The Blaugrana are struggling in eighth spot in the La Liga standings.
After a summer that saw Barcelona struggle big time, the winds of managerial change have started blowing. Ronald Koeman’s recent statements, including claims of him helping the club have a future, have only contributed to this turmoil. Talks have begun over whether or not the Dutchman will get his share of time to re-build the team.
Now that the season has started, real problems have begun to hammer Barcelona and Koeman. A 3-0 loss at home against Bayern Munich was followed by a last-minute escape against Granada, with the latter instance causing more ripples. So, has Koeman’s time come to a critical phase at Barcelona? What are the arguments supporting/against him?
The present scenario
Ronald Koeman joined Barcelona after the Catalans were thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final two seasons ago. Leaving a relatively more relaxed Dutch national team job, the former defender took a risk by taking over Barcelona. The Blaugrana were in shambles from inside out and Lionel Messi wanted to leave the side.
One year on, things have stabilized relatively – Koeman has managed to slow the rate of decline. In addition to winning the Copa del Rey, Barcelona were close to winning the La Liga title, if they had managed to ace their final six fixtures last season. Obviously, this did not happen. In hindsight, in 59 matches under Koeman, the side have managed 2.05 points per match – better than what many expected.
However, the gaps have just started to open up again. Messi’s departure, followed by Antoine Griezmann‘s last minute loan to Atletico Madrid, is only one in an array of things that have constituted Barcelona’s struggles. Leaving off-field issues aside, the side have looked dull. Barcelona have failed to win two of their opening four matches already. Changing a manager now will be a shot in the dark, but things aren’t assured for Koeman either.
The stylistic element
Ronald Koeman’s recent comments about the club’s stylistic shift were not well received by the Barcelona fraternity. The side, coming from tiki-taka football, resorted to swinging in crosses from the wings against Granada to escape with a draw. For a team that prides itself in a philosophy that runs through the ranks, Koeman’s statement invited criticism.
However, this is a battle that the former Southampton manager has had to face since his first day at the Camp Nou. The switch from his vintage 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 formation was not enough – Barcelona are back to preferring the 4-3-3 as their primary setup. The current lineup consists of players that are less comfortable with the ball than the previous forwards at the club. The signing of Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong did not help this clause either.
While Koeman’s predecessors have always guarded the philosophy, the Dutchman’s approach seems to be different and direct. With the set of players that he has, the approach might work (which is clearly not happening as things stand). In the long run, however, discarding a philosophy that the club endorses from top to bottom will likely backfire.
Is the future being cultivated?
Despite having one of the most horrendous periods in recent history, Barcelona have an array of promising talents at their disposal. The new No. 10 Ansu Fati and Pedri have already left blueprints of them being world-beaters in the near future. The core, which has now shifted around the periphery of Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araujo, is also fairly young in their early 20s. The additions of Yusuf Demir, Alejandro Balde, Nico Gonzalez and Gavi have served to further strengthen the case.
Ronald Koeman’s tenure has seen a lot of these players getting a hefty chunk of first-team minutes and the numbers will only increase. However, a paradoxical scenario is how transfers were done this summer. Bringing in an aging Sergio Aguero and 31-year-old De Jong falls in the opposite spectrum to where the Koeman era promises to go. The quest for immediate reconstruction is a factor that has played a huge role in these decisions. Settling the team with the signings and developing youngsters at the same time looks to be ideal. But, does Ronald Koeman have enough time to do that before Barcelona choose an alternative route? We’ll have to wait and watch.