The manager has changed the way Barca plays for good. We might see a better Barçaa this season.
Barcelona started the 2021-22 season with a new beginning, a new era under Ronald Koeman. The Laporta effect is just starting to take off, with a lot of new signings, a new plan, and a lot more. This has been visible in pre-season where Koeman’s figuring out his best players and tactics. But he does that without some of his key players who are still out on vacation. Preseason allows unlimited substitutions, and Barca have taken advantage of the situation in the best way possible.
Barca have won the three games played so far, by very fine margins. But it’s not just about winning. The way in which the team has been setup, the player performances, particularly from La Masia have a key role to play. The team has scored 10 goals and conceded just one so far. The dominance shown across the pitch, albeit in preseason and with decent level opposition looks rather promising. Let’s analyse how Koeman has managed to push the reset button in all areas of the game.
It was reported earlier that Koeman will go with a 4-3-3 formation this season, and that is what we’ve seen so far. He has played a back 4 involving Pique, Dest, Balde, Umtiti, Lenglet, Alba, and Araujo. All three games were a combination of first team and La Masia defensive players. Balde in particular has been one of the best performers, and Koeman might use him in the first team this season. Will see a lot in the future since Eric and Mingueza are yet to join the team due to the Olympics.
Sergiño Dest played in the left-back position against Stuttgart, while Umtiti and Lenglet who are rumoured to leave were also given a lot of game time. Roberto came in at right back since Emerson has just joined this week. Barcelona got exposed against the Germans late in the first half on the counter as the team played high up the pitch. Dest misplaced the ball, which led to Stuttgart’s attack. But Gavi saves the day as he tracks back, and makes the interception as shown in the second image.
This is the area where things have got the most interesting, since there’s a ton of talent in the team. Riqui Puig started the pre-season very well against Nastic, getting on the end of it, causing problems to the opposition by pressing on the front foot. Koeman is employing a high-pressing strategy in the team as opposed to a conservative approach. The second half in the game was all B team and Juvenil-A. Rey Manaj scored a hat-trick and Alex Collado got one as well.
Look how Gavi plays in the images above and below. Players usually cross the ball, hit it and hope for the best. But this 16-year-old kid isn’t ordinary by any means. He’s trying to pick out Komas who’s coming in for a diving header, instead of taking a shot himself. He drops the ball in behind absolutely perfectly weighted for his teammate to head it in.
Ronald Koeman started with De Jong, Nico Gonzales, and Gavi in midfield against Stuttgart. It turned out to be a more balanced midfield than expected. Gavi was combining with Memphis in that game.
La Masia players Nico Gonzales, and Gavi in particular have been the talking points for fans around the world. Koeman has shown his trust in the two players and will use them in the first team this season. Koeman will not start with Pedri, De Jong, and Bousquets game in game out this season. Pedri’s minutes that need to be managed as a priority will be shared with Gavi.
Memphis has played exceptionally well in his first two games, as he was on the scoresheet in both of them. A penalty against Girona, and a very skillful one against Stuttgart. It will not be a surprise that he’s a designated starter this season for the team. The Dutchman linked well with Antonie Geizmann against Girona as shown in the image below. The Frenchman is dropping in a bit deeper, and Memphis is making runs in behind. This is something new that we’ve seen by Ronald Koeman this time.
Memphis is very versatile, his movement off the ball is epic. He can play in position in attack. In the two games he played, the way he linked with Griezmann, and with the midfielders as well, is a sign of things to come for this season. Look how he sees the ball at first, and makes the run in behind in the second image. He doesn’t get the ball, but continues to run in behind on the shoulder of the defence. This is the sign of a true number 9, that the team has lacked recently.
Then, we see in the image below that he gets himself into the box, a good instinct. He did not get the ball before that, but he didn’t stop. He shows his strength to hold off the defender, but the ball doesn’t make its way towards him. Strikers have to be intelligent that way, and this is why Koeman wanted him in the first place.
Then there’s another piece of play that shows another area of Memphis’ game. He first takes out the entire Girona defence with a dummy, and then releases Sergi Roberto in attack. The Dutchman then continues to run in behind the defence. The ball does get in, but in the end the referee called for offside.
Yusuf Demir was the first Barca player to get a shot on target against Gimnàstic de Tarragona, showing his quality and desire. He got his first goal in the last game against Stuttgart, and has earned Koeman’s trust. Alex Collado will leave loan to Club Brugge. But he’ll return to the Camp Nou next season, giving way for Demir to be in the first team regularly. The manager is surprised by Demir, no wonder as he’s just a joy to watch.
Overall, the squad looks to be highly balanced, with Emerson, Messi, Eric, and Pedri still to play. The performances so far look promising, and the team can challenge for silverware this season. However, there are still off the ball issues to solve. Laporta is working on selling, and wage cuts that still need to be taken care of. But as far as things on the pitch are concerned, there’s a ray of hope for Barcelona this season.