De Jong looked perfect for Barcelona but has't lived up to the billing
Frenkie de Jong’s elegance, touch and vision should have made him a perfect fit at Barcelona but they’ve failed to get the best out of him after chopping and changing systems… now the Dutchman is out injured, frustrated and missing their title challenge
- Many thought Frenkie de Jong’s transition from Ajax to Barca would be seamless
- The midfielder looked a perfect fit for the club after his big-money summer move
- But De Jong has looked ordinary and too often been deployed out of position
- He’s injured now and may not get chance to make his first season in Spain count
Once upon a time the midfield was king at Barcelona. Pep Guardiola said he’d be happy to put ten midfielders on the pitch at the same time – and with full-backs who could play as wingers, ball-playing centre-backs and ‘false nines’ he came close to achieving that. What would he have been able to do with Frenkie de Jong?
‘He is a very complete player,’ current Barcelona coach Quique Setien said a week ago. ‘And it’s not just with the ball. His physical condition allows him to cover a lot of space. He is young and dynamic.’
There is no shortage of praise for the 23-year-old a year on from his €75m (£68m) plus €11m (£10m) in add-ons signing. But the harsh reality is De Jong has too often looked ordinary this season. Nothing speaks of the fall from grace of Barcelona’s midfield more than the failure to get the best out of a player whose elegance, touch and vision ought to have made him a perfect fit for the club.
Big things were expected of Frenkie de Jong, but the Dutchman has too often looked ordinary
He is injured now and even if the calf strain keeps him out for just two weeks that will still see him miss four games. He did not feature against Leganes, Sevilla or Athletic Bilbao and missed vital games against Celta Vigo and Atletico, and possibly the Villarreal clash.
The best-case scenario is that he returns for the last four games and then for the Champions League last-16 second leg against Napoli.
Radio Catalunya recently reported that he was unhappy with the way the club dealt with the injury and wanted to go back to Holland for treatment. Sportsmail understands there is no major issue – it’s not unusual for players to consider treatment back in their own countries and it’s not De Jong’s style to go to war with the club’s medical team, especially not when all clubs are suffering injuries because players are having to play at full pelt, after so long out and after such a short ‘pre-season’.
De Jong looked to be the perfect fit for Barcelona, but they’ve failed to get the best out of him
FRENKIE DE JONG’S SEASON STATS
De Jong’s frustrations are more firmly rooted in a sense that he is missing the most important part of the season when he could really have shown his worth.
The Dutchman has played 38 games so far this season but more often than not he has been a victim of the flux on and off the pitch – uncertainty that he would not have anticipated.
The club had not sacked a coach mid-season for 17 years. But when Ernesto Valverde was dismissed in January De Jong found himself playing for a new manager.
He also would have expected stability in terms of where he was playing on the pitch and in which formation. Barcelona’s 4-3-3 seemed fairly set in stone. But just as he has already played for two different coaches he has also played in three different systems and in four different positions.
Midfielder was signed from Ajax and many thought his transition to Barca would be seamless
The 23-year-old was reported this week to be unhappy with how the club handled his injury
When he was signed in July 2019 expectations were huge. That graceful glide around the pitch with the head up and the ball never far from his feet would mean the transition from the total football at Ajax to Barca’s beautiful game would be seamless but soon headlines in Spain were asking: What happened to De Jong?
His former coach at Ajax Erik tan Hag told Ziggo Sport: ‘He is the player who takes care of supply. He feeds his team-mates. He is not a goalscorer.’
There was a feeling among those who knew him in Holland that Barcelona were playing him too high up the pitch; that he needed to have the pitch in front of him.
Barcelona have an ageing team. Setien has demanded that midfield players run beyond their 30-something forwards Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to get in behind defences. De Jong has often been asked to perform the task.
He’s found himself playing out of position with Arthur (L) and Sergio Busquets (R) in the middle
De Jong is now waiting to find out if he’ll have a chance to make his first season in Spain count
He has even found himself playing wide in a four-man midfield – alongside Arthur Melo, Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets it was inevitable that he would have to take up a position on one of the flanks leaving the slower Arthur and Busquets to play through the middle.
De Jong did play in Busquets’ position under Valverde at times but it rarely worked completely. There is a discipline to Busquets’ position that De Jong, more maverick in style, could not quite maintain for 90 minutes.
The solution seemed to be playing him in a ‘double-pivot’ alongside Busquets in a 4-2-3-1 but no sooner did Valverde begin fine-tuning that system than he was sacked.
Setien has since played 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 and in none of the formations has De Jong look comfortable. Now he is in the worst place possible – on the sidelines injured – and waiting to find out if he will have another chance to make his first season in Spain count.
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