Barcelona are very much still alive in La Liga and will play the Copa del Rey Final this weekend, and a shot at a double this seaosn is realistic. But what will be Ronald Koeman’s choice of formation for the final nine matches?
Koeman started the season with a 4-2-1-3 formation designed to be more solid at the back, but the lack of numbers in attack and a constant change of position for several players led to inconsistent performances in that formation. So the Dutchman went back to the tried and trusted at the club: the 4-3-3, with a front three of Ousmane Dembélé, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann and more freedom to attack for the likes of Frenkie De Jong and Pedri.
The formation change came at the start of 2021 and led to Barça really finding their form and looking a lot better both in attack and defense. More goals were scored, fewer goals were conceded and the team just looked more comfortable. But two bad losses to Sevilla and PSG in February forced Koeman into another change: three at the back.
First with three traditional central defenders and then with Frenkie De Jong in the middle of the backline, Barça gave more freedom to their attacking full-backs and the center of midfield looked more solid and creative, and Dembélé as a central striker started to create real problems.
But the loss in El Clásico exposed problems within that system as well, and the back three just doesn’t seem to work without De Jong in it to add real passing quality to their buildup phase. Barça were very good in the second half in the 4-3-3, keeping a lot of possession and pressing the opposition more effectively when they lost the ball.
So after all of the formation changes, which will be Koeman’s choice for the home stretch? The 4-3-3 was the system picked for all three games against Athletic Bilbao this season, and apart from the first half of the Spanish Supercup Barça were very good in that formation against Athletic, overloading the midfield and allowing Messi, Griezmann, Pedri and De Jong to move freely around the middle of the park.
It is safe to predict that Koeman will go with the 4-3-3 for Saturday’s Cup Final, and with the return of Ronald Araujo and Gerard Piqué, who are both more comfortable in a back four than a back three, one would expect that system also being used for the last eight games of the La Liga season.
But the sad truth is that Barça have real issues in every system they’ve used so far because of the players, and at this point of the campaign Koeman won’t make the personnel choices that would improve the way the team works. It’s really about picking from the best of a bad bunch right now, and the 4-3-3 will likely be Koeman’s pick.