In our hyper-connected world of instant communication it’s easy to rush to judgement.
For players in Barcelona expectations are always astronomically high, and this environment creates an added physiological challenge of blocking the raw opinions of the public.
One person’s analysis can take off and lead us to reach conclusions without considering other possibilities. For players this climate can be unforgiving.
Now the team is at rock bottom. And this in a way provides a reset button.
So let’s all rally around the one thing everyone can agree on. The president has been grossly incompetent and his departure can’t come soon enough.
For the players, however, it would be a positive exercise, even therapeutic, to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s acknowledge that Ronald Koeman has more than enough talent to work with, and if he does his job well, we’ll see an enhanced version just about everyone.
Time to take a leap of faith and leave the past in the past.
Redemption is sweet, and this season will provide opportunities to achieve it.
Coutinho can prove his 1st impression was an aberration
Philippe Coutinho is back in Barcelona and he’s looking rejuvenated.
Fresh off a Champions League win, and what was probably a refreshing sabbatical in Germany, he enters the season in a very privileged position.
He’s the one player who was physically removed from the turmoil of the past few months. Ironically he is partially responsible for the 8-2 thrashing in Lisbon, but only because he was playing for the other team, and was able to truly make the night miserable scoring two goals and recording one assist.
But that will only help his confidence. He was able to show in those short minutes at the end of the game that he has quality, and under the right system he’s still capable of shinning.
It’s true that in the end he was only a role player at Bayern Munich. Back in Barcelona, he’ll want to prove that he’s more than that.
With the team likely to copy the Bavarians’ 4-2-3-1 formation, I expect Coutinho to do well as either the center attacking midfielder, or on the left wing.
He has nothing to lose this year, and a lot less post-traumatic stress than his team-mates. I see this as a big advantage as he fights for a big role.
Griezmann gets a mulligan
Like Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann struggled in his first year because of a lack of vision of how to use his talents.
He has the resume, and as Koeman has articulated, when you pay a fortune for a player you should at least play them in their natural position.
Griezmann, Coutinho, and Frenkie de Jong will all benefit from this common sense philosophy.
Barca fans around the world should all cheer knowing we are unlikely to see Griezmann play on the wing. He will either play as the number 9 up top, or one position behind in the center of the pitch.
As a result, it’s possible we could see remnants of the Frenchman as he was for Atletico. Let’s not forget that he was a highlight machine, who seemed capable of scoring on command, and doing so in eye-catching ways.
He will also probably be the biggest beneficiary of Luis Suarez leaving the team. This opens the door for him to play more, and in the position he prefers.
The Dembele fireworks show?
Tactically, Koeman has stated he wants the team to play more vertically, and in order to do that he’ll need Ousmane Dembele to use his pace down the sideline.
If Barcelona move in this direction, regardless of the results, it will be a lot more fun to watch than what we’ve seen since the arrival of Ernesto Valverde.
A player like Dembele needs space to exploit. People can complain all they want that he’s sloppy in possession, but he wasn’t brought to the team for that purpose.
He’s one of the fastest players in the world, and we need to see him breaking down defensive lines in the open field.
If Coutinho plays on the left side, he will also do well under these tactics. While Dembele runs past defenders, Coutinho is exceptional when running at defenders.
Koeman seems intent on unleashing the full potential of them both.
Legacy players can rescue their reputations
There’s a long list of players who are already legends at the club, but need to have a big bounce back season to remind fans of why they fell in love with them to begin with.
In the defense, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba have a lot of weight on their shoulders. Surprisingly, the club has made little effort to bring in defensive reinforcements, which means these two will receive a lot of playing time.
Koeman seems to be intrigued by Junior Firpo and Ronald Araujo, and I’m sure he’ll give them chances to earn time outright, and also to keep his starters motivated and working hard.
In the new formation, full-backs will be needed on the attack to make aggressive overlapping runs. We’ll see if Jordi Alba is able to take advantage of it.
For Pique the challenge may be steeper. His skill on the ball will be valued, but more is expected of him physically. Hopefully he rises to the occasion and shows he can adapt in the later years of his career.
Most up in the air, though, is the future of Sergio Busquets.
It looks like his role is safe. He even got a vote of confidence from Luis Enrique in his selection to the national team.
Still, he’ll have to earn every minute he receives because Koeman won’t hesitate to use other players if Busquets isn’t playing at the highest level.
One of the two holding midfield spots will automatically go to Frenkie. The other will go to Busquets to begin with, but with the addition of Miralem Pjanic, and potentially Georginio Wijnaldum, there will be other options.
Busquets should benefit from this. I expect him to do well, and it will be positive to have the presence of other players who push him to be a more evolved version of himself.
Last but not least, Lionel Messi will also be looking for redemption.
If we are being truly critical of the problems from last season, even la Pulga needs to be included. His legacy as the greatest of all time can’t withstand another season without trophies.
It’s exciting to have him back for at least one more year, and if this really is his last dance it would be incredible to see him go out as a champion of Spain and Europe once again.
It will be fascinating to see how Koeman uses him. There are a lot of options, but regardless of his position, I’m confident that Messi will be more motivated than ever to prove he’s still capable of leading a team to the mountaintop.
Historians love a great comeback story. This is that opportunity.
A season of change is here, and with many familiar faces it should be a road to redemption full of intriguing stories.