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Barcelona 2020-21 Season Review: The Midfielders

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A combination of new and old with mixed results 

ESP: SD Huesca-FC Barcelona. La Liga Santander. Photo by Pressinphoto/Icon Sport via Getty Images

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, it’s important to acknowledge up front that the assessment that matters the most is the one given to the team as a whole.

We can all agree that change is needed at the club. The midfield was one area where we saw a glimpse of the future, but were also unable to break free from the past.

Sergio Busquets - 6.5

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

Coming into the season, Sergio Busquets had a target on his back.

Ronald Koeman could have decided to move on from the Barca legend, especially with several younger options eager to prove themselves.

In the end, Busquets was given a vote of confidence by the manager, and played in 36 La Liga games. Only Frenkie de Jong and Pedri had more playing time, with 37 games apiece.

At times, Busquets was his vintage best, giving Barca control over possession, and making remarkable passes over and through defensive lines.

Koeman couldn’t quit him. The trust was there, and the Dutchman wasn’t willing to experiment with something different.

Busquets had a solid bounce back season. But his presence also kept Barca stuck in the past in terms of style and attitude.

Frenkie de Jong - 8.5

FC Barcelona v Atletico Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

For me, the most valuable Barca player this season.

First, give Frenkie credit for his versatility. Koeman declared early on that he wanted to play him in his natural position. At season’s end, it’s fair to say he didn’t stick to the plan.

Frenkie played everywhere. Koeman’s motto was to make sure he was on the field as much as possible.

If that meant playing on the defensive line because of injuries he did it.

Defensive midfield to give Busquets a break? Sure.

But he was best as an attacking midfielder alongside Pedri. Midway through the season, a special chemistry developed between them. When Barca was desperate for goals, and needed a presence in the box, Frenkie took it upon himself to make the runs.

And for a while, he looked like a goalscoring machine, always in the right place at the right time.

It’s hard to compare anyone to N’Golo Kante, but in my mind when Frenkie is playing at his best, you get the same sense that everywhere you look, there he is.

Pedri - 7.5

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-CELTA Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

Pedri is a natural who looks like he was born with a ball at his feet.

Giving him the opportunity to play and develop this year was the best decision Koeman made. The 18-year-old Spaniard has the maturity of a professional who’s played at the highest level for decades.

He will be an important piece to the project going forward. A perfect fit for the history and philosophy of the club.

Barca shouldn’t take him for granted however. Pedri isn’t a finished product, and he needs to be pushed to keep improving.

In particular it would be massive to see him develop a finishing touch. At the moment, there’s no evidence that he has much of a shot, and Barca need all hands on deck when it comes to being clinical in front of goal.

I’m not worried. Pedri will put in the work, and do what’s necessary to keep advancing his game until he’s recognized as one of the best midfielders in the world.

Ilaix Moriba - 6

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

Ilaix is super intriguing, and could symbolize a paradigm shift in how Barca plays.

Come up through La Masia, he has the DNA, but when you watch him play you see someone offering something different.

First, he’s very fluid. You never know if he’s going to stay in the midfield to facilitate, or maraud forward into the box.

He’s not afraid to shoot and be direct, and offers much-needed athletic ability in the air.

Defensively, you’re getting someone who is afraid to go toe-to-toe with other fast and strong players.

Is he a replacement for Busquets, or depth behind Pedri and Frenkie in an advanced role?

Either way, he’s going to provide competition, and will add an element of modernization to the Barca game.

Riqui Puig - 6.5

FC Barcelona v Real Valladolid CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

From here on down, it’s not possible to give players a rating for a variety of reasons.

The Riqui situation is inexplicable as one of the few players who, on the merits, broke through before Koeman arrived.

Riqui is an exciting prospect who has earned the right to prove himself. Full stop.

Instead, Koeman went out of his way to try to stunt his development.

Like Moriba, Riqui offers something different, while understanding what’s expected of a Barca player traditionally.

We need his energy. We need his willingness to take chances and carry the game forward.

If Koeman returns, I hope it’s under the condition that he promises to put his ill will towards Riqui behind him.

Otherwise, who else is he willing to sacrifice in order to satisfy a petty grudge?

Miralem Pjanic - 4

The Pjanic situation is similar in that his lack of minutes stem from a feeling in Koeman’s gut.

He didn’t do well with the minutes given to him, and unlike Riqui who maintained a positive attitude, Pjanic was clearly unhappy as a Barca player.

Early on it would have been nice to see Koeman give all the players an opportunity to find their role.

Pjanic may not have been the first choice, but it was certainly possible to get him involved and contributing in some capacity.

Instead it was as if he didn’t even exist.

Philippe Coutinho - NR

I was optimistic that Coutinho was going to have a productive homecoming.

He started the season strong, scoring goals and being a playmaker as the team’s number 10.

With the emergence of Pedri, however, and a devastating knee injury, Coutinho’s comeback wasn’t meant to be.

A return to the Premier League is in the best interests of the player and club if something can be agreed to. I’ll be watching and wishing him the best.

Matheus Fernandes - NR

One of the most bizarre signings in recent memory and didn’t even manage a single minute in La Liga in 2020-21. I feel bad for the guy.

Thanks Bartomeu.