VALLADOLID, Spain: Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman unleashed an unorthodox system and left out the club’s two biggest signings for Tuesday’s La Liga trip to Real Valladolid but the plan paid off as his side put in one of their best performances in a splendid 3-0 win.
Needing a response to a sluggish 2-2 draw with Valencia on Saturday, the Dutch coach dropped the misfiring pair of Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho and deployed a 3-5-2 formation seldom used by a Barca side.
The move could hardly have gone better, as Barcelona dominated the midfield and full backs Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest had the freedom to fly forward and join the attack.
“For this game we changed our formation to give us more security at the back and make the most of the quality of our full backs,” Koeman explained after the victory, Barca’s first away league win since Oct. 1.
“At the same time, we were able to build plays without any problems and have lots of possession and players running between the lines. We saw a team that meant business, that showed good concentration and we created a lot of opportunities.”
Koeman also played down the fact he had left out Coutinho and Griezmann, who cost the club a combined 280 million euros ($341.10 million) but have struggled to make a big impact in the team, scoring two and three league goals respectively this term.
“It says that we have a lot of competition in our side and a very strong squad,” he said.
Lionel Messi produced one of his best performances of the season, setting up the opening goal for Clement Lenglet, contributing to the build-up play when Martin Braithwaite hit the second and then scoring the third himself.
Key to the Argentine’s display was his understanding with midfielder Pedri, 18, who laid on the pass for Messi’s goal, which broke Brazil great Pele’s all-time single club scoring record.
“Pedri is a very good player when he plays more centrally, between the lines and his connection with Leo and the others was very good,” added the Dutch coach.
“He is playing well, working hard and he is also important to us when he doesn’t have the ball, he looks very comfortable.”
Barca, who are still eight points behind Liga leaders Atletico Madrid having played a game more, now take a short Christmas break before hosting Eibar next Tuesday.
($1 = 0.8209 euros)