What was Laporta thinking?
Saturday’s match was thought to be Ronald Koeman’s last game in charge of Barcelona but that all changed hours before kick-off when president Joan Laporta insisted that wasn’t the case and that the Dutchman would be staying on.
Laporta’s words came as a real shock after weeks of speculation and awful performances from Barcelona under Koeman. It’s still not clear what Laporta is thinking. Can Barca not afford to sack Koeman or could the club chiefs not find a suitable replacement now?
Barcelona have won just one of their last six matches pic.twitter.com/39OF4jxt9B— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 2, 2021
Either way what followed was another miserable showing from the Catalan giants who lost 2-0 but could easily have conceded a few more. Once again Barca never looked like scoring and were opened up far too easily by the hosts.
Koeman seems to think he can turn things around once his injured players return but the fixtures list does not make for comfortable reading. Valencia, Dynamo Kiev, and Real Madrid are up next and the pressure on Koeman is not going away despite Laporta’s words.
Barca’s defense is getting worse
Barcelona’s vulnerability in defense is nothing new and has proved costly time and again over recent seasons. Under Koeman it seems that the backline is getting even worse with another two goals conceded on Saturday.
The Catalan giants have managed just two clean sheets all season, individual mistakes have become a regular occurrence, and even goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen seems to be far from the composed, assured presence he used to be.
The frustration is showing too with Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets quick to exchange opinions after the opening goal.
Pique and Busquets got into it after they conceded pic.twitter.com/bQA90DfKKF— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 2, 2021
Ronald Araujo has been superb so far this season but found it tough going against Joao Felix, while this was the sort of performance that suggested Gerard Pique’s time at the top level may finally be up.
The same can be said of Sergio Busquets who offered his defense little protection, which made it all the more painful when Koeman decided to pick on 19-year-old Nico Gonzalez after the game.
The teenager will know as well as anyone he was caught out of position at crucial times during his 45 minutes on the pitch but being called out in public by his manager on just his second Barcelona start doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to nurture talent.
Barca’s goals have dried up
Barca’s problems are equally as stark at the other end where for the second match in a row the Catalans enjoyed plenty of possession without ever looking like scoring or even knowing how to create danger.
Philippe Coutinho had one of the few rare sights on goals. Gavi had done really well in the build-up but the Brazilian could only manage a pretty tame effort that flew straight at Jan Oblak.
Barcelona had zero shots on target in the first half against Atletico Madrid. pic.twitter.com/4D3RsJWFxt— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 2, 2021
Elsewhere, Memphis Depay did his best once again but badly lacked support, while Frenkie de Jong, who played in central defense in midweek, was curiously stationed out on the right wing and couldn’t get into the game.
Barcelona have now managed just 11 goals in nine games and badly need their injured forwards back quickly. It won’t solve all their problems but to have Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Aguero as options along with Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay should help revive the attack.
Luis Suarez gets his revenge
Koeman’s goalscoring problems were heightened by the sight of Luis Suarez teeing up Thomas Lemar for the opening goal and then adding the second to kill Barca’s hopes of taking anything home from the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Suarez has spoken many times already about how hurt he was by the way his Barca exit was handled, and his gesture after his goal seemed to be aimed at Koeman and the brief phone call the Dutchman made to the striker to tell him his Camp Nou career was over.
Luis Suarez was told over the phone by Ronald Koeman that he wasn't in his plans. Tonight, he scored against Barcelona and made this gesture— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) October 2, 2021
Report: https://t.co/iDrPk19tWy pic.twitter.com/0mg0yfIjMA
The Uruguayan denied that after the game, although given the smile on his face when he said it not many people believed him. Suarez’s exit was not the worst thing Barca have done lately, but the effects of the club’s decision to let him to go a rival while failing to bring in an adequate replacement are still being felt.
Break offers beleaguered Barca some respite
The only really good news for Barca right now is that the international break is upon us and the Catalan giants now have two weeks to rest, get some injured players back and try to figure out a way to move forwards after a poor start to 2021-22.
Barcelona did at least avoid a red card in an away match for the first time this season #AtletiBarca— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 2, 2021
♂️ So at least there is that…
There’s hope that Aguero will be back in time for the visit of Valencia on October 17, while there’s a chance that after another two weeks of training Ansu Fati may be in a position to finally start for Barca.
Pedri, Jordi Alba, and Alejandro Balde will also hopefully return after the international break and Ousmane Dembele shouldn’t be too much further behind as he recovers from his latest surgery.
The return of the injured stars will also leave Koeman short on excuses if things don’t improve with the Catalans needing to get their campaign back on some kind of track quickly.