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Barcelona 2020-21 Season Review: The Forwards

Better from the forwards but not enough


In this season review series, we’re looking back at the Barca players and reflecting on their contributions to the team in the 2020-21 season.

For fun we’re going to give a score of 1-10 based on individual performance, but given the way the season ended in disappointment, we know the team assessment is the most important, and players should be judged for their contributions within that framework.

We can all agree that change is needed, and perhaps no one deserves more scrutiny than the forwards.

These are the biggest names. They get paid the most. They are expected to lead the way, and be the difference makers in the biggest games.

Grading these players isn’t easy. You can go back and forth in your head using different criteria and come to different conclusions.

Ultimately, there’s still much to be desired in the final third, and whoever returns next year will need to do better. Not so much individually, but with their impact on results when they matter the most.

Lionel Messi - 9

ESP: FC Barcelona - RC Celta. La Liga Santander. Photo by Pressinphoto / Icon Sport

Barca had by far the most goals in La Liga with 85. Lionel Messi was, once again, the best attacking player in the league, and earned another Pichichi after scoring 30 times.

The accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider how he bounced back from a slow start, and went on a tear in the second half of the season, scoring goals that will be remembered for decades to come.

Coaching a team with Messi on it has big advantages in that very little managing is required if you want to just sit back and let him do the heavy lifting. More times than not it works.

It can also be a challenge in that you can’t pin him down to a position.

Ronald Koeman experimented with many formations, some worked better than others.

The 4-4-2 allowed Messi to play effectively alongside Dembele.

The 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 seemed to bring the best out of his partnership with Griezmann, while giving cover to the defensive line.

Messi proved this year he still has plenty of gas in the tank. For a team that scored so many goals, the truth is they also missed a lot. Messi was the exception. When he had a chance, he took it. It’s what’s made him so great for so long.

Ronald Koeman needs to understand that Messi is a luxury, but he isn’t a cure all.

He is the smart bet to win another Pichichi next year. But scoring titles alone don’t win championships.

Consistent performances from the supporting cast, and better tactics and in game management from Koeman, are needed to deliver on that ambition.

Antoine Griezmann - 7

SD Eibar v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Griezmann had an improved season, scoring 14 and assisting 7 domestically.

I don’t think we’ll ever see his best version alongside Messi, but he can take a step forward if he stops seeing himself as a sidekick.

Neymar and Luis Suarez had enormous respect for Messi, but they weren’t deferential.

Griezmann looks more confident when you see him playing alongside other superstars on the French national team. He inserts himself more into the action, and gets better shooting opportunities.

We need to see more of that for Barcelona, and part of the responsibility is on the coach.

So far, however, Griezmann has had three managers at Barcelona and none of them have cracked the code.

Give him credit for his work rate though. There’s a reason why, even when he’s not scoring goals, Koeman continued to play him.

Living up to his potential, however, will require a change in mentality.

Do you see yourself as a number one option? Once you do, your teammates will as well, and a lot can change quickly.

Ousmane Dembele - 6.5

FC Barcelona v RC Celta - La Liga Santander Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

I love watching Dembele play and can usually find a way to give him the benefit of the doubt. Pace matters in the modern game, and on this team the Frenchman is the one who provides it.

It was encouraging to see him have a fully fit season, and for the first time we saw why Barcelona rated him so highly.

Not many players in the world are faster than him. Not many players are so good with both feet.

He is dangerous, which is why he is Barca’s most sellable asset on the market.

And yet he only recorded 6 goals and 3 assists.

What’s stopping him from getting to the next level?

The most obvious area is finishing. If he were more clinical, he could have doubled his goal count.

Where he could really contribute, however, is with the assists. In this area, it wasn’t all his fault.

How many times did he break down defenders, make lightning runs down the field, only to find no one in the box to pass it to?

Having a true striker and target in the box would make a big difference.

Hopefully we get to see him play with Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay next season.

Like Griezmann, we’ve yet to see what Dembele is really capable of in a Barca shirt.

Francisco Trincao - 4.5

ESP: FC Barcelona - RC Celta. La Liga Santander. Photo by Pressinphoto / Icon Sport

It’s easy to see why Trincao caught the eye of Barcelona.

He’s flashy, and has excellent ball control. A potential candidate to fill the opening on the right wing.

There’s a problem though. He’s predictable.

Either he’s cutting in on his left and into traffic, or he’s forced to play it backwards.

If he can learn to go to his right, defenders will have their hands full.

Trincao is young and can still develop this part of his game, but Koeman may not be the right coach to bring it out of him.

Martin Braithwaite - 5

Barcelona v Sevilla - Copa del Rey Photo by Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images

There was a point in the season when Barca slowly transitioned away from the 4-2-3-1 by experimenting with a 4-3-3.

At that time, Braithwaite was used as a traditional number nine, and it helped improve the structure of the team.

The Dane didn’t come cheap in 2020, but he’s done everything that’s been asked of him.

He played hard during his limited minutes, and was able to create opportunities in front of goal.

He could have done better at times, but he was also able to produce a few big moments.

The highlight of the season was his game winning, overtime goal to knock Sevilla out of the Copa del Rey semifinals.

Looks like he’s on his way out if a suitor comes knocking. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a bigger role on a different team.

Ansu Fati - NR

FC Barcelona v Dynamo Kyiv: Group G - UEFA Champions League Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Ansu had a red-hot start scoring four goals in the first month of the season to lead the team.

He tore his meniscus against Real Betis, and has had a longer recovery than expected.

His injury was the big “what could have been” moment of the season.

The way things started, he looked motivated to become Barca’s number one goalscorer.

Could he have made up for the loss of Luis Suarez?

With Ansu, would Barca have had the difference maker needed to win the big names?

We’ll never know, but one thing I’m certain of is that we need him to recover and pick up exactly where he left off.

His return will be more important than any signing Barca hopes to make this summer.

Nothing gives me more hope for the 2021-22 season than the return of Ansu Fati.

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