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Time to introduce Konrad de la Fuente?

Udhav Arora



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.

Editor-in-Chief. | They say a picture says a thousand words, but I intend to write a thousand words about a picture I clicked.



A history of crumbling under pressure: The Jordi Alba conundrum in a big game

Shahraiz Sajjad



Photo via Imago

Claiming Jordi Alba to be one of La Liga’s – if not Europe’s – most improved players from last season would not be a far fetch. While on his best days, his quality has always been evident, and his raiding runs on the left flank tend to give the Blaugranas a huge edge, the Spanish international’s output in the final third has lately begun to revolve around sensible plays, with visible improvements in Alba’s decision making; most notably refraining from relying on the formularized ‘Messi cut-back.’

The marauding speedster has become a crucial cog in Koeman’s side as the newfound 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation arguably seems to extract his best qualities and conceals his most noticeable flaws. The Spaniard is considered lethal, and a vital source of penetration situated higher up the field. With slick spells of possession in the centre, his runs from wide are almost gone unnoticed.

However, in spite of Alba’s achievements thus far and enhancements in his gameplay, issues that have tainted the talented Spaniard’s career still prove to be a thorn in his side, overcoming him in arguably the worst moments. Big games and Jordi Alba appear to have developed an incredibly toxic relationship as the 32-year-old has, on countless occasions, been a victim of his feeble mindset, tarnishing his legacy in the process.

The Copa del Rey final will once more be a huge encounter with a crucial source of silverware on the line for the Blaugranas. A win will undoubtedly elevate their status, uplift the morale of the team and surely prove to be their saving grace this season. Unfortunately, a game of this magnitude is also the perfect breeding ground for Alba’s antics. As promising as his season may have been, he has still proven to be unreliable in pressure situations.

Alba has talked more and performed less in big games. (Photo via Imago)

Blitzing forward, he is known to be a menace, but in the defensive third, poor decision making is often visible. In the recent Clásico, Alba’s assist for Mingueza may have overshadowed his lack of focus defensively, but it must not be forgotten that he was a major reason why Fede Valverde was able to comfortably cruise past the Barcelona midfield and provide Benzema with the pre-assist. After enjoying one of the best patches of his career, Alba fell prey to the big game syndrome on the night it mattered most.

While that defeat was not entirely the number 18’s fault, it was a testament to his habitual blunders. In the Spanish Supercup final against Athletic Bilbao, Alba was once again one of the major culprits, proving to be undependable in set pieces and as confused as a lost sailor in defence, suffering at the hands of Iñaki Williams most notably. Scoring an own goal against the very same opposition in the league was another dent on his resumé. The fact that Alba contributed heavily to Valencia’s Copa Del Rey victory in the 18/19 season also devalues his presence in critical games, with both goals from Valencia easily avoidable, had the Spaniard not fumbled cheaply.

For the first goal, Alba came instantly rushing to block the scorer but was sent to the cleaners as he gravely mistimed his run. On the second occasion, the 32-year-old enabled Valencia’s winger to charge past him seamlessly as he went onto assist the final dagger. Admittedly, Culés have done their best to move on from the past in an attempt to forget and forgive. Having made some huge strides this campaign, clinging on to errors that any mere mortal is capable of committing does seem nonsensical.

Even so, despite efforts made to channel more faith in Alba, his recent comments have only made matters worse. As a leaked conversation between Alba and Piqué was made public by the media after the Clásico, concerns are again beginning to mount over his mentality. Even though Piqué appeared to be optimistic regarding Barça’s chances in the Copa Del Rey, all Alba had to offer in response was, “I don’t know.”

Completely ignoring the progression Barcelona made after proceedings, disregarding the fact that a point is the least Barça deserved, and most importantly, forgetting the club’s ability to bounce back this season, a meagre “I don’t know” is all the full-back gave in response. Of course, drawing conclusions based solely on a 10-second clip would be unjust, yet, given Alba’s past of wavering when it matters most, it really does not come as a surprise. The Anfield annihilation still remains fresh in memory, a wound that is yet to heal fully.

To play or not play, that is the question

As the full-back made a mockery of himself under the lights, his breakdown at half-time when the comeback was not even completed simply implies his pessimistic nature. Thus arrives the million-dollar question: do Barcelona run the risk of playing Alba in a game where the stakes are this high?

Considering Alba’s recent comments and reputation in knockout stages, fielding him in a game that holds such value for Barça’s campaign is inarguably a risk. The brand of football Barcelona have been playing comprises of collective strength, which emphasizes on every individual playing a vital role. One loose screw is all it takes to disrupt the team, and it’s fair to say Alba has proven to be that loose screw on several occasions before.

Nonetheless, the Blaugranas are incredibly limited, not yet possessing the privilege to have any firm competition in Alba’s position. As frustrating as his shortcomings may be, there is still no denying that his “good days” earn him the title of one of the best full-backs in the world. An additional factor is that he has, at the very least, not crumbled in any of the previous Copa del Rey knockout stages. Against Granada and Sevilla, his contributions were absolutely vital, particularly his performance against the Nazaríes, where a blistering brace enabled his side to seal qualification.

Barça are certainly running a risk, but this risk could potentially pay dividends if Alba shows a more daring and composed version. Making a sudden change in the final seems unlikely and could potentially hamper the team’s harmony. 

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