A new year means hope for a better future. For Barcelona, that hope will rest on the results of the presidential election on January 24th.
For supporters, the reality of new leadership is one bright spot to appreciate, no matter who is elected.
2020 was a disaster, but it was years in the making. 2021 is a new chapter, and important decisions will face the new president right away.
One of the most anticipated decisions will be around the future of the manager, so January will be a critical month of fixtures.
Ronald Koeman is in the hotseat and needs to find a way to get results domestically. The Dutchman has admitted that winning La Liga, realistically, will be difficult. But the upcoming schedule is modest, and it will be a chance to get his team into the top four, and keep them there before panic sinks in.
It won’t be easy. There’s fierce competition at the top of the table, and every opponent seems to smell blood in the water when Barca is around.
For that reason, the new year will need to be about establishing a winning culture, one that emphasizes grit. Against Eibar, one of the bright spots was that the team fought hard until the end. With the young players, and even a group of veterans whose confidence is alarmingly low, there will continue to be mistakes. Mistakes, however, can be overcome with intensity from start to finish, and concentration in front of goal.
The players are already creating plenty of chances. Being clinical is the next step, and once it starts it could be contagious. Against Eibar, there were impressive performances from Pedri, Ousmane Dembele, and Martin Braithwaite, but all three missed crucial opportunities to win the game. If the team starts converting at a higher rate, momentum could build and help turn things around.
Koeman himself is slowly showing willingness to try new ideas. The variety of formations from game to game has been encouraging. Certain players, like Braithwaite and Miralem Pjanic, who were not used in the beginning of the season, are now being given chances.
This willingness to experiment and see what works best should continue. When in doubt, he should go with the youth. If this is a year of transition, he will be forgiven for dropping points if it comes as a result of the next generation learning and growing.
The draw with Eibar was frustrating because the quality of play was actually quite good, and a better outcome was deserved, especially considering that Messi wasn’t available. Ronald Araujo has been commendable this season, and one moment of horror doesn’t change that. Combine that with the maturity and fearlessness of Pedri, Sergino Dest, and Oscar Mingueza, and you get an inspiring example of what the future could look like.
Going into 2021, regardless of the new president and possible new manager, much will depend on the health and performances of the biggest players.
Dembele is pure class when fit. He’s one of the best weapons the team has, and it’s worth designing tactics to leverage his unique talents. Aside from being an exciting player to watch, Dembele’s impact on games is becoming undeniable. Unlike Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, he’s proven his value this season when given a chance.
The biggest storyline of 2021, however, will of course be the future of Messi. Based on his recent interviews, it’s clear that his decision to remain at the club could go either way. He loves Barcelona, and in his heart doesn’t want to leave. But a vision for the future off the field matters, and results matter too in the short term.
On the field, one opportunity to turn things around will be the Spanish Super Cup, with a semi-final game against Real Sociedad scheduled for January 13th. Winning a trophy there would be a good boost for the team’s psyche.
The Champions League will be a massive challenge. But also a great opportunity to get past the trauma of recent years, and surprise everyone if they can beat PSG and make a run in the tournament. It may be the best chance to persuade Messi that there’s something to stick around for.
Off the field, much will depend on the new president, and the decisions he will make and be responsible for.
What does he think of Ronald Koeman?
How motivated is he to keep Messi?
What approach will he take to buying and selling players?
The future is uncertain at Barcelona. There are many paths, but no way of knowing where they lead.
As the motto goes, Barcelona is more than a club, and it’s worth rallying around as the team moves forward.