Success is a funny thing. And in the world of football, it can be downright ironic. Yesterday’s champions can be today’s strugglers.
Now labeling Barcelona as strugglers would be a tad harsh (they sit third in La Liga, eight points adrift of leaders Atletico, despite their woes), but their shocking fall from grace is there for all to see.
Winding the clocks back to a decade ago, Barcelona – then managed by the indomitable Pep Guardiola – were the team every side feared to face and dreamt of beating.
Spearheaded by peak Lionel Messi and controlled by a prime Xavi and Iniesta, the Blaugrana claimed an unprecedented 23 trophies, making them world beaters in every sense of the word.
Fast forward to a decade later, and the Catalan club are amidst a messy transition, with talisman Lionel Messi’s future still very much in the air and an all-important presidential election round the corner.
The COVID-19 crisis, which has severely impacted the club’s finances, has only made matters worse. However, things must move forward on the pitch and the only individuals capable of taking the club over the line are its players.
Head coach Ronald Koeman is on a rotational spree, not least because of injuries to key players, so the time for fringe/young players to grab their chance is now.
However, rotation also means that not every player will get their fair share of game time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five players who don’t get enough game time at Barcelona.
Okay, let’s face it – being second choice goalkeeper means you’re going to spend a lot of time warming the bench.
Being a second choice goalkeeper who isn’t even given an opportunity in cup games…well that’s not the ideal situation.
But that’s exactly Neto’s predicament right now.
The Brazilian has little or no hopes of taking the number 1 jersey from ter Stegen, who has not only emerged as Barca’s undisputed first choice stopper but also one of the best players in the world in his position.
Neto angled for a move in the January transfer window – as confirmed by manager Ronald Koeman – with Arsenal and former club Juventus among potential suitors.
But his transfer request was turned down due to the club deeming him an important member of the squad and a vital source of cover at a time when the squad is stretched.
Having no option but to wait it out, the 31-year-old can only hope to get some vital game time amidst his club’s packed schedule.
However, if things don’t go his way then a switch would be in the best interests of both parties.
#4 Riqui Puig
The promising young midfielder’s 2020/21 season has been a bit of a roller coaster following a productive campaign under Quique Setién, which saw him make 12 appearances in all competitions.
After supposedly leaking information to the press which got him on the wrong side of manager Ronald Koeman earlier this season, the 21-year-old has really picked up the pieces and kicked on, highlighted by his winning penalty kick against Real Sociedad that sent his team into the finals of the Spanish Super Cup.
Choosing to stay and fight for his place rather than go out on loan, with Arsenal reported to have been extremely keen on his services before opting for Martin Ødegaard, says a lot about his mentality.
Dubbed the ‘next Iniesta’, Puig’s talent is there for all to see. Hence, it will be crucial for him to get all the minutes he can in what is set to be an important year for the youngster.