PETE JENSON: Barcelona kids have given Koeman breathing room, but he faces a nightmare of games
PETE JENSON: Ansu Fati’s spectacular return and teenagers Pedri and Gavi have given Ronald Koeman some breathing room at Barcelona… but he now faces a NIGHTMARE five games to save his job
- Ronald Koeman has painted a grim picture of what the season has in store for Barça
- The Dutch coach has argued for patience amid a string of disappointing results
- Now Barcelona boss faces five nightmares to save his job
- The return of Ansu Fati, as well as Pedri and Gavi, is a huge boost for Koeman
There’s no need to tell Ronald Koeman that he can’t win anything with kids; he has already said it will be difficult to win with anyone at Barcelona this season.
The Dutch coach’s line of ‘it is what it is’ will follow this season. He said it after Barca were humiliated by Bayern Munich in their first Champions League game, and he more or less repeated it during tonight’s encounter with Benfica.
Koeman got a huge boost this weekend as his team put in their best performance of the season so far to beat Levante 3-0, but he knows there are much tougher tasks ahead for the Portuguese side tonight, followed by champions Atletico Madrid on the weekend and Valencia, Dynamo Kiev and Real Madrid on the horizon after the break for the next round of internationals.
It has been a difficult start to the season, but bigger challenges are ahead for the Barça boss
He also knows that his best chance this season to muddle his own grim assessment of what the team can achieve in the near future lies in the club’s young players – it’s Koeman and the kids against the world.
The impact of Ansu Fati’s return over the weekend cannot be underestimated. All the stalls around the Nou Camp are still selling the Barcelona No 10 shirt with Lionel Messi’s name on it, but that won’t be the case for long if Fati’s cameo appearance over the weekend is a sign of things to come.
Barcelona fans are gradually getting over Messi. The ritual of chanting his name 10 minutes from each match lasted only a week. It has now been replaced by singing ‘F**k PSG!’ at the 10 minutes.
The Dutchman has painted a grim picture of what the future holds for the Spanish giants
THE NEXT FIVE GAMES OF BARCELONA
Tonight: Benfica (A)
02/10: Atletico Madrid (A)
17/10: Valencia (H)
20/10: Dynamo Kiev (H)
24/10: Real Madrid (H)
They want to look to the future rather than dwell on the past and Fati’s action against Levante gives them hope that they can.
He was brilliant and looked like the player who broke records for youngest debut and goalscorer when he first broke into the first team two seasons ago. He almost won a penalty with his first contribution and scored with his second.
The feeling that he was touched by the angels in the same way that Messi was remains intact – only that kind of player comes back from 323 days out and makes such a spectacular return.
Koeman wants everyone to be patient with him.
He was careful not to tell Spanish coach Luis Enrique not to pick him for the upcoming Nations League final four (he knows how hard it is to be a head coach with club managers who only care about their own interests), but he reminded everyone that he was only 15 minutes into his return to action.
The hope for Koeman is that after it took Fati nine months to recover from an injury that usually keeps a player sidelined for four months, he can make up for lost time.
It remains a bit of a mystery how many surgeries he needed and where the blame, if any, should be distributed.
Ansu Fati’s spectacular return from injury has given the club a much-needed boost
The 18-year-old was brilliant in his cameo against Levante and inherited Messi’s number 10 shirt
For now, all that matters is that he’s come back and hit the left side of the attack to give Koeman the fast, direct-scoring winger he claims he lacked when he recently tried to explain away Barcelona’s rudimentary football against Granada. .
It takes more than just Fati.
The brilliant Pedri should return for Barcelona tonight, albeit only to take a seat on the bench.
The star of Spain’s European Championship season remains vital for Koeman, who singled him out as an immediate solution when he first looked him in the eye in training in the summer of 2020 – the club planned to kick him out borrow, but Koeman ruled it out.
However, Ronald Koeman is aware that it takes more than just Fati to turn the tide in Catalonia
Young pigeons Pedri (left) and Gavi (right) could give Koeman more time at Barcelona
And from evidence of Levante’s tearing up on Sunday, when Pedri is finally ready to start a game again, he may have a new partner in crime in midfield against Atletico on Saturday.
Gavi is only 17, but played like a veteran this weekend. All the headlines were on him until Fati came to steal the show. Gavi, from the same city in the south of Spain as Jesus Navas, turned down Real Madrid as a child. He always wanted to play for Barcelona. Now he is the club’s great hope for the future.
It’s a lot to ask and Koeman will continue to try to downplay it, but if Gavi and Pedri do their best to show Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield. And Fati can keep filling the shirt of number 10, then the future does not look so bleak for Barcelona or Koeman. Just don’t expect him to admit it anytime soon.