How Koeman's first match quelled some of the Nou Camp's worst fears

A Lionel Messi-spearheaded tactical switch, dominating the touchline and trusting the kids: How Ronald Koeman’s first match in charge of Barcelona quelled some of the Nou Camp’s worst fears

  • Ronald Koeman’s first competitive game couldn’t have gone much better  
  • Barcelona thrashed Villarreal 4-0 at the Nou Camp on Sunday evening 
  • Ansu Fati bagged a brace while Lionel Messi and Pau Torres also netted 

Ronald Koeman’s first day at the office ended with high-fives all round. 

Has the new Barcelona manager really put out all those fires in just ninety minutes of football? 

Sportsmail looks at the club legend’s dream debut.

Ronald Koeman watched his Barcelona team thrash Villarreal in his first game in charge 

When Quique Setien took over last January a change in style and formation was expected but Barcelona fans never really saw it. 

Under Koeman the shift from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 was clear. Against Villarreal it worked brilliantly. 

Lionel Messi’s starting position in the team is at centre-forward with Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati (from right to left) lining up behind him. 

The idea is that no one stays where they are for too long and in the carrousel of movement – with Messi and Griezmann in particular swapping positions – rival defences are turned dizzy. In part thanks to Villarreal’s dismally pedestrian display it certainly worked. 

The interchanging of positions between Barcelona’s forwards caused plenty of problems 

Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong played in the ‘double-pivot’ in front of the defence and Jordi Alba was given a license to get forward from left-back at every opportunity. 

It will get far tougher tests than the one provided by Unai Emery (13 defeats as a visiting coach at Camp Nou in 13 games) but this was a very promising start.


He was pensive for the most part but it was notable that he was the presence in the technical area. 

The modern penchant for the No 1 sitting down and the No 2 taking over, especially for set-pieces, does not seem to have reached Ronald’s world. He is the gaffer.

The 57-year-old was a notable presence in the technical area throughout LaLiga clash


He was honest and charming post match telling Spanish television pitch-side reporter Ricardo Sierra that his aside to Ansu Fati after taking him off was to tell him that he had performed at his best – this after having to tick him off after the last pre-season friendly of the season when he had told the 17-year-old that he was below par.


His substitutions were revealing. He obviously sees 17-year-old Pedri and 20-year-old Francisco Trincao as first options to compete with Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann. 

There were minutes too for Ousmane Dembele. And Miralem Pjanic is clearly going to compete with Sergio Busquets for the position alongside Frenkie de Jong. 

Pedri (left) and Francisco Trincao replaced Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann

But for other players he has made it clear – not just on Sunday but since he took over – that they might be best suited to look for a move before next Monday. Rafinha, Junior Firpo, Carles Alena, Riqui Puig and Martin Braithwaite probably all fit in that category.


There was a handshake at the end of the game. And this time it wasn’t a no-look one. Messi’s smile broadened the longer the first half went on. 

He will clearly miss Luis Suarez who gave him more assists than any other team-mate in his career. But in this fluid new-look 4-2-3-1 it looks as if he will be well served.

Koeman (right) shakes hands with star man Lionel Messi following the full-time whistle


Sergeant Koeman did not give the players a rest day after their big win. 

They trained on Monday and will do so every day up to and including Thursday when they travel to Vigo for their second game of the new era. 

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