It was always going to be a difficult game against an opponent playing with no fear whatsoever, and on an artificial pitch that Barca wouldn’t be used to playing on.
Cornella should always have been paid the respect they deserve after knocking out Atletico Madrid in the last round, and with Real Madrid incredibly, and quite laughably bombing against Alcoyano and their goalkeeper of 40+ years, the Copa del Rey had already opened up for the Catalans before the match.
That Barca were unable to break down their hosts for long periods, despite the mitigating circumstances, says an awful lot about the lack of motivation on the night.
One player that appeared up for it and was, for most of the first half, head and shoulders above his contemporaries, was midfielder, Riqui Puig.
Crisp passing, quick and decisive movement, Barca’s probing and expansive play in the opening 45 had much to do with Puig’s industry.
To then be the first player replaced on the night, with Trincao, for example, getting almost another 30 minutes more, suggests that Koeman still has an agenda against Puig. That Dembele was the eventual match-winner after replacing Puig doesn’t change the point.
Riqui is a player whom the manager had gone public about before now to suggest he should leave because he wouldn’t be played, and who, up until recently, had played next to no minutes.
The rumoured dressing room row when Puig was outed as a ‘leak’ too appears not to have helped his cause either, but here needs to be a forensic examination of Koeman’s treatment of the player from the outset.
He is not the ‘new Iniesta’ let’s get that ironed out for a start, but Puig is a player that makes things happen.
Importantly for one who was schooled in La Masia, if there’s a simple ball to be played, he plays it. There’s nothing complicated about his play.
Clearly, he needs to embrace the more physical elements of the game, and arguably doesn’t deserve to start every game.
But there is a very logical argument for him to be a regular, however, and certainly more regular than he has been this season.
The 2020/21 campaign should’ve really been his breakout season, and that it hasn’t been is on Koeman.
So does everyone just accept that it’s a ‘managerial decision’ and that’s that? Or is there something more to it? Something a little more unsavoury.
You can’t help but question the Dutchman’s modus operandi when others who are woefully out of form or simply not good enough are getting the nod ahead of him.
The fact that Puig is digging his heels in at least shows some backbone, albeit, if a new manager comes in next season and the youngster still doesn’t make his mark, then, and only then can we say Koeman was right.
In the meantime, what genuine reasons do you believe he has for consistently benching Riqui?