Barcelona president Joan Laporta was unequivocal when he spoke on Saturday lunchtime. Whatever the result against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano, Ronald Koeman would still be in charge of Futbol Club Barcelona.
At the end of the match, their second insipid defeat in a week after their lamentable Champions League loss against Benfica in Lisbon, those comments seemed optimistic at best.
Laporta said Koeman deserved a margin of confidence, or to put it another way, another life, more time to correct the path. Unfortunately, Barcelona don’t seem to be improving in any way, shape or form. By the end of the night in Madrid, Atletico were simply content to play out the game, not threatened in the slightest. There was never any prospect of late drama as has so often happened in this fixture.
Ansu Fati, the rare glimmer of light this season, had come on but was then pushed out to the right to accommodate fellow substitute Luuk de Jong. The Dutch forward, for all his virtues, is struggling to fit in at the club, and seems like a Plan B option at best. The problem is, Barcelona haven’t really got a Plan A either.
They failed to muster a single shot on target in either of their opening pair of Champions League games, and now must surely beat Dynamo Kyiv twice in the double header to have any realistic chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. At the Wanda, they did register two, but neither troubled Jan Oblak. Despite having 70% of the ball, their expected goals figure was a meagre 0.97.
There are signs of encouragement. More impressive performances from youngsters Nico and Gavi, tenacious and fearless in an intimidating atmosphere. Fati is gradually building up to speed, and will be all the better for the extra couple of weeks of training over the international break.
Ousmane Dembele is still to return, and Sergio Aguero hasn’t kicked a ball in blaugrana yet. However, the margin that Laporta referenced is already wafer thin. Barca are in mid-table having now dropped six points after seven games. They only have two clean sheets all season, and face Valencia and Real Madrid in El Clasico before October is finished.
These fixtures, along with the Dynamo game, are already must-win matches or their season could unravel before Christmas. A change of coach is a risk, of course. Alternatives have been discussed at length, and none seem ideal. But crucially, not changing is also an increasing gamble for Laporta. If this goes wrong, the road back will be longer and harder.
With the pause for the international fixtures, now seems to be the perfect time to pull the trigger. Laporta, an astute politician who usually says everything for a reason, has placed himself into a corner with his comments on Saturday. If he genuinely believes Koeman can turn things around, so be it. But the number of people who are losing confidence is growing by the game. If his gut instinct tells him to take the decision, he should have courage in his convictions.