Frenkie de Jong didn’t join Barcelona at the best of times. The club were very much at the end of an era, about to embark on a rare season without silverware.
The Blaugrana were top of La Liga by Christmas but their form fell off a cliff in the second half of the season both domestically and in Europe, culminating in the catastrophic 8-2 battering at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
De Jong struggled to assert himself in the manner in which he came to European football’s attention the season before, starring for a bold and exciting Ajax team that ran to the semi-final of the Champions League. To have a look at outside candidates to go on a European run this season, check out these sports predictions.
The Dutch midfielder would often sit in kind of a loose double pivot while playing back home, dropping between the centre backs to collect the ball at times. In his first season at Barcelona he was shifted to a position to the side of a midfield three, as Sergio Busquets was the sole pivot.
Ronald Koeman, coach of the Dutch national team at the time, actually mentioned that De Jong would thrive when played in his best position, central as opposed to the shuffling number eight he didn’t seem comfortable as.
When Koeman took over at Barcelona, the expectation was that he’d replace Busquets as the sole pivot in a 4-3-3. Koeman instead opted for a 4-2-3-1 in his initial months, with De Jong beside Busquets in a double pivot.
It didn’t work and the Catalan press berated Koeman for his tactics, claiming the the 4-3-3 is a sacred part of Barcelona’s identity. Eventually, he gave in, and De Jong was again shunted out to a number eight role either side of Busquets.
This time, however, things are different. Koeman has apparently taken De Jong aside and advised him on how to thrive in his new role, and it’s paying dividends. De Jong is playing with reckless abandon, breaking forward and causing damage in the final third as well as showcasing his neat range of passing.
The 23 year-old Dutchman has three goals and three assists to his name this season in La Liga, as well as important contributions like his goal against Real Sociedad in the semi-final of the Supercopa de Espana, a flying header.
De Jong, as a character and a player, is perfect for Barcelona. Alongside young men like Ronald Araujo, Pedri and Ansu Fati, he’s proven himself to be capable of wearing Blaugrana for years to come and helping the club through this awkward transition they’re in the process of.