Only time will tell if this is 2-1 classic Defeat to Real Madrid would be a final referendum on Ronald Koeman’s right to continue his increasingly pale tradition of coaching Barcelona.
But if those in power were at the Camp Nou, where Barcelona suffered their fourth consecutive defeat to Madrid for the first time since the Beatles were leading in the 1960s, he decided to take that performance as an indication of Koeman’s credibility – not his legacy – as someone in the frame. The right mindset, making the right decisions and showing his players the right way forward, you’ll understand if they think there are better options.
One of the symbols of this match came from Luka Modric, the 36-year-old Madrid midfield maestro. It wasn’t just the fact that he devoured Frenkie de Jong and had Jaffe afterwards, not even that he made it look like the visiting side featured 12 men.
The iconic nature of the afternoon, in which he blends technical skill, street statesmanship, sharpness, use of space and the mindset of an absolute winner, was to see Modric with his arms outstretched in front of him to warn his teammates.
Differently, the photo of akimbo weapons said: “Why didn’t you eliminate Barcelona?” “Why didn’t you make the right pass?” “Why are we still living on the edge in a game that has to be put to bed?” In fact, someone might ask, “Why aren’t there three or four of me instead of just one?”
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It was that kind of evening. Tantric football. Late gratification came in a flurry of folly and failure, with Real Madrid finally getting the two goals football deserved – even then, Barcelona scored via Sergio Aguero – but eggs They were worthy winners.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men had a better mentality, made better decisions, showed a better work rate, made better passes, and there was always a better chance of scoring.
In short: better.
But let’s go back to Koeman. Under his leadership, Barcelona continues to fall through the punches of the vulgar. Not only against Real Madrid, but that’s what matters here. across the last three classic Defeats, there have been a plethora of occasions when competitors from the midfield or the back line “show up” in spaces that Barcelona are afraid to breach, but neither the coach nor the players seem to learn.
The last time at Camp Nou – exactly one year ago – Modric and Fede Valverde were showing up in the scoring areas because they found their timing beautifully and Barcelona failed to make up their minds, or they weren’t bothered by the response.
It also preceded the first goal scored by the Catalans at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium in April. Just as he did to score the second goal on Sunday, Lucas attacked the right flank of centre-back, enjoying time and space to put Karim Benzema on.
Make no mistake, Madrid is an impressively good counterattack team. The word “transition” is in vogue now and it’s not bad. Whether they are under Ancelotti or Zinedine Zidane, they are very adept at moving from an “all out” defense position to a situation where you either create a threat or actually score.
Real Madrid play with liveliness and make quick decisions that make up for knowing that their midfielders are not the fastest runners; Instead, what the likes of Modric, Kroos and Casemiro are being asked to do – and to perfection – is to think and pass quickly.
That was enough to dent Barcelona on Sunday: speed of thought and speed of action converged with footsteps, and the result was Real Madrid’s fourth straight win over their biggest rival for the first time in nearly 60 years.
One of Koeman’s main drawbacks, which should be damning enough on its own, is that his entire team is still less than the sum of the parts. It does not matter that this is the first for Barcelona classic Without Lionel Messi on the club’s books for nearly a quarter of a century, it is the quality and amount of effort without him that counts.
Quality rivals now fully expect to break through the holes left by Barcelona thanks to a high defensive line and the fact that they constantly lose the ball in situations that may be far from their goal, but skillful transitional teams see it as a ‘thank you very much’ for your naive generosity.
Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that Memphis Depay, who is definitely Koeman’s favourite, has an ego that outweighs his decisions. Yes, he is talented. Yes, the Catalan public is painfully longing for someone to love and adore now that Messi has been sold down the river by the club’s board of directors. And yes, he can play.
But none of this justifies the fact that he is sloppy in possession and makes decisions on the ball fueled by his desire to be center stage and be loved. When his running or control puts him in the zone of opportunity, Memphis immediately looks for a defender to block, to dribble past.
A good coach – or someone who has been paying the right attention – sees the positives and eliminates the negatives. However, just as it was recently when Memphis gifted the ball away and Atletico took advantage of the scoring, so the other half’s side from the Spanish capital took the same path on Sunday.
With the score 0-0, Memphis moved with the speed of thought, and limbs, which you might expect from a Major League Soccer player on Sunday, lost possession to David Alaba. After three passes, after interference from Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, Alaba resupplied the ball and, having succeeded without any defenders, achieved a world feat.
The decisive second goal came from another goal-setting shot – the fifth such concession in Koeman’s hat-trick. classic Defeats as a coach, for who counts – as Marco Asensio showed a clean heel to his pursuers and then, after parrying Marc-Andre ter Stegen, one of those “frozen in horror” moments.
There was only one area the ball could bounce back and it was still a threat. Lucas Vazquez knew it, the audience knew him, everyone in the press box knew him, but Eric Garcia only really reacted once he felt Lucas’ “whoosh” running in front of him. Aguero’s later goal was exactly that.
Whatever advice Barcelona president Joan Laporta received from sporting advisor Jordi Cruyff about giving Koeman more time, whatever financial penalties the cash-strapped club’s board of directors are trying to avoid, there is an inescapable reality that must be faced.
Some of Barcelona’s most promising players are not being educated properly.
Koeman has become more skilled at fighting for the continuation of his work than at correcting individual and group flaws, which means there is little individual improvement. Witness Frenkie De Jong, who seems dumbfounded at what is going on around him and who should bear a greater burden of responsibility and leadership.
Real Madrid deserved the win and it would be annoying, long after releasing Modric from his angry arms, that it was by just one goal difference. As for Barcelona, they are nothing more than wading under Koeman.
If that’s enough for them this season, that’s fine. It’s their call. But Xavi Hernandez won the title after the cup with Al Sadd and made it clear that he is ready to go home immediately.
It’s one thing to miss making a starkly clear decision on the pitch in the heat classic. It’s quite another thing to be short-sighted about a choice staring you in the face, week after week.