, precise and straight to the point, couldn’t have agree with you more. You have been hammering on this point (the over use of Ansu) and all the Cules nightmare is here (Four-month injury lay off!).
    One thing is very clear from all your warnings to Ronald Koeman and his coaching staffs on this respectable medium (Barca Universal) on the danger of placing too much responsibility on Ansu’s shoulder, is that he does not read them, because if he does, he should have at least heed your advice. Having said this, however, I hope he gets to read this, and follow your advice. A word is enough for the wise.

    • Avatar

      Theo Rennan

      10/11/2020 at 13:45

      Thank you, Lawal!

  2. Avatar

    demy

    10/11/2020 at 12:22

    not too late but that’s what he should always do, not until players are injured or unavailable before trying others, because Barça will mostly need those players when the season reaches its earnest.

Analysis

Erling Haaland — One for Barcelona to chase

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo via Getty Images

Erling Haaland is set to dominate the world of football for the next decade, and Barcelona will regret if they do not sign him in the next summer window.


Whenever Barcelona are linked with new players, one question always emerges: “Does he have the Barça DNA?” Although a vague term, Barça DNA has come to mean the traits that a Barça player should have, whether already at the club or a prospective transfer. These traits include everything from being technically sound to fitting a possession-oriented style — think of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Lionel Messi.

It’s natural for a club to want players that fit their ethos, especially Barcelona who have such a well-established identity, but where should the line be drawn? Should the Blaugrana miss out on top players because of an inhibition to change tactics, or should the team mould itself around them?

This is where Erling Haaland comes into play. At only 20-years old, Haaland has already solidified himself as one of the best young players in the world, and his position at centre-forward fills a dire need for the Catalans. And to the joy of Culés, the links to him have already begun, with Joan Laporta particularly interested in signing him for the club when and if he becomes President.

Rumours around his signing prop up two eternal arguments: He’s a world-class player that we need versus, he doesn’t fit our player profile.

How do Barcelona navigate this tricky situation?

Who is “The Terminator”?

Dubbed ‘the Terminator’, Haaland burst onto the world stage in the 2019-20 season with Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, tallying 24 goals in 20 appearances. He also made headlines with the Norwegian international team in the under-20 World Cup, where he scored nine goals in one match.

Haaland meditation PSG

His ‘meditation’ celebrations are among things Haaland has caught attention for. (Photo via Imago)

In January 2020, he made a mid-season switch to Borussia Dortmund and has been wreaking havoc ever since. Now in the midst of his first full season with the German club, Haaland has scored 33 goals in 31 appearances, winning the Golden Boy Award as well, looking set to dominate world football for the next decade.

Player Profile

Haaland is notorious for his finishing, goal-scoring instincts, and intelligent off-the-ball movement. He scores in a variety of manners, whether with powerful long-range shots or well-placed finishes. As aforementioned, his goalscoring record speaks for itself, having already scored 17 goals in 13 appearances this season.

At 6’4″, he is a menace for opposing defenders, boasting a natural ability in the air as well as blistering pace, a combination unheard of, and feared. Earlier this year in a match against Paris Saint-Germain, the Norwegian reached a top speed of 36 kilometers per hour.

The 20-year old tends to play off the shoulder of the defence, menacingly waiting for a through-ball or long ball from his creative teammates.

Below is Haaland’s heat-map from this season, representing his average positions on the pitch. Evidently, he lurks in and around the box, waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Haaland’s heat-map from for the 2020/21 BuLi season. (Courtesy Sofascore)

With the ball at his feet, his pace and physicality allow him to out-run his defender, and without it, his world-class positioning always results in him being in the best spot to score a goal. His movement also drags opposing defenders, putting his teammates in prime goalscoring opportunities. Haaland is a nightmare to defend and must be closely marked because all he needs is a sliver of space to score.

Though not his best attribute, he can link up well with his midfielders, playing small one-twos, then receiving the ball in the penalty box.

Haaland header

Haaland is a versatile scorer, who can do a lot with creators like the ones Barcelona has behind him. (Photo via Imago)

Haaland is a counter-attacking threat as he can use his pace to capitalize on regrouping defenders. He’s also adept at holding up the ball, fending off defenders with his physicality and laying the ball off to his teammates. He’s an old-school number nine, with drops of a brilliant, adaptable player who can score goals out of thin air.

