Frenkie de Jong made it clear to coach Ronald Koeman that he prefers playing in midfield rather than as a center-back in the Dutchman’s new system at Barcelona.
The Netherlands international has featured at center-back in recent games for the Catalan giants and started in the backline again for Monday’s 1-0 win over Real Valladolid despite Ronald Araujo being fit and available.
De Jong did move into midfield in the second half and told reporters after the game that he’d rather play in a more advanced position, as reported by Marca.
“I prefer playing in central midfield, but if it is best for the team that I play at the back or in another position, I’ll do it,” he said. “Today we changed systems a lot and I played in many positions. Towards the end I felt a little bit nervous, but when I received the ball I wanted to reach Araújo. Luckily, Dembélé scored.”
The Netherlands international has proven effective in a more attacking role this season in midfield. He’s scored six goals and provided five assists when given license by Koeman to get into the final third.
Indeed De Jong ended up playing a part in Barcelona’s dramatic late winner again on Monday. The Dutchman sent in a cross from the right that eventually fell to Ousmane Dembele to finish at the far post in the 90th minute.
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De Jong Escapes Clasico Suspension
The Barcelona midfielder also avoided being booked in Monday’s match which means he will be available for Saturday’s crucial Clasico clash against Real Madrid. The 23-year-old is one yellow card away from an automatic one-match ban as he’s been booked four times in La Liga in 2020-21.
De Jong admitted after the win that he was happy not to have seen his name taken by match referee Jaime Latre. He added, “I’ve been careful not to get a yellow card so that I won’t miss the El Clásico.”
The midfielder’s wariness was in evidence during the match but he still put in another polished performance for Ronald Koeman’s side.
📌 93/98 passes completed.
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) April 5, 2021
Monday’s victory was an important one in the race for the league title in Spain. The three points move Barcelona back above Real Madrid and into second place, now just one point behind leaders Atletico with nine games left.
Koeman To Make Changes For El Clasico
Coach Koeman now has some big decisions to make regarding his team selection for Saturday’s big match at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. The game could go a long way to deciding where the title ends up at the end of the season.
The Dutchman could deploy De Jong again in defense but may prefer to start fit-again Araujo in his backline and move De Jong back into midfield where he can offer more of an attacking threat.
If De Jong does feature in a more advanced position it could spell bad news for Antoine Griezmann. The France international put in an ineffective display against Real Valladolid and looks the most likely player to drop out.
Barca has the rest of the week to prepare for Saturday’s match and will know Real Madrid will be without some key players for the game. Captain Sergio Ramos is sidelined for a month with a calf problem, while fellow center-back Raphael Varane is also expected to miss out after testing positive for Covid-19.
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