Barcelona Should Not Have Fired Koeman

11/04/2021

The last 12 months have been filled with one mistake after another from Barcelona, almost as if the board insists on doing whatever they can to hurl themselves at record speeds to irrelevance. In an era where teams once excluded from the realms of the elite are now using analytics and smart transfer decisions to enjoy what was previously unattainable, Barcelona seems intent on going in the exact opposite direction and leaving the realm of the elite for mediocrity. What seems like mismanagement exhibit number 200 in the last two years alone is their decision to fire Ronald Koeman, a man that had the team exceeding expectations.

And I know what you're thinking, "Exceeding expectations? The team was 9th in the table when they fired him, and bottom of their Champions League Group!"

And to that, I respond, it's a shame you're still looking at the game the wrong way. Looking at soccer in a way where you exclusively look at the results and nothing else is flawed and unsustainable. 

What is more important is looking at the quality of the chances the team creates compared to the quality they concede, a.k.a. expected goals/points. 

This way, you can account for some of the luck associated with a goal and look at how well a manager is doing his job, which is setting the team up with the best opportunity to succeed. Because, after all, all a coach has control over is the way the team is structured and the way they play; everything else boils down to luck. You keep doing the right things, and eventually, you will be rewarded.

How does this apply to Koeman? Well, when he got fired, Barcelona was first in the league in expected points. 

That means this Barcelona team, without Messi, without Griezmann, should have been first in the table because of the quality of chances they were creating. Who would have thought that was possible when Barcelona hit a financial crisis and the man who many refer to as the GOAT left on a free transfer late in pre-season? The truth is, Koeman had Barcelona playing very well; they were just unlucky, which often happens this early in the season. Koeman was more than doing his job, in fact, you could argue he was exceeding expectations, yet the club folded under pressure and fired him.

And again, I mention that a coach's job is to set his team up to play and create the right opportunities; he can't finish those chances for his players.

For example, is it his fault that Sergino Dest missed a wide-open goal in the 6-yard box in El Classico? What if he took that chance and Barcelona went up 1-0? Then in the next game against Rayo Vallecano, which would turn out to be his last, again, Barcelona dominated but couldn't score. Sergino Dest again missed a sitter in the 6-yard box, Memphis Depay saw his penalty saved. And between those two chances and many others, Barcelona lost 1-0 despite an expected score line of 2.86 to 0.79.

Take Pep Guardiola and Manchester City last season. In November 2020, they sat 10th in the league after starting the year with 12 points in 8 games, their worst start in over a decade. Yet, they were leading the PL in expected points, which showed they were doing all the right things, just repeatedly unlucky. Fast forward 30 games later to the end of the season, and they won the league comfortably by 12 points.

And while I am sure Barcelona had access to this information and why it's vital, especially early in the season, to look at how well the team is playing before looking at results, it seems like they fell victim to fan pressure. There was the Super League fiasco that saw fans revolt, then they lost the club's number one legend to a free transfer, and now they've had a slow start to the league. The pressure from one of the world's largest fanbases ultimately grew too large. And when those fans called for the manager's head, the club finally succumbed to the pressure even though analytics showed he was doing a fine job, and it was only a matter of time until things turned around.

If given more time, it was clear that Koeman would guide Barcelona back to relevance, but time, much like most things in sports, is not guaranteed.

It would be a shame to see Barcelona further fall from greatness, but considering some of the decisions they've made lately, maybe they deserve it.


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