Former Barcelona legend Ronald Koeman has taken the responsibility of the club, which is sinking in a catastrophic time. Barcelona defence problem has been a big issue for the team, courtesy heavy away defeats in the Champions League knockouts and It is now the coach’s responsibility to reorganize the squad and take the tactical decisions. With astronomical wages for star players and unplanned transfer activity, Barcelona has been suffering from squad depth in defence. Since the departure of Mascherano, Barcelona has found it difficult to find the centre-back partner to Gerard Pique. Umtiti had taken up the realms until he was sidelined because of frequent injuries and Clement Lenglet has provided inconsistent performances. With injuries lining up around the backline, among all the problems in the club, Barcelona defence problem is one to reckon with. In this piece, We will look out for options available to Koeman in the near future.
Koeman’s favourite is the 4-2-3-1 formation. He used this formation when he was in charge of the Netherlands national team and in the Premier League at Everton and Southampton. This formation uses four defenders at the back with two holding midfielders in the double pivot. With this formation, he has succeeded with the Netherlands national team as he guided his team to the UEFA Nations League final.
Talking about the attack, this formation has been very favourable for Messi while having Griezmann and Fati around. This is because Messi operates centrally on the field for most of the matches, playing in the CAM helps him use his play-making ability as well as his goal-scoring ability. Griezmann tries to take up spaces in the defence and tries to make runs past the last line of defence. This favours the Barcelona attack as Koeman as he can properly utilise the no. 10’s in the squad. Ronald Koeman has faced lots of criticism after changing the long-standing 4-3-3 formation into a 4-2-3-1 which he justifies as apt for the squad.
As a Coach, I have my system preferences. Why play with wide players if we do not have wingers in the squad. In my opinion, 4-2-3-1 is the perfect system for this team considering the qualities of the players.Ronald Koeman, Barcelona manager on the system
Despite having ample options to choose from in the midfield, It is the defence which has arguably worried Koeman a lot due to lack of squad-depth. The Dutch manager has resorted to the services of the youth academy players to solve the Barcelona defence problem as injuries and booking problems have crept into the squad.
We will look into the factors which has worried Barcelona.
A champion team must not only have a fearsome attack but also a solid foundation at the back. There is no doubt in mind that the main reason for Barca’s downfall is the defence. Many of Barcelona defenders are ageing such as Pique and Alba. Barca is in a dire need of fresh blood. As, Ronald Koeman has rightly said, So he has to change this line of defence. But due to the current financial situation, it is not easy for Koeman to bring in new reinforcements. This is the worst-case scenario for the Barca coach.
“I think it is the moment to give opportunities to the young players who deserve it. We are not afraid if they are can prove they are up for it. I think they have quality but it is also true that you have to have balance.”Ronald Koeman, Barcelona manager on the Barcelona defence problem.
The need to adapt
Koeman likes fullbacks who play direct and wide instead of coming to the centre. For example, in contrast to this is Jordi Alba, who played for Barca as an inverted fullback and also operated in wide positions. He had to do this, due to the limitations of wing play in the team. Sometimes, He has also moved a little towards the centre to give a numerical advantage in the midfield. But now Alba needs to adapt to Koeman, as he prefers wide fullbacks rather than inverted fullbacks. Koeman wants to restrict his fullbacks. It’s not only about Alba but the whole defence is like that. The full-backs need to be smarter, and supplement the runs of the forwards, especially in the half-spaces. Even after the Bayern humiliation in the Champions League, There has been no attempt to strengthen Barcelona’s defence, which is a pity.
The options available to Koeman:
It will take time for Barca to bring new high-profile signings to strengthen their squad due to financial unrest in the club. Until then, Let’s talk about the current options available for them.
Jordi Alba is arguably one of the best full-backs in the world, but the Spaniard seems to have lost a bit of his confidence. Alba provides immense work-rate where He can combine with the likes of Leo Messi and create chances. But, in the absence of Alba, There are not enough quality reinforcements made in the squad as a back-up to him. Alba finds it difficult to track back at times and is not an able defender for closing down the wingers. He needs to adapt to the style of Koeman so that he can bring the best out of him.
The most experienced player in the Barcelona defence. Although being dependable, He is criticised to being casual in his approach and commits unwanted mistakes. Koeman needs to bring the best out of him and use his experience which can come in very handy if Barca is to win trophies. After retiring from the Spanish national team, Pique has only his eyes for winning laurels with his club. The Barcelona defence problem has really started to worry when Pique suffered a sprain injury to the ACL of his right knee has ruled Pique out for a period of two months, as Barcelona have to look for options without him in the backline.
