Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele cost Barcelona a combined £367m but haven’t justified their fees – they have the pedigree but need to show personality by filling the void left by Luis Suarez and a disinterested Lionel Messi
- Barcelona are in disarray on and off the pitch – burdened by their record buys
- Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho & Ousmane Dembele have disappointed
- Griezmann and Coutinho especially have been poor considering trophies won
- Frenkie de Jong, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba and Marc-Andre ter Stegen have also been underwhelming this season for under-fire manager Ronald Koeman
Excuses for Barcelona being 12 points off the top of LaLiga are thin on the ground at the moment. The best ones come up with so far have been ‘Koeman should be playing 4-3-3 not 4-2-3-1’ and ‘Messi’s contract situation is unsettling the squad’. Neither really wash – it’s time certain players stood up to save the season.
On the podium of Barcelona’s all-time most expensive signings, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann take gold, silver and bronze yet the trio, who set Barcelona back little short of £367m, have never looked like they wanted to the sort of responsibility their price tags suggest they should.
Last season there was an excuse. Barcelona was still the Messi and Luis Suarez show but when Suarez left in the summer a power vacuum opened up – none of the three astronomical signings have ever looked like filling it.
Antoine Griezmann has disappointed since joining Barcelona last season from Atletico Madrid
Ousmane Dembele (left) and Phillipe Coutinho have also underwhelmed since joining Barca
There are some excuses for Dembele. He is still only 23 and injury problems are a constant hindrance to him having any sustained impact. But Griezmann is 29 and a world champion. No one is going to put the crown on his head, he has to plant himself down on the throne.
It’s true that it was awkward at times for him last season. Coming back to training after lockdown and finding that in the players’ designated small training groups it was teenager Ansu Fati who had been matched with Messi and Suarez, and not Griezmann. That left him feeling disrespected.
But it no longer rings true that he’s marginalised, set apart from those who rule the roost. No one rules the roost! Barcelona are a club without leadership, without any sort of hierarchy. And if Messi is disinterested and uncommitted (and he didn’t look it in midweek when he was Barcelona’s best player and had six of their seven shots on target) then that is even more reason step up.
Likewise Coutinho is no longer the timid 25-year-old who turned up at the club in January 2018. When he returned to Barcelona this summer he did so with a Champions League winner’s medal. It should have been the trigger for him to take charge.
Luis Suarez’s (right) departure to Atletico Madrid has left a leadership hole at Barcelona
Talisman Lionel Messi wants out of the club and has been accused of looking disinterested
Coutinho, Dembele and Griezmann are part of the reason why Barcelona are in the financial pit they are in. Sure the financial hit from the pandemic has devastated the club and Messi’s salary weighs heavy. But Barca have spent so much on three players who have delivered so little.
The whispers about the formation ring hollow too. How can Koeman play 4-3-3 when his squad is so bereft of midfielders? The faded Sergio Busquets, the struggling Frenkie de Jong and the ‘Arthur Melo swap’ Miralem Pjanic could make a three but there is nothing beyond that.
Some fans clamour for Carles Alena and Riqui Puig to be more involved. But the former failed to make an impact on loan at Betis last season and the latter remains a victim of his own reluctance to take a similar loan challenge.
Koeman has concocted the not very convincing 4-2-3-1 because of those limited midfield resources. And he has done it to shoehorn as many No 10s into the team as possible. He has inherited a squad where Coutinho, Griezmann, and the hugely impressive 17-year-old Pedri, plus Messi, all want to play as a No 10. His 4-2-3-1 allows them to at least make the starting line-up but the players are not meeting him half way.
Ronald Koeman has been criticised for his tactics but he has tried to incorporate his stars
There are complaints about having to play wide in the three behind the forward. Did Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry complain at having to play wide in the side that Pep Guardiola built to win the Champions League in 2009? Did David Villa complain when he had to play wide two years later in the team that won the same tournament again.
It’s not just Coutinho and Griezmann. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the biggest culprit for the defeat by Atletico Madrid and Clement Lenglet’s naivety was key in the Clasico defeat – don’t pull Sergio Ramos’s shirt in the area, he’ll go down, he’ll win the penalty. Lenglet and Ter Stegen were also both principal actors in the comedy of errors that produced the second goal in the 2-1 defeat to Cadiz last weekend.
Jordi Alba’s throw was the first act in that farce and he has also been below par. And De Jong is another who Barcelona fought so hard to sign ahead of Manchester City and has since looked a shadow of the player he was at Ajax.
Those four also need to find their form. But it’s the Champions League winner and the World Cup winner Coutinho and Griezmann who ought to be the real catalyst for the turnaround.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has come under criticism and is one of many under-performing
Watching Real Madrid on Wednesday it was remarkable to see how Luka Modric and Toni Kroos dug Zinedine Zidane out of trouble with their best performances of the season.
Currently no one is standing up for Koeman in the same way.
Griezmann and Coutinho have the price tag, they have the pedigree, it’s time for them to show they have the personality too.
This is a bad time for Barcelona, but there’s never been a better time for new leaders to emerge.
It’s time Griezmann and Coutinho step up and demonstrate why Barca paid so much for them
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