With at least a decade in front of him, Haaland can still improve, and one can only wonder what his ceiling is.

“I’ve maybe been around too long but I have never seen a guy since maybe Messi or Ronaldo that developed at such a young age. That’s very unique and he has all the possibilities to become a really world class player.”

 Norway coach Lars Lagerback 

The Numbers Behind the Player

In his young career, Haaland has already established himself as one of the most lethal finishers in the world. He recently became the youngest and fastest player ever to reach 15 Champions League goals, as well as the youngest to score four goals in a single Bundesliga match.

The Norwegian-international has taken 91 shots on target in his professional career, and scored 72 goals, giving him an astonishing shots on target to goals ratio of 79%. He’s averaging 4.21 shots per 90 minutes this season and 2.59 shot-creating actions. Additionally, he comes up with 0.53 goal creating actions a game, showcasing how much of an all-around threat he is.

The following graphic compares Haaland’s statistics in the last two seasons with top-five league forwards.

Haaland barcelona

(From: footballslices.com)

His goalscoring attributes (red) clearly stand out and his creative stats (yellow) are promising too.

The graphic below compares Haaland’s stats in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons with Bayern Munich’s talisman Robert Lewandowski.

(Graphic from Understat)

The stats are eerily similar, albeit Haaland has played almost half as many minutes as Lewandowski, arriving not before January. The most noteworthy one being the G90 (goals per 90) and A90 stats (assists per 90), where he eclipses the Pole. A goalless outing today barely provides a dent to what has been a fantastic start to life in the 2020/21 Bundesliga season.

Should Barça sign him?

Haaland is evidently a world-class forward, yet questions about his fit persist. Some fans question whether his player profile suits the Catalans, and many are wary of his lack of “Barça DNA”.

While he’s not as much of a creator as Barça might want in the striker position, he’s by no means inept and still has so much time to improve. Furthermore, Barça’s front line is filled with creative players like Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, and they desperately need someone who is lethal in front of goal. He may not be renowned for his passing or creating in tight spaces, but he excels in the most important duty of a goalscorer: scoring goals.

Erling Haaland PSG

The goal against PSG is testament of the plethora of goals Haaland is capable of scoring, something Barcelona crave for. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts)

On the other hand, Barça typically face teams that like to sit-deep and form a low block. How would Haaland fare against opposition that won’t allow him to maximize his pace and darting runs? Given his ability and instincts, it’s safe to assume that with the right creative pieces behind him, there’s no doubt Haaland could thrive in any setup, especially given his height and built, which can help him bully the strongest defenders in the box.

Above all else, it’s necessary to consider whether Haaland would even want to go to Barcelona, let alone whether the Catalans should pursue him.

The club is an institutional mess, and the squad is performing poorly. It’s not exactly an ideal spot for any player. Barcelona are also struggling financially, and can not realistically pursue Haaland without offloading a lot of other players. Haaland does have a fixed release clause of €75 million, though, and certainly, that plays into Barcelona’s lap. The centre forward would definitely need assurances of being an undisputed starter, as his ability certainly warrants that.

Another reason Barcelona should definitely get into the action to bring him to Spain is because rivals Real Madrid are the clear favourites to sign Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain. Ansu Fati, for all his brilliance, is too young to draw comparisons with the Frenchman, but Erling Haaland is the man who can give him real competition, and if shove comes to push, even overtake him.

Closing Thoughts

Alongside Kylian Mbappé, Haaland might be the best young player in the world right now. He has all the necessary attributes to shine anywhere and is a transfer target for most of Europe’s big clubs. The 20-year old could potentially lead Barça’s front line for the next decade, and he could be Barça’s next iconic number nine, following in the footsteps of Luis Suárez, David Villa and Samuel Eto’o.

Erling Haaland dortmund

Haaland is set to dominate the decade, and Barcelona will regret not getting him. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

He would surely astonish the Camp Nou, even without the so-called “Barça DNA”, but his transfer depends on navigating the financial crisis, and his on the pitch success depends on the right coach. However, just having Haaland on the team sheet, Barcelona would return to instilling genuine fear into their opponents.

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