This French centre-back was initially unbeatable and formed a formidable partnership with Gerard Pique. But his recent fitness issues have left him a shadow of his former self. Umtiti disagreed to carry out an operation to play out the 2018 World Cup which aggravated the extent of his injuries. It remains to be seen whether he’ll recover from this and establish him in the starting XI for the club.
This 24-year-old was really the pick of the Barcelona defenders as he looked solid beside Pique, marshalling the left centre-back position when Alba charged forward. This season, He has begun to commit rash fouls and unwanted mistakes which makes him vulnerable at the back. Lenglet must make sure He steps up as the leader of the Barca defence in the future which solves a lot of Barcelona defence problem. His good performances can take the pressure off Koeman and fewer mistakes might rescue Barcelona from uncomfortable positions.
Sergi Roberto, a real utility player in the squad, can support the right-back position being a midfielder. He has been playing well since Koeman has arrived in the club and has offered a great competition for Sergino Dest. The La-Masia man has shown real strengths with his positional play and passing in these games. But in defence, He can play as a stop-gap role sharing the position with the United States international. Koeman must play him in a more formidable role as he has the stamina and awareness to do well in the team.
Junior Firpo, brimming with a lot of potential, has struggled to adapt to the left-back role. The Spanish international has looked edgy in the defence but has combined well with the likes of Fati and Dembele, going forward. Koeman would try to get the best out of Firpo and unlock his potential.
The former Ajax man has looked excellent in the Classico and the games which he has started since he arrived at the club. Looking undisputed in the future of Barcelona, The US International has looked brilliant as he can be really tough to get past when he got his chances after Sergi Roberto was ruled out because of an injury. He can charge forward in the attack and looks like an undisputable starter in the future. The young right-back has all which FC Barcelona missed since Dani Alves left the club and It’ll be interesting how improves at the Camp Nou.
Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza
The young centre-backs have looked good in Barcelona shirt when they have got the opportunity. Araujo has put in good performances and looked extremely athletic while defending and bringing the ball from the back whenever he was starting. Oscar Mingueza has started a few games in the absence of Gerard Pique and has looked quite comfortable while defending. These are young options who can offer to solve the Barcelona defence problem in the long run, but They need a lot of time to prove that they belong to the top stage.
Possible fixes to the Barcelona defence problem
Pique’s absence due to injury, Umtiti’s fitness concerns leaves Barcelona short of reinforcements in the defence, with only Clement Lenglet as the recognized centre-back in the team. They have youngsters like Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo, but they can’t fully depend on them. Koeman needs a specialist defender to bolster his squad. However, there is no clue as to when this transfer is going to take place, looking at their current financial crisis. But, We’ll look at a few options which the Board might target this winter or next summer to solve the Barcelona defence problem.
Benfica has recently decided to return Jean-Clair Todibo, the French centre-back to Barcelona who was out on a loan. Todibo who starred in last year’s group stage clash when Barcelona defeated Inter Milan in San Siro, which knocked out Inter from Champions League would return to Barcelona in the winter. It will be challenging for Koeman to make Todibo match-fit in order to fill up his defensive voids.
Todibo will not be against the Standard. He has been stopped, began to train last week and has no conditions to go to the game, neither physical nor technical. He is not one of the players I am thinking about as a novelty.”Jorge Jesus, Benfica coach.
The Man City centre-back has already set his heart out to return to Barcelona in the near future. The former Spanish youth team captain will not extend his contract with Manchester City and can return to Camp Nou for free next summer. If Koeman needs reinforcements as soon as possible, Manchester City would earn a nominal transfer fee for the young centre-back.
“I know he wants to leave, but maybe we can seduce him to extend his contract with us,” Guardiola added with a smile. “He is a guy who is so stable in many, many things and I’m so happy [with him].”Pep Guardiola on Eric Garcia’s contract.
One of the signings which Barcelona should prioritize in summer would definitely be going for the Austrian defender, whose contract expires with Bayern Munich. Alaba is extremely flexible who can play in multiple positions and is Europe’s one of the best play-making centre-backs. Barcelona would really savour the signing of the player for free this summer and could open a lot more options for the manager.
This is truly a mammoth challenge for Koeman and Barca. However, it seems that without reinforcements, the defence section of Barca will remain relatively incompetent this season as well. Barca fans have a lot to witness, a lot to anticipate. But the fans are hopeful that they’ll see a new dawn with Barca.
How should the Barcelona defence problem be solved? Let us know in the comment section below.