At a time when Camp Nou has been crying out for an
idol, Gerard Pique seemed a strong candidate, but
not for Ronald Koeman.
The Barcelona defender started against Benfica in
Lisbon, but with the team going down to a goal from
Darwin Nunez after three minutes, the coach wanted
to make changes.
On 30 minutes, Koeman subbed off 34-year-
old Pique to replace him with 17-year-old Gavi, a
young midfielder half his age.
It wasn’t due to injury and it wasn’t due to a change in
system either, as Frenkie de Jong was dropped back
into the three-man defence.
Koeman‘s supporters argued that the veteran was
running a risk as he picked up a yellow card just 12
minutes into the tie and Benfica were looking to
Whatever the motivation, it served to humiliate Pique,
one of the team’s undisputed leaders both on and off
the field of play.
It comes as Pique had completed 90 minutes three
times in the past two weeks, as Barcelona kept clean
sheets against Cadiz and Levante after defeat
to Bayern Munich.
Early on in the season, a calf strain had kept the
defender out of the win over Getafe and forced him
off early on against Athletic Club.
Hero for fans
In the absence of Lionel Messi following his
departure to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, Pique‘s willingness to reduce his salary and
sign a new contract earned him plaudits.
Announced on the eve of the season starting, and
then as he scored the team’s first goal of the season
against Real Sociedad, Pique was a popular figure.
Lining up in an inexperienced defence, often
alongside teenager Eric Garcia or youngster Ronald
Araujo, Pique‘s role has been pivotal.
The defence didn’t improve
Even after Pique was withdrawn, the defence did not
improve and Eric Garcia was eventually dismissed
with a red card, his second of the season.
Barcelona also conceded two more goals, without
threatening at the other end of the pitch in a new low
for the club.