Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has revealed how a key chat between captain Lionel Messi and midfielder Frenkie de Jong proved crucial during half-time of Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.
The teams went in at the break with the final tied at 0-0 but Barca went on to win 4-0 and lift the cup with De Jong scoring and picking up two assists and Messi grabbing two goals.
Koeman told Voetbal International that he learned after the match that the two players had been in deep discussion at the break and how Barca had told De Jong to get forward more in the second half.
“In the dressing room we already discussed that Frenkie de Jong should come in the penalty area more often. Messi emphasized that again, you saw the effect,” he said. “It’s good to see that at such moments Messi is so busy with the team and the other players, trying to improve things. It has been different with him before. He had problems with the previous president, there was dissatisfaction, but when you see him now… Great for the club.”
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Koeman Talks ‘Turnaround’ in Messi
Koeman also spoke about captain Messi and his happiness at the club. The Argentine asked to leave last summer but much has changed since then. Joan Laporta has replaced Josep Maria Bartomeu as president, the club’s youngsters have impressed, and Koeman has lifted his first trophy as boss.
The Dutchman explained how Messi’s outlook has changed as the campaign has progressed and how the players always look to the captain for inspiration
“He is a winner; in every game, in every training, in everything he does, he wants to win. As we started to win more and play better, you saw that he became more and more comfortable and happy,” he said. “And for the team and for me as a coach. Because you can see in everything that Messi is still the best. He proves that every time. The players see how important he is to the club, they see his incredible qualities in training, his class and the unlikely things he shows.”
Barcelona players were spotted lining up to have photos taken with Messi after winning the Copa del Rey, something Koeman feels was a mark of respect. He explained, “Isn’t it great that all those players have done that? I see it as an expression of respect and appreciation for him. Messi has won so many awards, but was genuinely happy with this one, also for them.”
De Jong ‘Is This Team’
There’s no doubting Messi’s continued importance to Barcelona, but De Jong has become increasingly vital in what is his second season at the Camp Nou following his move from Ajax.
The Dutchman has shown his versatility this season playing in midfield as well as in defense, when required due to injury, and has also offered an attacking threat. De Jong has seven goals and contributed five assists to Barca in all competitions.
Koeman explained how the switch to a 3-5-2 system has helped to bring out the best in De Jong and improve Barca’s form this season.
“The change we implemented as staff was to change to a system with three defenders and a different role of Frenkie,” he said. “That change gave confidence and then results do the rest. We scored more goals from the chances we always create, and defensively we became more stable.”
The Barca boss also spoke about De Jong’s importance to Barca. He added, “He was a big transfer for Barcelona. Then you cannot just play along, you have to take the next step in your personality, importance, and effectiveness for the team. I love to see how he picks up on that. Frenkie is this team.”
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