Barcelona’s first three games of the season have given an insight into Ronald Koeman’s vision for the side and the Dutchman, who has a reputation for transparency and straight-talking, has nonetheless sent out a few veiled messages to several players who may find a place in the team hard to come by in 2020/21.
Ousmane Dembéle has managed just 20 minutes so far, Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig have not set foot on the pitch – but they had already been informed they would be unlikely to do so – while Júnior Firpo’s only contribution has been to confirm it was not a good idea to ask Jordi Alba to play three consecutive games. Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite, who have had some injury issues, have yet to get onto the pitch but in all reality even if they were fully fit they probably wouldn’t have done. Meanwhile, Matheus Fernandes remains an enigma: the Brazilian has yet to even be presented as a Barça player. Looking at his first three squads, it is clear Koeman has decided on a core of 17 players: Gerard Piqué, Frenkie de Jong, Neto, Sergi Roberto and Leo Messi have each played 290 minutes. Behind them are Sergio Busquets (258), Jordi Alba (255), Philippe Coutinho (217), Ansu Fati (203), Antoine Griezmann (184), Ronald Araujo (135), Clément Lenglet (133), Pedri (67), Francisco Trincão (59), Miralem Pjanic (27) and new signing Sergiño Dest (15). Injured first-choice keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen completes the list. Koeman’s fringe players all have their peculiarities. Umtiti, who is still officially on the injury list, will only be used in an emergency after the failed attempt to sign Eric Garcia. Júnior, Riqui Puig and Aleñá have been all but discarded. Despite their professionalism, Koeman has decided for technical reasons they do not fit the system. Júnior is behind Alba and Dest for a spot on the left while Puig and Aleñá have Busquets, Pjanic, De Jong and Pedri ahead of them in the pecking order. Braithwaite, a stop-gap option signed last January, remains at Camp Nou but only because the club could not find an outlet for the former Leganés striker. The Denmark international provides an option for Koeman off the bench, but only until another attempt to sign Memphis Depay can be launched in January. Finally, there is Dembélé. The Frenchman does not want to leave but has been out of the picture for so long that he is behind Messi, Griezmann, Ansu, Coutinho, Trincão and even young USA striker Konrad de la Fuente in Koeman’s mind.