Everything may have seemed lost just a week ago, but now, it feels like Barcelona are not done just yet. Ronald Koeman has somehow instilled new life into this team, and they’re on an incredible run of form. Beating Sevilla two times in the span of a couple of days, and doing it rather convincingly, is a huge achievement and should be praised.
Yesterday’s triumph, however, also ensured Barcelona will play in their 10th Copa del Rey final in 13 seasons, which is a historic accomplishment if there ever was one. But it goes beyond that.
The victory itself was huge, both for the morale and their season as a whole, but also for the fans. Games like these build character, unison and camaraderie, and those are all things Barcelona were missing for years.
So what lessons have we learned from yesterday’s clash?
1. Koeman’s new system works
The sample is still tiny, and this definitely has to be taken into account. However, the test subjects for Koeman’s new system were Sevilla, after all, and Julen Lopetegui’s troops are nothing to sneeze at. Of course, formations are just numbers on a sheet of paper – by itself, a formation means nothing.
However, the whole structure and the roles within the system seem to be getting the best out of Barcelona’s key players. The defence is more stable with three centre-backs, and so is Sergio Busquets ahead of them. The wingbacks are much freer to attack and be a continuous threat for the opposition while Ousmane Dembélé’s central role puts him in excellent positions to burst behind the rival’s backline.
Not to mention the team as a whole seems more structured, interconnected and just more secure in possession. There’s more to it than just the formation, as we’ve mentioned, but Koeman’s change has undoubtedly sparked this turn of events and is continuing to bring impressive results.
There are still a couple of unanswered questions that remain, however. For instance, how does Antoine Griezmann fit the whole narrative? The Frenchman was quite good following his entry on the pitch, but that doesn’t change the fact this was his third appearance off the bench in a row. Surely a player of such calibre would aspire for a bigger role at Barcelona.
The same can be said for the likes of Miralem Pjanić and Riqui Puig, who have taken little to no part in this new and reborn team. Still, the fact that Koeman has found his preferred lineup that actually works is a big win for everyone.
Now it’s just about fine-tuning it to perfection.
2. The underrated brilliance of Óscar Mingueza
Don’t let the penalty mistake fool you; Óscar Mingueza was among Barcelona’s best performers last night. Of course, the whole team was excellent, and their displays across the board were praise-worthy. However, the young defender deserves to be mentioned as he stood out from the rest.
His mistake to grant Sevilla a chance to end the contest was a result of his inexperience, but overall, Mingueza didn’t put a foot wrong the whole night. Not only that, but he is the sole reason why Barcelona were able to sustain their pressure on the Andalusians.
The youngster’s aggressive exits from the backline resulted in numerous recoveries, and his well-timed tackles stopped Sevilla’s attackers in their tracks. Seeing how this is exactly what he’s been criticised for, it’s safe to say the 21-year-old is improving with each passing day.
And then there’s the attacking contribution. The new system with the three in the back gives him a more defensive role, but he is often the more adventurous of the centre-backs, pushing forward and engaging his man. After all, that’s why Koeman often puts him out wide since the youngster can pose a threat through his runs and crosses.
But there is no doubt in our mind – Mingueza was massive on the night, and that bodes well for his future at the club.
Appreciation tweet for Oscar Mingueza. So good! pic.twitter.com/SwFFyjkQzV— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 4, 2021
3. The foundations are set
Koeman’s tenure has been a mixed bag so far. From a perfect start to a shaky middle of the campaign and then to hope once again, the Dutchman is surely experiencing all the thrills of being a Barcelona coach. But regardless of what happens next, it is beautiful to see this team actually acting as a team.
Yesterday, we saw a fire in their eyes that was gone for far too long. Before that, Barcelona felt like a team devoid of all and any passion, a squad going through the motions rather than striving for perfection, which is their legacy.
No one is entitled to greatness, but Barcelona’s history, power and heritage demand it. No one expects us to suddenly flip a switch and beat everyone in front of us, Paris Saint-Germain included. Defeats happen, and no one can win all the time, not even the mighty Azulgranas.
But at the same time, we don’t ask for perfection, we ask for passion for the badge. If the team is giving their all and they go down swinging, it will hurt a lot less than being passive and rolling over for the opposition.
For years, we’ve been getting the latter, but now, this finally feels different. If that team we saw yesterday can show up week in, week out and offer blood, sweat and tears on that pitch, the fans will be more than happy. Win, lose or draw, it doesn’t matter as long as we do it our way.
Of course, winning is still a priority because our heritage demands it. But this is a step in the right direction, and we don’t expect to change overnight. No one does.
Koeman, however, may finally be onto something here. Could this be the turning point for the Catalans? Could this really be the moment that kick-starts their rebirth?
Only time will tell but allow us to dream for once and say – yes, yes it is.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.