A new manager, a revived Philippe Coutinho but a struggling Lionel Messi… and a board about to get the boot: A very different Barcelona play their first Champions League match tonight since their 8-2 hammering by Bayern just nine weeks ago
- Barcelona were embarrassed in 8-2 demolition by Bayern Munich last season
- New boss Ronald Koeman is trying to exorcise demons from that brutal night
- Philippe Coutinho has been reintegrated but there are too many No 10s
- Tactically, they have ditched sacred 4-3-3 but are guilty of being too narrow
- Lionel Messi likes the manager but there are question marks over his form
- They return to Champions League on Tuesday night against Ferencvaros
Only Barcelona lifting the European Cup in Istanbul on May 29 next year will properly wash away the stain left by last summer’s 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich.
The club’s supporters need to be able to say in years to come: ‘Yes we lost 8-2 and we came back the following year and won it’.
So can they do it? With their campaign starting on Tuesday night, Sportsmail looks at what has changed since that humbling night in Lisbon.
Barcelona are trying to move on from the embarrassing 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich
The biggest single change has been the coach. Ronald Koeman looks fresher and more positive than Ernesto Valverde and more equipped to do the job than Quique Setien.
He’s the coach they should have hired at the start of last season. Koeman has brought back training sessions on match days. It’s something that Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique both insisted on.
Advocates say far from draining players before they have to perform it puts every player in the group on alert. Koeman has tried to instil an intensity that had in part been lost.
Players are now obliged to clock-in at the club’s Joan Gamper training ground an hour before training starts. And there has even been a change in pre-match warm-ups with Barcelona out on the pitch before the opposition and working with intensity before the first whistle is blown.
Ronald Koeman has been well received by Lionel Messi and Co and instilled an intensity
There have been gains and losses. Losing the club’s all-time highest scorer with no replacement brought in has to go down as a loss.
His critics say he is finished and so it was best to move him on but Luis Suarez has scored six in his last six games. He was a number nine and Koeman has been left with an attacking squad of number 10s.
Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann both want to play there, it’s Messi’s best position, and it’s also where 17-year-old Pedri plays. The youngster looks a real find and he and Ansu Fati will thrive under Koeman.
The Dutchman has helped to reintegrate Philippe Coutinho but he has too many No 10s
Pedri is a talented youngster and the 17-year-old should thrive under the new manager
Elsewhere it was a case of one in, one out with Sergino Dest replacing Nelson Semedo and Miralem Pjanic replacing Arthur Melo. The club really needed a top class central defender and he never arrived with half-hearted attempts to get Eric Garcia from Manchester City thwarted.
He’ll come for free in 2021. One thing that can’t be bought in the transfer market is morale. ‘You don’t have blood!’ Pique was observed shouting at the rest of the team in the weekend defeat to Getafe.
It was a comment on the lack of blood and thunder in the way they were defending from the front. Koeman has plenty of passion so he won’t let that ride but it might take him time to change a tendency that has increased over the last couple of seasons.
Gerard Pique was furious with the lack of blood and thunder in the defeat by Getafe
Koeman has opted for a 4-2-3-1 ditching the sacred 4-3-3 that tended to be favoured by Guardiola and Luis Enrique.
The system helps him get all those number 10s into the same line-up and it means he can put another body next to Sergio Busquets in holding midfielder meaning he is less exposed.
The problem is that Barcelona attacks end up being quite narrow. Griezmann is stationed on the right but with license to come in on his left-foot. Ansu Fati or Dembele play down the left but also favour cutting inside.
It won’t matter if Jordi Alba and Dest end up providing width from full-back but one is injured and the other has just arrived. Barcelona are also struggling without a centre-forward.
Messi is running more than last season but having fewer chances and scoring fewer goals. Suarez was a great decoy for him, not for nothing does Koeman still want to bring a nine of sorts in this January. The problem is no one will arrive if no one leaves, not how much he keeps talking up Memphis Depay.
Ansu Fati likes to cut inside and the team often becomes too narrow in the 4-2-3-1
Luis Suarez was deemed surplus to requirements but has started brilliantly at Atletico Madrid
They are going, going, almost gone. If at least 10 percent of the membership vote in a referendum planned for the start of November and there is a two-thirds majority to make a change then there could be elections in time for January.
But it’s difficult to see how it will really affect the season for better or worse. The financial situation is not going to change any time soon. Players’ wages still need to be cut to fit the likely 300m euros revenue reduction created by empty stadiums. And players still need to be sold before others can arrive.
President Josep Bartomeu is on his way out but a new man in charge will not instantly fix it
Koeman admitted that Messi could do better although he had no complaints about the way he is working. It’s rare to hear a coach question Messi’s form but Koeman can because of who he is and what he won as a player at Barcelona. Messi likes the new coach.
He welcomes the tightening up and the fresh ideas. But what happened in the summer still happened and it still feels as though his priorities have swung in favour of Argentina.
Where in the past he has sat out of international breaks to stay right for Barcelona he is now happy to go and play 180 minutes for his country. What kind of toll that takes on him over the course of the season only time will tell.
For now he remains undroppable. He will be on the pitch tonight trying to make up for scoring just three goals in the Champions League last season – his worst return for over a decade.
Lionel Messi is not at his best and has fewer opportunities on goal in the new system
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