Barcelona in limbo for pivotal game against Dynamo Kiev
Barcelona go into the biggest game of their season so far against Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday without the previous coach and still waiting for the next one to arrive.
Barca president Joan Laporta said on Friday he should have sacked Ronald Koeman sooner, that the club had been “dangerously drifting” and the situation was “unsustainable”.
Xavi Hernandez is expected to be Koeman’s successor and the return of one of the club’s greatest ever players, from the iconic team of Pep Guardiola, will be hugely popular with both the players and Barcelona supporters.
Yet removing Koeman days before the trip to Kiev looks like a gamble, not least because it assumes the team had a worse chance of winning under him than they do now under interim coach Sergi Barjuan.
“In principle, Sergi will be on the bench in Kiev,” said Laporta.
After deciding to wait in the summer and then again last month, Laporta might have held off another week until the international break, when a two-week hiatus would have offered more space to appoint a replacement.
Instead, Barcelona will have faced Alaves, Dynamo and perhaps Celta Vigo without either Koeman or the new coach, who is expected to be Xavi even if his current club Al Sadd appear keen to offer some resistance.
After losing both of their opening games 3-0 to Bayern Munich and Benfica, Barcelona gave themselves hope with a scrappy 1-0 win over Dynamo at home last time out.
But another victory in the reverse fixture remains crucial, given Barca will finish the group stage at home to Benfica and then away at Bayern Munich, when few would expect them to pick up anything other than a defeat.
If they fail to get out of Group E and come third, Barcelona would have to win the Europa League to make up for the prize money lost.
All of which puts a lot of responsibility on Barjuan, the former Barcelona defender who played more than 200 times for the club and was given his debut by Johan Cruyff.
– ‘Club man’ –
“We have Sergi, who is a club man and knows the system,” said Laporta.
“He was part of the best teams in the history of Barca like the Dream Team and he understands our philosophy.
“The philosophy is clear: a style of football that has given us the most success. Sergi knows this squad in depth and will be able to work with it.”
Barjuan’s coaching career has been largely underwhelming, with his Barca B team sitting 11th, 12 points behind the league leaders in their competition.
He picked a starting line-up for the 1-1 draw with Alaves on Saturday that retained many of the ideas of Koeman, with Sergino Dest starting again in the front three, Eric Garcia in central defence and Oscar Mingueza at right back.
There were familiar problems too, including a lack of creativity, confidence and clinical finishing.
“It is difficult to change things in a short time,” said Barjuan on Friday.
“But the style is non-negotiable. We are finding the formula to be more authoritative and be protagonists with the ball.”
Laporta’s hope will be removing Koeman, and perhaps even just the prospect of Xavi, could give the players a lift.
When he addressed the squad last week, he told the players the onus was on them to spark the revival.
The irony is some of the older players, whose form and wages have been so heavily scrutinised in recent months, will now be relied upon to step up at a key juncture in the season.
“At Barca we like to have the ball and to have depth,” said Laporta. “Cruyff taught us that. We want spectacular football, but also to win.”