Barcelona had a tumultuous end to the 2019/20 season.
The Catalans ended the year trophyless, a calamity given the standards of the club. They finished runners up in the La Liga behind arch-rivals, Real Madrid, were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, knocked out in the semi-finals of the Spanish Cup and then suffered an embarrassing 8-2 defeat at the hands of German champions, Bayern Munich.
After a frustrating season, Lionel Messi publicly criticized the Barcelona President, Josep Maria Bartomeu for his inability to lead as a president, putting him in line of the fire for all things going wrong with Barcelona’s management. The Barcelona captain called Bartomeu out stating, “The truth is that there is no project at this club. They just plug holes as and when things happen.”
Messi had put in a transfer request and wanted no further part with the club of his life, the only team he has spent his professional football career with unless there was a change at the helm of the football club. The Argentinian legend was not the first player to have a fall out with the Barcelona management, however. Luis Suarez was shown the door recently due to an argument with the club as Atletico Madrid swooped in to acquire the Uruguayan striker’s services.
Although Messi has decided to stay at Barcelona for another season, things are far from okay. If Barcelona has another season without silverware, it is almost certain that he will leave his boyhood club. For how much Lionel Messi has criticized the Barcelona management in setting up a team to win, it is important to note the names that the team from Catalonia has currently. Ronald Koeman is likely to set up Barcelona in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Goalkeepers – Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Neto, Arnau Urena Tenas, Inaki Pena
There is no doubt that Barcelona is fortunate to have a reliable goalkeeper in between the goalposts in Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The German international has been one of the top goalkeepers in world football for a few years now and would make almost any team as a starter. It is unfortunate that he must play second fiddle for his national team given that the captain is Manuel Neuer.
Neto is a particularly good second choice for any team to have. He looked good in the preseason so expect him to carry on and get some game time in the domestic cup competitions. He should feature in a few games in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League once qualification is secure.
Defenders – Juan Miranda, Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Samuel Umtiti, Junior Firpo
Barcelona’s defensive line-up has the perfect mix of experience and youth. They have a strong central defence with Spanish legend Gerard Pique and young Frenchman, Clement Lenglet who displaced his fellow countryman, Samuel Umtiti from the starting line-up. Eventually, Umtiti will be brought into the starting line-up when Pique decides to hang up his boots, making Barcelona’s French centre-back pairing one of the best in Europe. Barcelona also has Ronald Araujo, the young 21-year-old Uruguayan central defender who can slot into this role in case of injuries or when players need rest.
With Nelson Semedo moving to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ronald Koeman, the newly appointed head coach of the Catalans, has a bit of a headache in filling the position of right-back for his side. The left-back position is a no-brainer with Jordi Alba. Barcelona also has 24-year-old Junior Firpo and 20-year-old Juan Miranda to slot in as replacements for Alba. The expectation is that Firpo will fill in at right-back since Barcelona are thin on defensive options on the right side of the field.
Confidence will be a key factor in the new season. After that annihilation at Bayern Munich’s hands, it will be interesting to see how Barcelona respond. That was one of the worst defensive displays ever in Europe.
Barcelona’s average age for the defence: 26 years
Midfielders – Jean-Clair Todibo, Matheus Fernandes, Oriol Busquets, Pedro Gonzalez, Moriba Kourouma, Sergio Busquets, Carles Alena, Miralem Pjanic, Rafinha, Phillippe Coutinho, Sergi Roberto, Frenkie de Jong, Ricard Puig
On paper, Barcelona still has one of the strongest teams, but it all went wrong last season. With former Barcelona star player Ronald Koeman as head coach, stability will be what the Dutch legend will be looking for from his favourite club. He won the La Liga and the European Cup as a player at Barcelona and will want to do the same now, as head coach.
The Barcelona midfield is stacked and with Arthur moving to Juventus, Miralem Pjanic was brought in from the Italian side to add to their already star-studded squad. We are likely to see Frenkie de Jong really thrive under his fellow countryman, Koeman and aged just 23, de Jong has his best days ahead of him. Miralem Pjanic shared a great rapport with the great Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus and he will be keen on doing the same with Lionel Messi now at the Camp Nou. Not too many players get to play both, with and against the two greatest players of this generation.
Barcelona can also use Sergio Busquets in a deep-lying role alongside de Jong instead of Pjanic, or even utilize all 3 players in a 4-3-3 set up but it is likely that the Dutchman will stick to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Phillippe Coutinho had a phenomenally successful campaign out on loan with Bayern Munich and will in all probability, be given the nod as the central attacking midfielder in this Barcelona side. Sergi Roberto, Rafinha add to the squad’s depth and Koeman should have no problems in shuffling his side around.
Barcelona’s average age for the midfield: 24 years
Forwards – Konrad de la Fuente, Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi, Ousmane Dembele, Francisco Trincao, Martin Brathwaite, Ansu Fati
With a front three of Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi, there is no way that Barcelona does not score goals and that too, lots of them. The problem with the front line is that only Messi is consistent. The club captain is expected to carry his team on his shoulders once again as Dembele has been prone to injuries and last season was Griezmann’s first with the Catalans.
Griezmann scored 9 goals in his 35 La Liga appearances last season, which is far from what he is truly capable of. He cannot be faulted much as many believe that he was being played out of position on the left flank. With Luis Suarez gone and Ansu Fati breaking onto the scene, Griezmann will get to play his natural position as the centre forward as Ronald Koeman is supposedly keen on having the French world cup winner as his goal threat, flanked by Dembele and Messi.
This season is going to be make or break for Ousmane Dembele and with Ansu Fati, the youngest Spanish player to make his international debut, on his heels, the Frenchman needs to up his game and stay injury-free to keep his place in the starting eleven. As for Lionel Messi, he had 25 goals to go with 21 assists in his 35 appearances in the La Liga! He also had 3 goals and 4 assists in the Champions League in 8 games, 2 goals and an assist in 2 games in the Copa del Rey and, he also scored in the Supercopa, making it another season of him scoring in all of Barcelona’s competitions last season.
Barcelona’s average age for the forward line: 24 years
This is how Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona is likely to set up.
GK – ter Stegen
RB – Sergi Roberto CB – Pique CB – Lenglet LB – Jordi Alba
CM – Busquets CM – de Jong
RW – Griezmann CAM – Coutinho LW – Ansu Fati
CF – Messi
Lionel Messi has every right in questioning Barcelona’s management especially, with regards to the treatment of former striker, Luis Suarez but he seems to be partially wrong about the club trying to plug in positions when a player leaves with no foresight. The average age of Barcelona’s outfield players is below 25 years of age with several of them having world-class potential.
Messi’s frustration is mainly because Barcelona went trophyless last season even though he was terrific. The Argentinian is not getting any younger so wants to win, and win now, as he will turn 34 next year. Another problem that has definitely contributed to this is that Cristiano Ronaldo led Real Madrid to 3 consecutive UEFA Champions League triumphs and the last time the Catalans won the title was back in 2015. Ronaldo is still finding success as he moved to Italy and has won the Serie A title with Juventus. All these things would have added fuel to the fire for Messi as he is chasing his biggest rival, in the quest for another Ballon D’Or.
It is going to be testing times for the Camp Nou faithful and very challenging for head coach, Ronald Koeman, who has to prove that this Barcelona side is capable of challenging for the La Liga and performing at a much higher level in the UEFA Champions League.
The biggest question that remains is where Lionel Messi will be at the end of the 2020-21 season. Pep Guardiola and Manchester City will certainly be licking their lips.