Crisis Clasico offers platform to prove worth

Barca forward Ansu Fati (left) celebrating with Francisco Trincao after scoring against Ferencvaros in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Barca forward Ansu Fati (left) celebrating with Francisco Trincao after scoring against Ferencvaros in the Champions League on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • Ronald Koeman will know Barcelona can plunge Real Madrid into crisis today, but for him, his first Clasico as a coach is more about vindication.

Inflicting a third consecutive defeat in a week on Madrid at the Nou Camp would create the sort of turbulence for their opponents that Barca have grown only too used to in recent months. But, as much as cranking up the pressure on Zinedine Zidane and gaining an early boost in La Liga's title race would be welcome, Koeman might claim the biggest rewards from a victory.

Barca's new coach has overseen three wins, a draw and a defeat, meaning the trajectory of his project is not yet clear. His faith in youth has been encouraging, with Ansu Fati, 17, Francisco Trincao, 20, and Pedri, 17, delivering more than expected in attack. Fati, who scored again in the Champions League on Tuesday, has arguably been their standout performer so far.

With Fati building on an already impressive debut season last year, it would be not be a surprise if he is in the starting line-up this weekend. But Trincao and Pedri would be braver calls.

The most pressing issue of Koeman's tenure is Antoine Griezmann, who is now on his third coach at Barca but still yet to find anything close to top form.

The France forward's problems have not all been of his own making after being played out of position for much of last season.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify his underwhelming performances and it was telling on Tuesday when Koeman left him on the bench for the 90 minutes.

While the Dutchman refused to be drawn on whether Griezmann was no longer in favour, saying "it means nothing for the Clasico", he fired a warning that no one's place on the team sheet is secure.

"Antoine knows his situation. The only thing he can do is work hard to change it," he said.

A positive performance against Madrid will give Barca momentum ahead of their trip to Juventus in the Champions League next week but, for Koeman, the benefits would last even longer.

Unlike the former Netherlands manager, Zidane has credit in the bank, having won 11 trophies across two managerial spells with Real.

However, a crisis is looming on the back of two defeats in a week.

Madrid did not make a single new signing for the first time in 40 years during the transfer window, owing to the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and many critics are predicting this season's Clasico to be the lowest-quality affair for some time.

But, despite a less than vintage Barca hosting a fragile-looking Real side missing Eden Hazard, La Liga president Javier Tebas still considers the clash to be the "most important club game in the world".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Crisis Clasico offers platform to prove worth'. Print Edition | Subscribe