Koeman Explains Riqui Puig’s Lack Of Game Time At Barcelona

Riqui Puig

Getty Riqui Puig warms up during Barcelona's UCL tie with Bayern Munich.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman attempted to explain midfielder Riqui Puig’s lack of minutes during his pre-match press conference ahead of his team’s La Liga clash against Granada at the Camp Nou.

Puig struggled for game time last season under Koeman and has not managed a single minute so far in the 2021-22 campaign. The 22-year-old was spotted warming up during Barcelona’s Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich but didn’t make it off the bench.

Koeman spoke about the issue to reporters and also advised the youngster what he needs to do if he wants to get first-team minutes at the Camp Nou this season.

“He has to improve in many aspects of the game,” he said. “The other day he warmed up, he was an option but in the end I needed to replace Jordi Alba due to injury. He has to continue working and to improve as a player, like any youngster.”

Puig has a chance to get his first minutes of the season in the coming week with Barcelona playing three games in seven days against Granada, Levante, and Cadiz in La Liga.

The hectic schedule means Koeman may need to rotate his side in order to keep his players fresh. Puig’s chances have also been boosted by the fact that Pedri is expected to miss all three games after picking up a thigh injury against Bayern.

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Koeman Talks Barcelona’s Youth

Koeman’s reluctance to offer Puig game time has baffled supporters, particularly as the Dutchman has been willing to hand teenagers Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, and Alejandro Balde first-team minutes this season.

The Dutchman has also regularly used Pedri, Sergino Dest, Ronald Araujo, and Oscar Mingueza and finished the game against Bayern with a very young line-up, as shown by ESPN’s Samuel Marsden.

Koeman was asked if it’s time for the young players to start matches at Barcelona, rather than coming off the bench, and said he did not think it’s the right time just yet.

“I’m not worried to play the youngsters at the beginning but playing six from the start is not the best option now,” he explained. “It is difficult to know when they will have more games. If it’s a player like Pedri, you can’t stop him from starting. It depends on many things.

Koeman also has another talented young player to add back into the mix shortly. Teenage forward Ansu Fati is on the recovery trail after knee surgery and the Barca coach says he is expected back “hopefully in one week or 10 days.”

Balde To Replace Jordi Alba?

Teenage defender Balde made his debut against Bayern in midweek, after coming on to replace the injured Jordi Alba, and could make his first La Liga start for Barcelona against Granada.

Alba has been ruled out with a hamstring problem and Koeman admitted Balde is an option but also made it clear he does have other players available who could play on the left of the defense.

“He made his debut the other day, with energy, Dest also has played on the left, Mingueza he also can play on the left,” he added. “But I prefer to have a left footed player because it’s better. We have to analyze it because we are talking about a really young player and he has to learn. But I’m not afraid to start Balde.”

Balde lacks top-level experience but is the only other recognized left-back in the squad which means he has a good chance of starting against Granada in a game Koeman needs to win to relieve some of the mounting pressure after the Bayern defeat.

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