Ronald Koeman explained why he decided to take Riqui Puig off at half-time of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey clash against Cornella on Thursday.
The 21-year-old made his first start of the season at the third-tier side but only played the first 45 minutes. The midfielder was surprisingly taken off and replaced by Ousmane Dembele for the second half.
Koeman was asked about the move after the game and discussed his decision to take off the young star, as reported by Mundo Deportivo.
I wanted to have two open wings and more depth. So we put Antoine behind Braithwaite with two wingers. Riqui already had a card and that is why we have changed him.
Puig had been one of Barca’s brighter performers in the first half but was booked after just seven minutes of the contest. His replacement Dembele missed a penalty shortly after arriving as a substitute but then broke the deadlock in extra-time with a powerful shot.
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Puig’s Struggles Continues
There’s no doubt that Puig’s early substitution will be a blow to the youngster. The midfielder has struggled for game time all season, making just eight appearances off the bench in all competitions before Thursday’s match.
Yet Puig did appear to have made a breakthrough after he stepped up and scored the decisive penalty in a shootout against Real Sociedad in the semi-finals of the Spanish Super Cup.
However, Koeman’s latest decision suggests Puig is still some way off convincing the coach of his qualities. The Copa del Rey does still appear to be Puig’s best chance of seeing significant game time and he will be hoping to feature in the next round. The draw takes place on Friday with games due to be played between January 26-28.
Praise for Ilaix Moriba
Another player who will be hoping to feature in the next round is 18-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba. The teenager made his debut against Cornella and couldn’t hide his delight after the game, as reported by Sport.
Since the coach (Ronald Koeman) told me I was going to be in the side today it’s been… good. I got home and I couldn’t sleep. I am really happy at the club, especially with the coach, very grateful, and also with all my teammates who made it possible for me to play well.
Ilaix has been training with the first team for several weeks now and earned some praise from Koeman after his debut, as reported by Marca.
Those who debuted today showed they can have a future at the club, but we also saw we are missing things. [Ilaix Moriba] is a prospect and he is important for the future of the club.
The 18-year-old is the latest player to emerge from the club’s famed La Masia academy and looked comfortable against Cornella. Ilaix will also be hoping for more chances to impress as the season progresses after making the breakthrough into the first team.