Barcelona have entered a new era after the deaprture of Lionel Messi
La Liga giants FC Barcelona are living life after Lionel Messi. The departure of the Argentine superstar has shocked the Blaugrana faithful and the rest of the football world. However, the Catalans have to simply move on and rebuild themselves for the future.
In the absence of Messi in the dressing room, Barcelona need new leaders and prodigies to step up and take responsibility. It is the perfect time for a rebuild as they do not need to depend on Messi’s individual brilliance anymore and can aspire to play as a proper unit.
Even without Lionel Messi, Barcelona have quality in their ranks
Barcelona have a bunch of exciting youngsters from the highly esteemed La Masia academy. They also possess a few big names who have failed to light up in previous seasons due to tactical and fitness issues.
Ronald Koeman has to lead from the front and bring the best out of every player in the Catalan squad.
On that note, let’s have a look at the top five Barcelona players who could surprise us in the 2021-22 season.
#5 Ousmane Dembele
Dembele has time to turn his Barcelona career around
Ousmane Dembele was brought in as a possible replacement for Neymar at Barcelona in the 2017-18 season. The Frenchman cost the Catalans a whopping £135.5m during his move from Borussia Dortmund. However, the 24-year old has never managed to settle down at Camp Nou due to recurring injuries ever since his arrival.
Dembele was fragile and physically inferior at Dortmund and Nantes, and the same continued at Barcelona. The winger used to dribble a lot more than necessary. He was known for wasting opportunities to score even before Ronald Koeman took charge at the club.
Despite that, ever since the turn of the year, Dembele has been a transformed individual. The forward has put work into his body, helping him stay clear of major injuries and grow in confidence with the ball at his feet.
Dembele played a total of 44 games across all competitions for Barcelona in the 2020-21 season. Notably, he also scored 11 goals and registered five assists for the club.
The winger is good enough to be a starter for the team but needs a manager to back him up. Given the news of his contract renewal in the media, it is safe to say that Dembele is indeed in the scheme of things at Barcelona.
With the absence of Messi and a misfiring Griezmann upfront, Dembele has the perfect opportunity to cement himself in Koeman’s starting line-up.
#4 Philippe Coutinho
Coutinho will be keen to prove his doubters wrong
Philippe Coutinho joined Barcelona on a club-record fee worth £142 million from Liverpool in the 2018-19 season. With the departure of Neymar and Andres Iniesta, the Catalans yearned for a creative solution in midfield and Coutinho seemed like the perfect addition.
However, the Brazilian never got to play in his natural position at Barcelona due to tactical reasons. With the presence of the likes of Arthur Melo and Paulinho in the line-up, Coutinho was forced to play as a wide-man in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 system. The former Liverpool midfielder was never utilized to his full potential by playing him in an unnatural position.
Coutinho was eventually sent out on loan to Bayern Munich due to a lack of gametime at Barcelona. The Brazilian scored two goals and made an assist for the Bavarians in a historic 8-2 win over his parent club, Barcelona, in the 2019-20 Champions League.
The 29-year old returned to Barcelona from Germany with an improved physique and increased defensive work rate. Coutinho finally got the chance to play the role of a playmaker in the midfield under Koeman last season.
However, Coutinho’s rise to prominence at Barcelona was short-lived as Spanish starlet Pedri arrived at the fore. Pedri’s on-the-ball ability relegated Coutinho to the bench and he never managed to make a comeback in the starting line-up due to a fresh injury.
With the lack of midfield options at Barcelona and overdependence on the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Pedri, Coutinho may have a strong season.
The Brazilian is also an astute set-piece specialist and can be utilized quite well in dead ball situations.
#3 Riqui Puig
Puig can provide a vital option to the the Barcelona midfield
The Barcelona starlet has been a victim of Ronald Koeman’s attitude of going with a fixed line-up. Riqui Puig featured in just 24 games across all competitions in the 2020-21 season, most of them as a substitute. The La Masia graduate was once touted as yet another promising replacement for the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in central midfield.
Puig is somebody who likes to press the opposition. He makes quick decisions and is highly impulsive with and without the ball. The 22-year old is often spotted going for an unorthodox pass instead of making an obvious backward or square pass to a team-mate. The Spanish youngster has a knack for taking risky yet calculated decisions on the field.
What makes Puig special is that he likes to play with the ball, which is pivotal to Koeman and Barcelona’s possession-based style. He can provide a vital option to the Barcelona midfield. However, the midfielder will have to battle immense competition from Frenkie de Jong and Pedri to force his way into the line-up.
#2 Yusuf Demir
Demir can shine if he is trusted with an opportunity
Yusuf Demir recently became Barcelona’s youngest foreign debutant since Lionel Messi, who first appeared back in the 2004-05 season. The Austrian winger has already impressed Ronald Koeman with his brimming potential.
Demir has been highly influential in pre-season games for Barcelona with his sublime on-the-ball skills down the wings. The teenager is quick and brings pace and energy to the Barcelona attack.
The winger likes to cut-in from the wings with his left foot and can play all across the attacking areas. Demir will most likely be part of the Barcelona B side but will be pushing to break into the first team.
With injury concerns over Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele and a lack of goals from Antoine Griezmann, the 18-year old can be given the odd chance. Undoubtedly, Demir has enough potential to grab it and make an impression if his opportunity arrives.
#1 Nico Gonzalez
Gonzalez had earlier attracted interest from Manchester City and Manchester United
The La Masia graduate made his debut for the Barcelona first team in the season opener against Real Sociedad, which the Catalans won 4-2. Nico Gonzalez has grown up watching Sergio Busquets in defensive midfield and wants to emulate the legend at Barcelona.
Gonzalez had earlier attracted interest from Manchester City and Manchester United as a 16-year old but his heart was always with Barcelona. The defensive midfielder is a patient on the ball and excels in breaking the opposition’s lines.
The 19-year old defensive midfielder has enough quality to remain an ideal deputy for Busquets, who could be rested in less-critical games. Now that Barcelona are moving towards a new dawn, it is imperative they integrate players like Gonzalez into the first team as much as possible.