Barça are a fair bit into their season. What are the takeaways thus far?
The second International break of the season is upon us. Actually, we are in it already. Barça went into the break with a 5-2 victory over Real Betis. Following on from a 2-1 victory over Dynamo Kiev in midweek. 10 matches into the Ronald Koeman era, not counting the friendly matches. 7 matches in the La Liga, and 3 in the UEFA Champions League. What can be said of the Barça team?
Growth. At the very least.
There are a few fans who are still not happy with the team. Not a few, a significant part of the fanbase actually. But these fans should keep in mind that this is a team under a new manager, without a preseason. 3 months in. 3 tumultuous months. And that cannot be ignored, not in the slightest. The team looks like it has a plan when it has the ball, and that plan doesn’t depend on Leo Messi. Against Betis, chances were created in that first half without Messi. Antoine Griezmann missed a bulk of those chances, but they were created in the first place. Against a difficult team in Real Betis nonetheless. The team is more adept at controlling games. And exerting dominance whilst in control. In the last 5 games, Barça have managed to have at least 10 shots per game on average. The conversion has also been quite horrible. So, whilst dominating games more and creating more chances, the team lacks cutting edge. Everyone has been poor in front of goal. Leo Messi included. That is fascinating at the very least. And uncanny too. But this is proof that the team is at the very least growing and needs a bit more patience.
As a part of the aforementioned growth, there also is a structure to how the team plays now. There is more to become. Frenkie De Jong plays better as a part of the midfield 2 than he did on the right of a midfield 3. Ansu Fati had made the left-hand side his home before his injury, and Phil Coutinho has truly found his niche in the half spaces behind the midfield. And the press has slacked off in recent games but that is to be expected, with the frequency of games and the short time in between games. We can expect that the team will get into a good rhythm and get the required results. This is another positive, I believe. On the structure, a platform can be built and maybe exceptional performances can follow.
One negative thus far has been the in-game management shown Ronald Koeman and his staff. There are games in which some weirdly unexplainable substitutions were made. Some in which obvious need for change was ignored for too long. Yes, I’m talking about the El Classico. The subs and structure changes have been too predictable in some games and apprehensive in others. There needs to be improvement on this front. Otherwise losses like the one at Getafe and the Classico may be recreated with some measure of regularity. Nobody wants that. So, improvement would need to be made on that front.
It already is evident to everyone how deep the squad is. Ter Stegen had been away from action for some time, the better part of the last 3 months. And Neto deputized solidly for him. Aside from the clanger at Alaves, he was really good. Wasn’t afraid to receive the ball under pressure, and solid with his hands. Really good stuff to see. And then there is the wing situation, from a team that glaringly lacked width last season to the one with 4 recognized wingers and a few multifunctional players who can play there if need be. That is good to see, because it is a weird season already with games packed and stacked upon each other, both club and country, it will be a long season and the more players we have, the better. The midfield places have to be the most hotly contested places on the team. Players like Riqui Puig and Carlès Aleñá have barely seen any minutes this season. Whilst convincing arguments can be made for the likes of Miralem Pjanic and Pedri to start more games. It is a good problem to have.
The season continues with a big big game against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium on the 21st of November. Fans can look forward to the game and hope to see more evidence of progress. Let’s hope we do see the evidences.