Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over Sevilla might be Ronald Koeman’s biggest triumph as the Catalans’ coach. Of course, this by itself won’t win him anything just yet, but it could be the start of something big. With the new three points in the bag, the Azulgranas are now in second place, trailing behind the league leaders by only two points.
And it’s performances like the ones earlier this afternoon that can make us hopeful once again. Sevilla are an incredibly well-drilled team that’s also competing for the European spots in La Liga so taking them down with such dominance will surely both boost the morale and lay the groundwork for Barcelona’s future games.
But what exactly did we learn from today’s game?
1. Koeman’s changes paid off
It was quite bizarre of the coach not to change a single thing in the match that followed the disaster against Paris Saint-Germain. And naturally, when you do the same things over and over again but expect change, people will start doubting you. Luckily, however, Koeman has decided to innovate after all.
Today, we saw not only a change in the personnel but also in the system as well. The three in the back structure in attack and a 5-3-2 formation in defence with an aggressive press worked out beautifully. The team was highly effective at suffocating the opposition and not letting them play their game.
Sevilla were mostly pinned down in their own half and Julen Lopetegui’s troops had to rely on long balls to progress the play. Needless to say, despite having a clear target-man up top, that was never going to be a reliable strategy.
We are always quick to judge Koeman and his decisions so now, we have to give credit where it’s due and say his changes truly paid off. Whether this success was due to the tactics, the structure or the opposition’s lacking approach remains to be seen.
But this is a start and something to build upon. It’s important they don’t stop now.
2. Ousmane Dembele responds to his critics
Ousmane Dembele’s improvement has been palpable this season. The French winger has grown immensely and is finally turning into the player Barcelona need him to be: fast, lethal, decisive and most importantly, available week in, week out.
However, that hasn’t been the case throughout the whole campaign. Even though 2020/21 has seen him play a big number of games so far, and despite his dazzling displays, there was something missing in his performances. The spark was always there and that won’t change but we needed more.
Some of the clear chances he had missed haunted the team and while he isn’t the only one to be blamed for often being indecisive, that was his major weakness. But this Dembele is exactly what Barcelona had hoped for and more.
Ousmane Dembele has scored three goals vs Sevilla, more than vs any La Liga opponent in all competitions, involving in four out his last six games vs the Andalusian side.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 27, 2021
— Opta pic.twitter.com/vlRehokOBZ
This Dembele is a nightmare to mark and also deadly when in on goal. Earlier today, Sevilla experienced it first hand and now it’s all about building on this performance and ensuring it’s not just a one-game thing.
If the young winger can regularly provide for the team, there may be a bright future for him at the Camp Nou yet. And maybe it has something to do with his new central role, which was also one of Koeman’s innovations on the day.
It will be interesting to see where this takes him next.
3. Hay Liga
We started this article with a positive and we’ll end it with one as well. After such a brilliant display and a victory against a strong opponent, maybe we are now allowed to hope once more. Of course, Atletico Madrid are just two points ahead of Barcelona at the moment but have also played two games fewer than the Catalans.
This means the path towards the title is still very difficult and long. But at the same time, if this team can start taking scalps off of bigger teams and finally stand their ground, there truly may be a league to fight for after all.
Still, let’s not jump the gun here. We are allowed to be optimistic and should always be, even in the face of certain defeat. But it’s also important to take things slowly and not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of football to be played and a lot of points to be taken.
This team has shown us that they have the strength and the ability to win games and do it with style. But it’s all about that consistency now.
Can Barcelona keep the ball rolling and keep this good feeling alive? We can only hope so.
And then, who knows. After all, one can dream, right?
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.