Ronald Koeman may shift away from the 4-3-3 to start his reign | David Ramos/Getty Images
After a hectic conclusion to August, things are starting to settle in Catalonia.
Ronald Koeman hasn’t alienated anymore senior squad members, the term ‘burofax’ is yet to be Googled this month and the club have quietly gone about shaping their squad for the upcoming campaign.
It remains to be seen how Koeman goes about getting the very best of a flawed squad due to woeful recruitment and incompetent squad planning in recent years, but the returns of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele from loan and injury respectively provide the Dutchman with greater scope for flexibility.
The possibility of Memphis Depay replacing an obviously declining Luis Suarez is an intriguing one as well.
Nevertheless, the dynamic and balance in the forward line has been a significant issue for this Barcelona side under both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien. Here’s how Koeman could attempt to mitigate those issues and the ways he could line his Barça attack up next season…
Ansu Fati has to be a prominent member of the Barcelona attack next season | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
The system synonymous with the ‘Barça way’ is certainly an option for Koeman next term.While less prominent under Setien, the 4-3-3 might be the system to get the very best out of teenage sensation Ansu Fati – who simply has to earn more minutes for La Blaugrana in 2020/21.His movement and technique stand out as two defining attributes, but it’s a concept so simple which makes Fati so key to this Barcelona side: he can run in behind.Without any source of in-behind penetration, opposition defences can play higher defensive lines, condense the space behind the midfield and grant the likes of Lionel Messi minimal space to manoeuvre.Thus, if Koeman opts for a 4-3-3, either Fati or Ousmane Dembele – capable on both flanks and a willing runner – have to be on that left flank with Suarez, Depay or Antoine Griezmann – who has the capacity to play as a false nine – in the central role and, of course, Messi takes his place on the right-hand side with Francisco Trincão and Pedri also contending for minutes.The possibility of Messi returning to a false nine role shouldn’t be out of the question either, with Fati and Dembele occupying the flanks in a multi-faceted, balanced attack.
Playing off the front man could get the best out of Antoine Griezmann | David Ramos/Getty Images
Barça’s opening pre-season encounter against Gimnastic saw Koeman utilise the 4-2-3-1 and this is the formation you can expect the former Everton boss to deploy in their opening La Liga fixture against Villarreal.The presence of a bona fide number ten or between-the-lines playmaker rules out the usage of a false nine due to the similar spaces both will like to take up on the field.Thus, Suarez or Depay will serve as the focal point up top; tasked with doggedly running channels and combining with the creators around them, while Coutinho, Messi and Griezmann all have the capacity to function behind the front man.There’s plenty of options out wide as well, and we could see an asymmetric structure come into play, meaning one winger could be tasked with providing width – a Fati or Dembele – while the other drifts inside to allow the full-back space to advance down the flank – a Messi, Griezmann or Coutinho.The profile of Barcelona’s attack probably suits the 4-2-3-1 the most, with the possibility for tactical variation within this structure endless.The ultimate goal of the system, however, as Koeman described following Saturday’s pre-season win, is to “move the ball, hold on to it and create space to play between the lines, behind the opponents’ midfielders.”
Messi and Suarez ran riot in a 4-1-2-1-2 against Villarreal after the restart | Alex Caparros/Getty Images
A 4-1-2-1-2 arguably produced Barcelona’s most scintillating showing of the 2019/20 season away at Villarreal. Barça tore apart a naive Yellow Submarines unit in an eventual 4-1 triumph as Messi, Griezmann and Suarez were utilised in a fluid, interchangeable front three.The system almost rules out the use of the likes of Fati, Dembele, etc and would instead see Depay – if Koeman isn’t so keen on the declining Uruguayan – serve alongside Griezmann as the front two with Messi just behind.Although overwhelming combination play saw Barça trounce Villarreal, the narrow formations flaws were laid bare against a deeper block. The workload of the full-backs to be a source of width in attack and track back in transition was simply too much, while the interior midfielders had the challenging task of covering the surges of the full-backs.As a result, La Blaugrana were incredibly vulnerable in defensive transition and without any of the front three providing a reliable outlet in-behind, their familiar attacking woes continued to rear their ugly head.You’d expect Koeman to stay away from this unless he attempts to shoe-horn natural wingers into striker roles and grant them a bit of freedom to drift out to the flanks.