Barcelona chief Joan Laporta has still not backed Ronald Koeman for next season… but with Julian Nagelsmann heading for Bayern and Pep Guardiola certain to say no, the Dutchman could be the best card in a bad hand despite title bid faltering
- Barcelona dropped two points in the LaLiga title race after drawing to Levante
- President Joan Laporta was present to see Barcelona throw away a lead twice
- Barca have fluffed their lines, picking up just five points from nine matches
- Koeman’s job is in danger, but a lack of options may mean he stays on for now
- Xavi will only take the job when he is fully ready – but he is Laporta’s first-choice
Ronald Koeman called Barcelona’s draw with Levante on Tuesday night a giant step backwards. For him, it could be the one that takes him off the edge of the cliff.
Club president Joan Laporta was at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium to watch the team throw away a lead twice and probably chuck their title hopes in too. He will not be at Barca’s penultimate game of the season this weekend against Celta Vigo because he is off to the women’s Champions League final in Gothenburg.
Who knows if by the weekend of May 23, when Barcelona play their last game of the campaign away to Eibar, they will not already be mathematically out of the title race.
Barcelona dropped two crucial points in the LaLiga title race after slipping up against Levante
Ronald Koeman has not yet been endorsed for next season by club president Joan Laporta
Laporta has always been respectfully cool on Koeman. The man is a club legend because of what he achieved as a player.
Even when the Dutch coach set the side on an unbeaten run of 17 games that saw them close a 13-point gap between them and runaway leaders Atletico Madrid, Laporta resisted hailing him as the man to take the team forward into next season.
People scratched their heads as to why, even after Koeman delivered the Spanish Cup, Laporta stopped short of anointing him continuing into the second year of his contract. Now that reticence looks well placed.
This would not be the first time Koeman has left a club after just one season and with a Cup winner’s medal in his pocket. He did the same at Valencia in 2008. If he is fired this summer, it will be a very different scenario and there will be a lot more sympathy for him.
He did warn supporters that with the players available they probably were not going to win big things this season. But then they went on that run to send expectations through the roof and that makes the likely failure to win the league all the more catastrophic.
Barcelona have now picked up just five points from their last nine games. Their record against Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is appalling – just one point from a possible 12. And last night was their third missed opportunity to win and go top.
They fluffed their lines against Granada, failed to beat Diego Simeone’s Atletico and then capitulated in the second half against Levante.
Lionel Messi reacts with anguish as Barca saw their LaLiga title hopes slip away on Tuesday
Koeman said that second-half capitulation was difficult to understand but there was no shortage of commentators suggesting his changes were the key ingredients.
At half-time he was forced to take off the injured Ronald Araujo but instead of bringing on centre-back Oscar Mingueza, he put on utility player Sergio Roberto who was beaten for the header that brought the first comeback goal for Levante.
Then after Ousmane Dembele had put Barcelona back into the lead at 3-2, Koeman took off the Frenchman, who had Levante on the back foot throughout the game, and brought on Sergino Dest. It was an open invitation for Levante to attack down their left flank. Dest was caught cold by Tono and from the full-back’s cross the home side levelled at 3-3.
It was the sixth time Barcelona had conceded three this season. They have the worst defensive record of all the title contenders. The goal was cue for the Catalan sports papers to draw up their RIP headline verdicts on Barcelona title hopes.
Levante equalised at 3-3 when striker Sergio Leon netted at the near post in the 83rd minute
Only last week Barcelona players were singing ‘Campeones! Campeones!’ at the barbecue Lionel Messi held for the entire squad before the Atletico Madrid game. He still looks like signing a new deal and he is understood not to be adverse to Koeman staying. But that might not be enough to save the Dutchman.
What could keep him in the job is a lack of strong alternatives. Xavi will be the first choice but Laporta would need to persuade the legendary former club captain that now is the right time for him to take over.
Xavi is smart and he knows he will only get one shot at his comeback to the club as coach – but he is waiting in the wings.
Xavi is smart and he knows he will only get one shot at his comeback to the club as coach
If Xavi declines and with Julian Nagelsmann who Laporta talked up privately during his election campaign, now at Bayern Munich, Koeman could hold on by virtue of being the best card in a bad hand.
What is not lost on Barcelona supporters is that this search for a man to take them forward into next season is played out in Catalonia while in Manchester, Pep Guardiola wins trophy number 31. What might have been, if they had not allowed him to move on after his third LaLiga title.
That was not on Laporta’s watch and he would take Guardiola back in a heartbeat. But convinced he would say no, he has so far not even asked him to consider a return.
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